MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
Singer Billy Eckstine was one of the most popular and influential vocalists from the 1940s, with a rich, velvety tone and a suave, debonair style. His legacy reverberated throughout the next several decades, and this week on the show, I want to focus on two singers who followed in Mr. E’s footsteps a few years later: Johnny Hartman and Arthur Prysock. Hartman was more jazz oriented, whereas Prysock focused more on R&B. But both singers brought warmth and class to their music. This hour, we’ll hear some of their interpretations of songs from the Great American Songbook.
It’s Eckstine’s Proteges: Arthur Prysock and Johnny Hartman, coming up next on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, “ALL OF ME”
MUSIC - ARTHUR PRYSOCK AND COUNT BASIE, “I WORRY BOUT YOU”
Arthur Prysock with Count Basie’s Orchestra from their Verve album together in 1965 with the Norman Mapp song “I Worry Bout You.” Before that, we heard Johnny Hartman and the Ernie Wilkins Orchestra with the Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons jazz standard “All Of Me,” the title song to his 1957 Bethlehem album.
MUSIC CLIP - EARL HINES AND HIS ORCHESTRA, FEAT. BILLY ECKSTINE “SKYLARK”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. In the early 1940s, a certain style of jazz and pop singing emerged especially among black male vocalists. Deep and warm, rich and romantic, this velvet tone was the style of several singers from this era, including Duke Ellington’s singers Al Hibbler and Herb Jeffries. But chief among these baritones was “Mr. E” Billy Eckstine.
Eckstine’s popularity as a vocalist and bandleader in the 1940s reverberated throughout popular music. His tone can be traced through other black baritones, including Joe Williams and Lou Rawls. This week, I’ll be focusing on two of Eckstine’s spiritual successors in the 1950s and 60s: Arthur Prysock and Johnny Hartman.
I’ll start with Hartman.
Johnny Hartman grew up in Chicago, and started his career singing with pianist Earl Hines in 1947, the same pianist that Eckstine sang with in the early 1940s. Although Hartman said he was inspired by singers like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como, he always understood his connection to Billy Eckstine. He once said, quote “Billy has always been one of my favorites, but if I find myself slipping into too much of an Eckstine bag, I rehearse myself out of it.” (end quote)
In the late 1940s, Hartman sang with jazz players like Dizzy Gillespie and in the early 1950s, he made a few recordings for RCA. However, his first big breakthrough came in 1956 when he recorded the album Songs For The Heart for Bethlehem Records. Despite not selling well, the album became a hit among aficionados, showcasing Hartman’s romantic and tender style of ballad singing.
Let’s hear two songs from that album now. First, here’s Johnny Hartman with Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg’s “What Is There To Say,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, “WHAT IS THERE TO SAY?”
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, “I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY”
Johnny Hartman in 1956 with pianist Ralph Sharon and trumpeter Howard McGhee. We just heard “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and before that “What Is There To Say.” Both of those songs come from the 1956 album Songs For The Heart.
While tender ballads were Johnny Hartman’s bread and butter, he was also capable of a little bit of swing. For his next album for Bethlehem Records, 1957’s All Of Me: The Debonair Mr. Hartman, he teamed up with the larger Ernie Wilkins Orchestra. Most of the songs on the album are ballads, but a few up tempo numbers are included as well. Let’s hear one of those swinging ones now.
This is Johnny Hartman with the Ernie Wilkins Orchestra performing “Birth Of The Blues,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, “BIRTH OF THE BLUES”
Johnny Hartman, sounding a bit like Joe Williams there, with “Birth Of The Blues.” That comes from his 1957 album All Of Me, featuring the Ernie Wilkins Orchestra.
After Johnny Hartman’s run of albums for Bethlehem records in the late 1950s, his next major label breakthrough came for Impulse Records in the early to mid 1960s. Exactly how Hartman came to the label I’ll get to a bit later. Hartman recorded two albums for Impulse and two albums for Impulse’s parent label ABC Paramount, all under the direction of jazz producer Bob Thiele. I want to play for you a few tracks from those Impulse records now, which all feature accompaniment by jazz pianist Hank Jones.
First up, from the 1964 album The Voice That Is, this is Johnny Hartman with the Rodgers and Hart tune “It Never Entered My Mind,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, “IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND”
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, “I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO”
Johnny Hartman and pianist Hank Jones with the title song to the 1964 Impulse Record I Just Dropped By To Say Hello, a song by Sid Feller and Rick Ward. Before that, we heard Hartman with “It Never Entered My Mind” from the 1964 Impulse album The Voice That Is.
The reason Johnny Hartman made it to the Impulse jazz record label had to do with one man: saxophonist John Coltrane. In 1963, Hartman was still a bit of an unknown. His Bethlehem records never sold all that well, and it had been about four years since he had recorded at all. However, Coltrane was a fan. And this superstar jazz player behind Kind Of Blue, Blue Trane, and Giant Steps was now interested in ballads, and he wanted to record a ballad album with Hartman.
