Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Johnny Hartman

It is a rainy evening in sunny California, and I am catching a cold, but my mood warmed driving home a few hours ago when I heard Johnny Hartman on KCSM, the local public jazz radio station. KCSM is in the middle of a pledge drive, and one of the gifts available for contributors is the wonderful compilation Hartman for Lovers. (Amazon, iTunes)

Johnny Hartman recorded on a number of labels from the 1950s through the 1970s (complete discography), but 3 sessions for Impulse secured Johnny Hartman’s lush and velvety voice as one of the great ones of the century.

The first Johnny Hartman song I ever heard was from the first Impulse recording. In 1963, Johnny Hartman joined the legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane to create John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman. (Amazon, iTunes) Trane was an adventurous improvisational jazz musician, but he had a special ability when it came to the ballad. His 1960 My Favorite Things (Amazon, n/a on iTunes) is seminal in jazz history, and that high standard is matched on his collaboration with Johnny.

Backed by Trane’s quartet (McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums), Hartman’s baritone and Coltrane’s tenor sax interplay perfectly in smooth and seductive harmony. The pacing is slow, the band is completely in sync and the material is stunning. Each song is highlight.

Later that year Hartman re-entered the studio and was joined by guests Kenny Burrell on guitar and Illinois Jacquet on tenor sax for I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. (Amazon, iTunes) This is another full album of vocal jazz at its best. The feeling is intimate and the music is tight. Listen to: "Sleepin' Bee", "Stairway to the Stars" and the title track.

In 1964, Hartman and his quintet recorded again and their talents shine for the first half of The Voice That Is! (Amazon, iTunes). "My Ship", "These Foolish Things", and "It Never Entered My Mind" showcase Hartman breath-taking talent. But, for the second half of the album, Hartman is joined by a few more instruments and the effort suffers from weaker material.

Hartman sung more than ballads, and you get a taste of this on Unforgettable (Amazon, iTunes). Standouts are "Ain't Misbeahavin", "Almost Like Being in Love" and "The More I See You." He also could handle songs Sinatra made famous. They are hard to find, but his versions of "Old Black Magic" and "Fly Me to the Moon" are worth the effort. And, his sense of timing was perfect and never more evident than in the charming "I Could Write a Book."

Sadly, Hartman did not achieve widespread recognition until after his death in 1983. But, the great balladeer did leave us with an amazing (though too small) catalog of recordings. Hartman for Lovers draws heavily from his best albums (with 10 songs from the 3 intimate Impulse sessions), and is highly recommended. (Amazon, iTunes)

Additional links: Johnny Hartman’s NPR Jazz Profile, the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman (5:16, Real Audio)


At 7:38 PM, Anonymous rainbowwig said...

Right on! Nice review of the essentials. Love the man's music.


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