John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman - John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman
Sep 15, 2020
The History of the Albums - n°223

Today I want you to be particularly relaxed, that nothing could spoil this moment. I want you to sit in this chair. Don't hesitate to slouch down, until you're stuck. Lovers of gluttony, let yourself go. We have Cuban cigars and a good bottle of 30-year-old whiskey. It's good, are you relaxed? Perfectly. In this case, you are ready to discover or rediscover, for those who have already had the chance, a true jazz vocal classic from the 60s. And it's not just anyone, the poster is enticing, it excites you like a flea. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the pleasure of analyzing with you the album John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, released in 1963 by Impulse!

With the exception of the tireless legends Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, in reality the jazz voice lost much exposure and interest in the 1960s, a symbol of generational change. There is only one artist who has largely succeeded in becoming the rare exception, and that is of course Nina Simone, but otherwise one has to admit that things have changed a lot compared to the 50s. And on the one hand it's logical, instrumental jazz has become adored and popular music is dictated by young people and is moving towards rock, r&b and folk. Everything in its time. Fortunately, as the history of music constantly shows us, it is not necessarily because a musical style or genre becomes "obsolete", that there is not an artist or a group that will bring out its old memories to pay tribute to them. Afterwards, it is important to say that in 1963, despite the decline, the jazz voice was still established. The point I was getting at is that of course there were still a handful of reference and memorable albums released during the decade that are fantastic works to listen to at least once.

As you can see, the John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman album is clearly one of them. It's one of the most charming jazz vocal works I've ever listened to. To know its history, you have to go back to 1923, the day Johnny Hartman was born in Houma, Louisiana, an excellent singer with a deep and warm voice of ballads and standards, little known by the general public... Wait, I went back a little too far. So I was saying, in order to know the history of this, you have to go back to 1950, during a performance at Apollo Theater, where Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane played together for the first time in Dizzy Gilespie's orchestra. Both artists were at the beginning of their careers, especially Coltrane who was far from being the legend he became. Johnny Hartman had made his first proofs in Earl Hines' orchestra. During the first years of his career, Hartman made a great start to his career by making a good impression which allowed him to get deals with labels and thus launch himself as a soloist. Remaining rather discreet, although he managed to make a living from it, Hartman released a handful of albums in the 50s, interesting but particularly little known
Yet Hartman has always had enormous recognition from artists and labels, making him a sure bet in the music industry. When the Impulse! label, which by the way had understood everything about life and was always on top of the charts at that time (Charles Mingus' masterpiece The Black Saint and The Lady Sinner) offered Hartman the opportunity to collaborate with John Coltrane, who had become famous, far from the Apollo era, it was an incredible opportunity. It's half true, after all he deserved it. It must be said that Hartman is a phenomenal singer. Just his tone of voice, his ability to bewitch a song, to make it comfortable and deeply emotional. Recorded in March 1963 over one session, there is no doubt about Hartman's talent. We also understand better why a guy so well known as Coltrane had agreed to do this work together. Finally we owe this album to the initiative of producer Bob Thiele who saw in Hartman and Coltrane a possible alchemy that had great potential. A standard pop singer with one of the most innovative jazz musicians, you could say that it doesn't fit. He was not mistaken. Yet the two of them were able to achieve this beautiful coup. Moreover when you think about it, by simply relying on rather traditional formulas and structures. That is to say that the musicians are in the background, sometimes playing some minimalist but absolutely wonderful solos (whether it's Coltrane with his tenor or McCoy Tyner with his piano), without ever overdoing it. The important thing is to let Hartman manage the melodies and the space which allows him to lead the song like any classical jazz vocal. The talent of all the actors, combined with a good choice of standards and a delicious production make this album a total success
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