Johnny Hartman was reluctant, not thinking he could keep up with the jazz great. But after a brief meeting arranged by producer Bob Thiele, Hartman agreed. The pair decided on 11 songs to perform, six of which made it onto the album. Most were recorded in one take, and the result was a masterpiece, a landmark album in vocal jazz.
Let’s hear a standout track from that album now. Here is John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman with “My One And Only Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - JOHNNY HARTMAN AND JOHN COLTRANE, “MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE”
Johnny Hartman with saxophonist John Coltrane, with the Guy Wood and Robert Mellin song “My One And Only Love.” That comes from their landmark 1963 album together.
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE, “IT'S EASY TO REMEMBER”
In just a moment, we’ll hear from another acolyte of singer Billy Eckstine, the great Arthur Prysock. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE AND DUKE ELLINGTON, “IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD”
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE, “CENTRAL PARK WEST”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring some of the bass-baritone vocalists who emerged in the wake of the great Billy Eckstine this hour. And now I want to turn my attention to Arthur Prysock.
Like Johnny Hartman, who we just talked about, Arthur Prysock possessed a rich, sensuous voice, perfectly suited for ballads.
Beyond their tonal similarities, Prysock and Hartman differed by their choice of material. Sure Prysock performed the occasional American Songbook standard—and that’s what I’ll mostly focus on for the rest of the hour. But like fellow baritone Lou Rawls, Prysock’s output crept farther away from Nat King Cole and more toward soul and R&B, especially as his career wore on.
Prysock’s career began in the mid 1940s in Buddy Johnson’s Orchestra, when the bandleader was looking for a Billy-Eckstine-like crooner. He stayed with the orchestra for eight years, recording several R&B ballad hits written by Johnson, including “They All Say I’m The Biggest Fool” and “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone.”
Here’s one of those Buddy Johnson songs now, although a recording he made several years later as a solo artist. This is Arthur Prysock in 1963 with “They All Say I’m The Biggest Fool,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ARTHUR PRYSOCK, “THEY ALL SAY I’M THE BIGGEST FOOL”
MUSIC - ARTHUR PRYSOCK, “(I DON’T STAND) A GHOST OF A CHANCE”
Arthur Prysock in 1961 with the Victor Young, Bing Crosby, and Ned Washington song “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance.” Before that, we heard Prysock in 1963 with “They All Say I’m The Biggest Fool,” a song written by Buddy Johnson, an R&B bandleader that Prysock worked with for much of the 1940s and early 50s.
In the 1950s, Arthur Prysock spent some time recording for both Decca and Mercury, but never quite found the following the label wanted. Towards the end of the 1950s into the early 1960s, he spent time recording a series of albums for Old Town Records, a small label that helped him develop a soulful ballad sound. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that he found more success at the major label Verve. There, he recorded a fantastic album with the one and only Count Basie Orchestra, performing rich, soulful versions of many jazz standards.
Let’s hear a track from that album now. Here is Arthur Prysock and Count Basie in 1965 with Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ARTHUR PRYSOCK AND COUNT BASIE, “DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME”
Arthur Prysock with Count Basie’s Orchestra in 1965, performing Duke Ellington’s song “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.”
Throughout the 1960s, whether recording for Verve or for Old Town records, Arthur Prysock remained a keen interpreter of music from the Great American Songbook. His interpretations were soulful and rich, nuanced and romantic. You might think that, had he been born a few years earlier, or had he found his way onto a better label, we may be discussing him in the same conversation as Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra.
Here’s Arthur Prysock in the 1960s performing two jazz standards. First, this is the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein song “The Folks Who Live On The Hill,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ARTHUR PRYSOCK, “THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL”
MUSIC - ARTHUR PRYSOCK, “I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE”
Arthur Prysock with two jazz standards. Just now, we heard him in 1962 with the Matty Malneck, Fud Livingston, and Gus Kahn song “I’m Through With Love.” Before that, Prysock in 1967 with the Kern and Hammerstein song “The Folks Who Live On The Hill.”
Before I go, I’d be careless if I didn’t spend any time talking about Arthur Prysock’s work as a soul and R&B singer. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Prysock’s success came mostly on the R&B charts, performing soulful ballads and paving the way for crooners like Lou Rawls, Barry White, and Teddy Pendergrass.
So to close off this hour, here is a soulful song that I think will appeal to Afterglow fans. It comes from the soundtrack to the 1968 crime noir The Split, starring Jim Brown. The music here is by Quincy Jones, who was on a hot streak writing film music in the late 1960s.
Here is Arthur Prysock with the love theme from that film. This is “It’s Just A Game, Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ARTHUR PRYSOCK, “IT’S JUST A GAME, LOVE”
Arthur Prysock in 1968 with “It’s Just A Game, Love” written by Quincy Jones and Ernie Shelby for the 1968 film The Split.
Thanks for tuning in to this look at the music of Arthur Prysock and Johnny Hartman, on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - GENE AMMONS, “HITTIN' THE JUG”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.