MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the program, we’re celebrating jazz singer Johnny Hartman, who would have turned 100 years old this week. Hartman’s voice was somewhere between Billy Eckstine and Frank Sinatra—a rich baritone with an amazing ability to interpret a ballad. Yet despite his many musical gifts, his career never took off. However, he’s still celebrated, thanks mostly to one iconic album with saxophonist John Coltrane in 1963, and because he was a favorite singer of a famous filmmaker (more on that later). Coming up, we’ll explore parts of Hartman’s entire recording career.
It’s The Debonair Johnny Hartman, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "THESE FOOLISH THINGS"
Johnny Hartman in 1964 with the jazz standard “These Foolish Things,” written by British songwriters Jack Strachey, Harry Link, and Holt Marvell. That comes from his album The Voice That Is, released on the Impulse label in 1965, and recorded at the Rudy Van Gelder studios in New Jersey about a year and half after his landmark LP John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Hank Jones is featured there on piano, along with Barry Galbraith on guitar, Richard Davis on bass, and Osie Johnson on drums.
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE, "SOUL EYES"
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re celebrating the great love song balladeer Johnny Hartmna [in honor of his centennial this week].
There’s actually a bit of debate about Johnny Hartman’s date of birth. He once told historian Leonard Feather that he was born in Chicago in 1926. But in actuality, he was likely born in Louisiana on July 3, 1923.
His family moved to Chicago soon after his birth, following a similar path from the south to the north as many African American families during the Great Migration.
Details of his childhood are scant, mostly because he told conflicting stories to interviewers over the years. We know he sang in church and in his high school glee club. He may have won an amateur singing contest at age 17, earning a short gig with Chicago pianist Earl Hines. He likely sang while serving in the army during World War II. And he definitely sang with Hines in 1947, when he was about 24 years old, cutting some of his first records.
An early inspiration for Hartman was singer Frank Sinatra, and you can hear a lot of Sinatra’s romantic crooning style, especially in Hartman’s early work. In fact, in one of his first solo recordings from 1947, he recorded one of Sinatra’s early hit records from a few years earlier. Let’s hear that now.
This is Johnny Hartman in 1947 with “I’ll Never Smile Again,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "I'LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN"
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "I SHOULD CARE"
Two early tracks from singer Johnny Hartman. Just now, we heard his ballad style placed in sharp relief against the bop sounds of Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in 1949. That was the song “I Should Care.” Before that, one of his first solo recordings, for the Regent label in 1947. That was “I’ll Never Smile Again.”
It took several years for Johnny Hartman to become established as a jazz singer. He had the opportunity with Dizzy Gillespie, but never quite fit in stylistically. In 1949, he recorded briefly for the Mercury label, making a few singles with the Jimmy Carroll Orchestra as well as with pianist Erroll Garner and his Trio.
MUSIC CLIP - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN"
In the early 1950s, he was also briefly signed to RCA Victor, the same label that fellow baritone Billy Eckstine was signed to. His records on RCA pushed him more in a pop direction. He was one of the first singers to perform the song “Wheel Of Fortune,” which later became a hit for singer Kay Starr in 1952.
MUSIC CLIP - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE"
Hartman made only a few recordings in 1953, and nothing in 1954. However, in 1955, he was signed to the upstart jazz label Bethlehem, joining other singers like Chris Connor, Nina Simone and Carmen McRae. Hartman’s debut record for Bethlehem, titled Songs From The Heart and featuring Ralph Sharon on piano, was the singer’s solo LP, and showcases his voice in all its subtlety for the first time.
Let’s hear two ballads from that album now. First, this is Johnny Hartman in 1955 with the song “When Your Lover Has Gone,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE"
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "DOWN IN THE DEPTHS"
Two songs from Johnny Hartman LP Songs From The Heart, released on the Bethlehem label in 1955. Just now, we heard the Cole Porter tune “Down In The Depths.” Before that, the Einar Swan tune “When Your Lover Has Gone.”
Johnny Hartman expanded his sound for his follow-up album on Bethlehem Records, 1957’s All Of Me: The Debonair Mr. Hartman, Instead of working just a jazz trio, he worked instead with a full orchestra, featuring a jazz orchestra led by Ernie Wilkins on some tracks, and an orchestra of strings, woodwinds, and percussion led by Frank Hunter. The album also showcased Hartman performing a few up-tempo numbers, rather than his typical ballads.
Let’s hear two tracks from that album now. First, here he is with a ballad. This is Johnny Hartman in 1956 with the Alec Wilder tune “While We’re Young,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "WHILE WE'RE YOUNG"
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU"
Two songs from the 1957 album All Of Me: The Debonair Mr. Hartman. That was Johnny Hartman with “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” featuring the Ernie Wilkins Orchestra, and “While We’re Young,” featuring the Frank Hunter Orchestra.
