JJ 02/64: John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman

Sixty years ago Mark Gardner was relieved to hear Coltrane relaxing into rhapsody though reckoned an uptempo would have helped. First published in Jazz Journal February 1964


On paper, the combination of singer Johnny Hartman and avant garde saxo­phonist John Coltrane would not appear to be an altogether homogeneous one, but in practice the two complement each other and together create some striking performances. Hartman, a vocalist who has been touched by Billy Eckstine, Earl Coleman and Dick Haymes, was once a part of Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band (so was Coltrane). Although he recorded for Regent and Bethlehem in the ’fifties, Johnny has been out of the limelight for some time as a result of public indifference to people who actually sing in tune. This set should help to restore his name in the minds of serious record-buyers.

Hartman features a relatively simple approach to the ballad material on these sides. There is no straining for effects here – just superb, relaxed vocalising by a man whose talent has been hidden from us for too long. The only criticism one could make of the album is the same­ness of tempo – a “quickie” in the middle of each side would have improved the session.

After his harsh period, ’Trane, it seems to me, has come full cycle and is now reaching back for the pretty things that got lost in the enthusiasm of ex­periment. His LP of ballads showed this need of his to slow down – the record under review serves as another pointer that John is perhaps getting a mite bored with turning chords inside out. How­ever, he does stretch out on Autumn Serenade, which obviously intrigued him with its slow rhumba rhythm. And he cannot resist doubling the tempo of the stately Lush Life (his second recording of this haunting Billy Strayhorn chart). But on the remaining tracks he noodles reflectively behind Hartman’s rich voice and embellishes the melodies in a stark, yet always pretty, way.

McCoy Tyner’s tasty accompaniment, aided by the splendid Jimmy Garrison (bass) and the enviable brushes of Elvin Jones, ensures that the rhythm depart­ment is taken care of perfectly. Who could believe that this group has never before backed a singer on record? They sound as if they’ve done nothing else.

They Say It’s Wonderful; Dedicated To You; My One And Only Love (16½ min) – Lush Life; You Are Too Beautiful; Autumn Serenade (15¼ min)
Johnny Hartman (vcl); John Coltrane (ten); McCoy Tyner (p); Jimmy Garrison (b); Elvin Jones (d). N.Y.C., 7/3/63.
(HMV CLP 1700 12inLP 32s.)