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Book Excerpts

The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story

By Published: July 3, 2012
Once more dismissing Ellington, the group next played a swinging version of "On a Clear Day," a song consistently included in Hartman setlists throughout the 1970s. Larkins laid down a fiery piano solo that earned a burst of applause but, once again, the ending was hindered by lack of rehearsal. Next, Hartman offered an abbreviated version of his typical spoken introduction to "Lush Life" before delivering a stunning rendition. Although Hartman didn't feel it necessary to regularly perform all six songs from his Coltrane collaboration, Strayhorn's "Lush Life" became a fixture of nearly all his appearances and his masterful experience with the song showed. Hartman described how he kept his approach fresh for a song he sang so often: "I think I've changed the way I sing it over the years...the more you sing a song, you are apt to change it. It reflects the moods that you're in."(5)

After five selections, Hartman had warmed up to the audience and shared a brief story about Ellington once requesting that Hartman sing "September Song" as long as he could include the introductory verse. He gladly complied. Compared to his 1955 version on Songs from the Heart, Hartman now presented "September" with a seasoned maturity that caressed every nuance in the lyric. When Hartman sang about precious and vintage years, he now possessed a hard-earned credibility that was unavoidably absent in the earlier draft. After decades of singing to people all over the world, Hartman had become a master story teller and the reverence awarded him by the subdued Newport Jazz Festival audience was palpable. A rancor may have hung over the city that night, but during Hartman's four Ellington-related performances, the air above Avery Fisher Hall was filled with delight.


1. John S. Wilson, "Song Salute Swings, Then Melts," New York Times, 3 July 1975, 22.

2. Whitney Balliett, Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954—2000. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000, 448.

3. Burt Goldblatt, Newport Jazz Festival—The Illustrated History, New York: Dial, 1977, 238.

4. Patricia O'Hare cited in Goldblatt, Newport Jazz Festival—The Illustrated History, 234.

5. John S. Wilson, "Hartman Singing in 'Voices Of Jazz,'" New York Times, 21 May 1982.

Photo Credit

Johnny Hartman Photo: Courtesy of Bethlehem Records

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