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE, "PRISTINE"
We’ll hear more from Johnny Hartman, in honor of his centennial, after a short break, including his iconic work with saxophonist John Coltrane. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE, "NANCY (WITH THE LAUGHING FACE)"
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE QUARTET, "SAY IT (OVER AND OVER AGAIN)"
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the work of baritone Johnny Hartman this hour. Hartman would have turned 100 years old on July 3, 2023.
In the late 1950s, Johnny Hartman had made a few LPs for the Bethlehem label, as well as an LP for the Roost label, But by 1960, Hartman had fallen off the radar, performing only sporadically at jazz clubs around the country. However, he had acquired a notable fan in the famous tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Coltrane was a jazz superstar at this point, recording with Miles Davis on the legendary Kind Of Blue LP, leading his own legendary sessions on albums like Blue Trane and Giant Steps, and pushing jazz towards the avant garde with his live set at the Village Vanguard in 1962. And now, he was interested in recording ballads, and wanted to feature Hartman on his next record. Perhaps Hartman had reminded him of his old mentor, the baritone Billy Eckstine.
It was the first and only time Coltrane had ever worked with a singer, and Hartman was understandably nervous. But he was convinced by producer Bob Thiele, and so on March 7, 1963, the two headed out to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio to record six songs. The result, the LP John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, is widely considered to be one of the masterpiece albums in vocal jazz. Critic Will Friedwald, who wrote about it in his 2017 book The Great Jazz And Pop Vocal Albums, called it “miraculous.”
Let’s hear one of the tracks from the album now, which features Coltrane’s tenor saxophone blending in with the end of Hartman’s chorus. This is Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane in 1963 with “Dedicated To You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHN COLTRANE AND JOHNNY HARTMAN, "DEDICATED TO YOU"
From the iconic 1963 album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, that was the song “Dedicated To You.”
After the success of this album, released on the Impulse Record label, Johnny Hartman was back on the map. And as a result, Impulse producer Bob Thiele signed him to the label. He would end up recording four albums in total for the label over the next several years, two released on the more jazz-forward Impulse, and two released on their parent label, the more pop-heavy ABC Paramount label.
Let me play for you a few tracks from his other Impulse and ABC Paramount albums now. This first one comes from his follow up, the album I Just Dropped By To Say Hello, which features jazz greats Hank Jones on piano and Elvin Jones on drums. This is Johnny Hartman with the little known tune “Kiss and Run,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "KISS AND RUN"
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "UNFORGETTABLE"
Johnny Hartman in 1966 with the famous song “Unforgettable.” That comes from his album Unforgettable Songs By Johnny Hartman, featuring the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, and released on the ABC-Paramount label. Before that, we heard him late in 1963 with the less famous song “Kiss and Run,” from the album I Just Dropped By To Say Hello, released on the Impulse label in 1964.
Johnny Hartman’s albums for Impulse and ABC Paramount in the 1960s never gave him the fame or success anticipated after the release of the LP John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Despite making appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and on Sammy Davis, Jr.’s television variety show, the musical world had simply changed too much. Black ballad singers of his ilk were no longer celebrated the way they were in previous decades.
In the early 1970s, he made the move to the Perception label, a short-lived label that had recently signed other fading jazz stars like his former bandleader Dizzy Gillespie. He made two records for the label, most of which featured more contemporary songs. Let’s hear one now.
From the 1972 LP titled Today, this is Johnny Hartman with the 1968 song “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "I'VE GOT TO BE ME"
Johnny Hartman in 1972 with “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” a song made famous a few years earlier by one of his friends, Sammy Davis, Jr. That comes from the Hartman LP called Today.
The last decade of Johnny Hartman’s life was, unfortunately, marked with more obscurity, at least among the general public. He performed frequently for jazz aficionados in places like Boston, the Newport Jazz Festival, and in Tokyo, Japan. In 1976, he was featured on Alec Wilder’s NPR program “American Popular Song,” with pianist Loonis McGhlohon.
He made two LPs in the 1980s, before his death in 1983. His final one, titled This One’s for Tedi was dedicated to his wife of over 20 years. However, his second-to-last one, titled Once In Every Life recorded for the BeeHive label in 1980, helped cement his legacy.
Not only was Once In Every Life nominated for a Grammy that year—his only nomination—fifteen years later, several tracks from this record made an appearance on the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood romance The Bridges of Madison County, sparking a mini-revival of interest in his music.
To close off this Hartman tribute, let’s hear one of those songs now, a song that he also happened to record on his debut LP in 1955.
This is Johnny Hartman in 1980 with the Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz song, “I See Your Face Before Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, "I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME"
Johnny Hartman in 1980, off of one of his final LPs, the Grammy-nominated album Once In Every Life. That was the jazz standard “I See Your Face Before Me.” That recording was also featured in the 1995 Clint Eastwood film The Bridges Of Madison County.
Hartman would have turned 100 years old this week.
And thanks for tuning in to this Johnny Hartman edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - JOHN COLTRANE, "MY LITTLE BROWN BOOK"
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