Om Johnny Hartman
On the shortlist of the greatest jazz singers of all time, Johnny Hartman possessed a beautiful voice, good looks and an engaging stage presence, yet the crossover fame he richly deserved eluded him during his lifetime. Hartman's lush baritone was similar to Billy Eckstine's, but less mannered; Hartman always cited Frank Sinatra and Nat "King" Cole as his primary influences. You can hear it in his naturalistic phrasing and attention to the narrative detail of a lyric. While Hartman sadly recorded infrequently over a four decade career (especially in comparison to his peers), Songs From the Heart (1955), I Just Dropped By to Say Hello and John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman (both 1963) easily rank alongside the greatest jazz albums ever, vocals or no vocals. Esquire magazine even chose his collaboration with Coltrane as the greatest album ever made, and while rock fans would argue that point, the masterpiece is certainly one of the most exquisitely beautiful ever recorded. Although a select group of loyal fans and (especially) jazz musicians loved these albums, by the late-1960s Hartman was working primarily in Japan and Australia (where he even starred in his own TV specials). By the late-'70s Hartman was working back in the States, where he earned a Grammy nomination in 1980. Then, just as his career was taking off again, he developed cancer and died in 1983. In the mid-'90s, longtime fan Clint Eastwood included a handful of Hartman tracks in his darkly romantic adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County. The film introduced Hartman to a whole new generation of listeners, and the resulting soundtrack CD, as well as two re-issued Hartman albums, quickly sold more than any of his work had during his lifetime.