John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

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  • An outstanding copy of this classic Jazz Vocal album, with superb Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is huge and spacious with richness and Tubey Magic like nothing you’ve heard
  • I defy you to find a Male Vocal record produced in the last thirty years that can hold a candle to this one, sonically or musically
  • A wonderful collaboration between a horn player and a singer, perhaps the greatest one of all time
  • 5 stars: “John Coltrane’s matchup with singer Johnny Hartman works extremely well. Hartman was in prime form on the six ballads, and his versions of ‘Lush Life’ and ‘My One and Only Love’ have never been topped. Classic, essential for all jazz collections”

This could very well be the greatest collaboration between a horn player and a singer in the history of music. I honestly cannot think of another to rank with it. Ella and Louis has the same feel — two giants who work together so sympathetically it’s close to magic, producing definitive performances of enduring standards that have not been equaled in the fifty plus years since they were recorded. And, on the better copies, or should we say the better sides of the better copies, RVG’s sound is stunning. (His mastering, not so much.)

Hats off to Rudy Van Gelder! Here’s an album that justifies his reputation. Not all of them, you know, or should know, but try telling that to the average jazz-loving audiophile.

This ’60s LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real JOHNNY HARTMAN singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 56 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

What the best sides of this stunning collaboration have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1963
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to pressings from every era and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Rudy Van Gelder in this case — would put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

From the Liner Notes

You are immediately struck by Hartman’s dark satin lyricism in They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful.His voice, always a perfectly tuned instrument, is unobtrusive and relaxing, heavy in quality but almost without tremolo, which makes Hartman unique among the big-voiced boppers. His enunciation is impeccable (you’ll hear every word on this record), which makes him unique among all male singers. He respects the word, adapts his vocal embellishments to the value (in meaning and sound) of the word: which makes him unique among everybody.

The Players

Johnny Hartman – vocals
John Coltrane – tenor sax
McCoy Tyner – piano
Jimmy Garrison – double bass
Elvin Jones – drums

TRACK LISTING

Side One

They Say It’s Wonderful
Dedicated to You
My One and Only Love

Side Two

Lush Life
You Are Too Beautiful
Autumn Serenade

Wikipedia Commentary and Background

Though it is often reported that Coltrane and Hartman had known each other since their days playing with Dizzy Gillespie’s band in the late 1940s, the truth is that their time in the band never overlapped. Coltrane might have heard Hartman sing at a 1950 Apollo Theater performance at which they shared the stage.

Hartman is the only vocalist with whom the saxophonist would record as a leader. Initially when producer Bob Thiele approached Hartman with Coltrane’s request that the two record together Hartman was hesitant as he did not consider himself a jazz singer and did not think he and Coltrane would complement one another musically.

However, Thiele encouraged Hartman to go see Coltrane perform at Birdland in New York to see if something could be worked out. Hartman did so, and after the club closed he, Coltrane and Coltrane’s pianist, McCoy Tyner, went over some songs together.

On March 7, 1963, Coltrane and Hartman had decided on 10 songs for the record album, but en route to the studio they heard Nat King Cole on the radio performing “Lush Life”, and Hartman immediately decided that song had to be included in their album. The legendary compilation was made that same day at the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Hartman once said that each song was done in only one take, except for “You Are Too Beautiful”, which required two takes because Elvin Jones dropped one of his drumsticks during the first take. In 2005, the raw tapes were reviewed by jazz archivist Barry Kernfeld, who documented there were actually complete alternate takes for all six songs that he considered “absolutely riveting.” Until clear ownership of these tapes is established between the Coltrane family and Universal Music, there are no plans for their release.

Produced by Bob Thiele, the album became an instant jazz classic, and the renditions of “Lush Life”, “My One and Only Love”, and “They Say It’s Wonderful” are considered definitive.

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

John Coltrane’s matchup with singer Johnny Hartman, although quite unexpected, works extremely well. Hartman was in prime form on the six ballads, and his versions of “Lush Life” and “My One and Only Love” have never been topped. Coltrane’s playing throughout the session is beautiful, sympathetic, and still exploratory; he sticks exclusively to tenor on the date. At only half an hour, one wishes there were twice as much music, but what is here is classic, essential for all jazz collections.

They Say It’s Wonderful: Hartman and Coltrane, an Appreciation

by Matthew Kassel

Over the past month or so, I have listened to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, one of the greatest jazz vocal albums ever made, about once a day. I haven’t tired of it, which is a testament to its durability. But I think there’s more to it than that. I discovered John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman about four years ago, and it continues to enchant me. The album—composed of six slow yet easily digestible romantic ballads—may contain the most beautiful half hour of music I have heard on one CD.

I’m not trying to idealize the record. But I’m not alone in feeling so strongly. Writing in Esquire magazine in 1990, Daniel Okrent named John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman the greatest record ever made. Okrent admitted such a claim “is a fragile limb on which to walk.” But he stood firm. “If you want to argue,” Okrent wrote, “forget it; having listened to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman for some fifteen years, I simply can’t be moved.”

A few years ago, while doing research for a jazz history class at Rutgers University in Newark, the saxophonist Jeff Coffin told me that John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman was the first CD he bought.

“It really latches onto you,” Coffin said. “You crave it.”

