Saturday, February 17, 2007

Johnny Hartman --- Better Late Than Never?

There are several theories as to why the singer Johnny Hartman, arguably considered our finest purveyor of ballads (and no mean swinger to boot), never quite made it as a mainstream artist, and most of them have to do with racism, i.e., "I’d like to use you, Johnny, but you’ll never make it. Your voice is too classy for a Negro." It was the same thing they told the equally under-appreciated African-American jazz singer, Lurlean Hunter. To give the devil his due, the devil was right, Hartman never really "made it" as a performer. At least not in his homeland. Even his classic 1963 album with John Coltrane failed to jump-start his career, and Hartman continued touring Japan, Australia and Europe for a livelihood.

In a classic case of bad timing, Hartman died in 1983 at age 60. It is a tragedy of near classical proportions, and further proof that there IS no god, that if he’d hung around a while longer, the Chicago native could have capitalized on the personal attention that accompanied the massive success of the soundtrack for The Bridges of Madison County. The 1995 Clint Eastwood film contained four Hartman cuts and ignited a long-overdue fascination with him here in his homeland.

Hartman led a very active TV career outside the U.S.---he even had his own special in Australia. But, with the exception of this one regional TV appearance, I have only heard but never seen Hartman in action. It comes as no real surprise to me that on this clip---seen here---he comes off visually as suave, poised and polished as he sounds on his recordings.

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