Johnny Hartman

John Maurice Hartman was a critically acclaimed baritone jazz singer who specialized in ballads. Born in Louisiana but raised in Chicago, he began singing and playing the piano by age eight. In 1940, Hartman graduated from DuSable High School where he studied music under Walter Dyett before receiving a scholarship to Chicago Musical College. He sang as an Army private during WWII but his first professional work came in September 1946 when he won a singing contest awarding him a one-week engagement with Earl Hines at Chicago's El Grotto nightclub. Seeing potential in the singer, Hines hired him for the next year. Although Hartman’s first recordings were with Marl Young in February 1947, it was the collaboration with Hines that provided notable exposure. After the Hines orchestra broke up, Dizzy Gillespie invited Hartman to join his big band in 1948 during an eight-week tour in California. Dropped from the band about one year later, Hartman worked for a short time with pianist Erroll Garner before going solo by early 1950.

After recording several pop-oriented singles for Apollo Records and RCA Victor, Hartman finally released his first solo album, Songs from the Heart, with a jazz quintet for Bethlehem Records in 1955. After releasing two more albums and a handful of singles with small labels, Hartman got a career-altering offer in 1963 to record with John Coltrane. The saxophonist likely remembered Hartman from a bill they shared at the Apollo Theater in 1950 and later said, “I just felt something about him, I don’t know what it was. I like his sound, I thought there was something there I had to hear so I looked him up and did that album.” Featuring all ballads, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is considered a classic. This led to recording four more albums with Impulse and parent label ABC-Paramount, all produced by Bob Thiele.

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