I agree with Coffin but can’t go as far as Okrent, even though part of me wants to. Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley, for instance, made in 1961, is an achingly lovely vocal album from which I’ve gotten a lot of the same pleasure. Still, throughout the years I’ve returned to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman more than any other album I own. What accounts for its charm?

In March the album will turn fifty years old, so it feels like a good time to look back on it. The album was recorded at the behest of Bob Thiele, Coltrane’s producer at Impulse Records, who wanted Coltrane to make some more accessible music after a spate of bad reviews. Coltrane recorded some ballads, cut some tracks with Duke Ellington, and then chose Johnny Hartman—a ballad singer with an astonishingly deep baritone voice and perfect intonation—for a vocal album. He had never recorded with a singer before, and he never would again.

Coltrane explained to Frank Kofksy in 1966 why he wanted Hartman, of all singers, for the record: “And Johnny Hartman—a man that I’d had stuck up in my mind somewhere—I just felt something about him, you know, I don’t know what it was. And I liked his sound, I thought there was something there I had to hear, you know, so I looked him up and did that other one, see.”

Gregg Akkerman writes in The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story that Coltrane and Hartman had never met before the recording, though they both played in Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra in the 1940s at different times. Hartman was understandably reluctant to accept Coltrane’s invitation, given the saxophonist’s reputation for wildness. (A couple of years earlier, in 1961, John Tynan wrote in DownBeat magazine that Coltrane’s music with Eric Dolphy represented “anti-jazz.”) But Coltrane, who achieved God-like status before he died in 1967, was a sensitive accompanist and, as it turned out, a fine match for Hartman.

Of the many well-chosen tracks on John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, I’m particularly fond of two of them: Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “You Are Too Beautiful,” written by Rodgers and Hart. Depending on my mood, I might add “Lush Life,” Billy Strayhorn’s haunting composition, to that list. Hartman’s phrasing is immaculate on every number; he artfully inhabits each lyric. In “They Say It’s Wonderful,” Berlin rhymes the word “grand” with “and,” an awkward thing to do. As Alec Wilder writes in his definitive study, American Popular Song, “only a master lyricist would trust such a bland connective word to bear such weight,” and only a master vocalist could nail the connection like Hartman does.

What makes this record particularly fine is Coltrane’s fantastic rhythm section, with Elvin Jones on drums, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and McCoy Tyner—the only living musician from the session—on piano. In “You Are Too Beautiful,” Coltrane lays out, letting Tyner take a graceful solo in double time. Jones, who could play very loosely and with much power, uses brushes the entire album; he lays down remarkably delicate beats. Garrison plucks deep, round notes that mimic Hartman’s voice, which sounded like a cello at times.

The album has its faults, I’m reluctant to say. The last and weakest track, “Autumn Serenade,” a slightly up-tempo number with a rumba feel, seems out of place. (The other tracks include “Dedicated To You” and “My One And Only Love.”) With so many songs to choose from, I wonder why they used “Autumn Serenade.” Perhaps I’m alone here, but I wish the band had ended with another slow ballad. “Midnight Sun,” say. Or maybe “The Masquerade Is Over.” I can imagine a slowed down “There Will Never Be Another You” sounding particularly good. Nonetheless, Coltrane’s solo on “Autumn Serenade” is sublime; you get a mild, fleeting taste of the ferocious saxophonist he could be.

Which brings me to this: as much as I love John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, it has never been my favorite Coltrane album. That designation goes to Crescent, a collection of deep and searching ballads recorded in 1964 with the same group from the Hartman date. In the 1960s, Coltrane was moving so quickly and making music so far out—see, for example, Interstellar Space, one of his last studio recordings—that John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman seems like a footnote, an afterthought, in his vast output. Perhaps that’s why, three years later, Coltrane felt he needed to tell Frank Kofsky that he didn’t regret making the record. Why would you regret making something so good?

As for Hartman, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is, I think, the best thing he ever did. I’m also fond of Songs from the Heart, Hartman’s first LP and one of the better records he made in his life. But the date with Coltrane is, without a doubt, the crown jewel of his discography. Hartman’s voice is arrestingly beautiful (praise Rudy Van Gelder’s excellent engineering), and he owns each song.

Because Johnny Hartman sang more like Bing Crosby than a blues shouter at a time when handsome black singers were not expected to do that, he never really got the recognition he deserved.

“I’ve seen times,” Hartman once said, tragically, “when I couldn’t go into white clubs and sing my style of singing … You get the feeling that you’re never supposed to be serious or be a man who could fall in love.”

Hartman enjoyed some popularity in the late forties and early fifties but for most of his life worked the supper club circuit in the shadow of fame. By the time he died of lung cancer in 1983, he was relatively obscure, though deeply respected by singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. In 1995 Clint Eastwood featured Hartman’s deep voice in The Bridges of Madison County, giving him some posthumous recognition.

As far as I know, no one has used any of the music from John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman in a movie; I’m hoping someone will. In any case, after a month of hard listening, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman has become my own kind of internal soundtrack. I whistle these ballads as I walk down the street, but mess up their difficult melodies. I try to sing them, but can’t really, not the way I’ve heard them. So I put on my headphones and play the record again and furrow my brow as I marvel at its mysterious beauty.

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