After having dropped off the face of the blogging earth, so to speak, I am feeling rather giddy to have returned. I’ve missed writing and reading about movies and books and hope everyone is doing well and having a lovely fall. It’s been a beautiful autumn where I live. How about your autumn?
I’ve actually stacked up a lot of different things I would like to write about: Japanese cinema, Jo Stafford, a new book about jazz and pop singers that is dangerously addictive to read, a few movie reviews of film noirs, some observations about American hard-boiled writing. But perhaps the best place to begin is with Johnny Hartman.
Johnny Hartman never achieved the success he deserved during his own lifetime and even now is not as well known as he should be. He has a meltingly lovely voice. When the word mellifluous was created, surely that person had Johnny Hartman in mind.
He was primarily a singer of ballads, which was part of his difficulty, because he was singing ballads at a time when rock and roll had stormed in. Perhaps if he had been singing a decade earlier, he would have been better known.
He inadvertently became known as a jazz singer when he collaborated with John Coltrane on their brilliant album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, though he was also a pop singer. Will Friedwald, in the dangerously addictive book I mentioned called A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, wrote that “The basic sound of a Johnny Hartman performance touches on all three sources: jazz, adult pop, and cabaret.”
He was also, according to Friedwald (and it’s difficult to argue), “one of the greatest of all interpreters of love songs.”
It wasn’t just a question of a deep, sensual voice, which he surely had: it was his romantic attitude. ‘There was a sentimentality to him,’ his longtime accompanist Tony Monte put it. ‘He was in love with the idea of being in love, and he [continually] expressed that idea. He would sing about it, and he would speak about in his patter. He would look out wistfully in the audience and say he was going to dedicate the rest of the show to the beautiful women out there and to the men who brought them, and who were paying such great attention to them. And it wasn’t just a little piece of theater, he meant what he was saying.’
In honor of Autumn, which is coming to a close, here is Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane’s rendition of “Autumn Serenade.”
And “The Nearness of You,” written by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington. This song can just about melt a person.