Johnny Hartman: Four Classic Albums Plus

Dull collection of Hartman as crooner is saved somewhat by the inclusion of Songs From The Heart with Ralph Sharon and Howard McGhee


For those who only know Johnny Hartman from his 1963 collaboration with John Coltrane, much of his early work may come as a disappointment. He was one of those crooners prevalent in the late 40s/early 50s, influenced by Billy Eckstine and Al Hibbler, and regarded as a song stylist, covering standards, but delving into jazz on occasion.

The four albums in question are Just You, Just Me, All Of Me: The Debonair Mr Hartman, Songs From The Heart and And I Thought About You. The early material, from 1947 onwards, has an over-elaborate string accompaniment and whilst his rich baritone voice is apparent, the result is rather dull and at times, schmaltzy.

A few bonus tracks are included, with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, but the bebop arrangements are a mismatch for Hartman’s style, which seems at odds with the band, especially when a touch of Afro-Cubop is added. September In The Rain, with Erroll Garner, simply plods.

The 1956 recordings (The Debonair Mr. Hartman) show a little improvement, thanks to the Ernie Wilkins arrangements and the inclusion of players like Lucky Thompson and Jerome Richardson, but those with Frank Hunter in the arranger’s chair see Hartman slipping back. His album And I Thought About You likewise has a dullness – all at a similar pace (apart from After You’ve Gone).

The set is rescued to some degree by the inclusion of Songs From The Heart, which Hartman did with a quartet. Ralph Sharon shows how well he operated with a vocalist (as he did for years with Tony Bennett) – an example being on a slow version of I’ll Remember April – and trumpeter Howard McGhee closely and effectively follows Hartman, responding with some lovely touches on I’m Glad There Is You, When Your Lover Has Gone, and muted on We’ll Be Together Again.

It’s clear that Hartman was more suited to a small-group setting and the addition of four tracks from a 1961 live session at Jorge’s, St. Louis, looser and more relaxed, is something for all you Andrew Hill completists. As usual with Avid, there’s an informative booklet and plenty of tracks. Unfortunately the music isn’t a patch on Hartman’s later Impulse recordings.

CD1: Tormented (Why Must I Be); What’s To Become Of Me?; Just You, Just Me; A Woman Always Understands; I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart;I’ll Never Smile Again; Just A Wearyin’ For You; Why Was I Born?; Sometime Remind Me To Tell You; There Goes My Heart; I Should Care; That Old Black Magic; Close Your Eyes; S’Posin’; September In The Rain; Blue Skies; I Could Make You Care; Tenderly; The Lamp Is Low; While We’re Young; Birth Of The Blues; I’ll Follow You; I Concentrate On You; Stella By Starlight; I Get A Kick Out Of You; The End Of A Love Affair; All Of Me (81.19)
CD2: What Is There To Say; Ain’t Misbehavin’; I Fall In Love Too Easily; We’ll Be Together Again; Down In The Depths; They Didn’t Believe Me; I’m Glad There’s You; When Your Lover Has Gone; I’ll Remember April; I See Your Face Before Me; September Song; Moonlight In Vermont; Mam’selle; To Each His Own; Sunday; Alone; Long Ago & Far Away; I Should Care; Little Girl Blue; But Beautiful; After You’ve Gone; There’s A Lull In My Life; How Long Has This Been Going On; I Thought About You; Somebody Loves Me; Stella By Starlight; You Came A Long Way From St. Louis; Misty (82.28)
Hartman (v) with orchestras directed by Danny Mendelsohn, Frank Hunter, Ernie Wilkins and Rudy Traylor. Plus musicians including Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, Ernie Royal (t), Jerome Richardson (ts, f), Lucky Thompson (ts), Frank Rehak (tb) & others. Quartet: Howard McGhee (t); Ralph Sharon (p); Jay Cave (b); Christy Febbo (d). Trio: Andrew Hill (p); John Mixon (b); Gene Gammage (d). New York & St.Louis, various dates 1947-1961.
Avid Jazz AMSC1409