In the history of jazz, there have been two great combinations of solo saxophone players and vocalists. One, of course, was Billie Holiday and Lester Young (perhaps some day we’ll have Jazz Vocalist Week and Saxophone Week). Holiday was, without doubt, the greatest jazz vocalist of all time, and Lester’s delicate playing spun a skein of notes around her like yarn around a kitten.
The other duo is not so well known—as a duo. One member was the legendary John Coltrane; all jazz enthusiasts know him, and I hope one day to put up some of his songs. The other was the vocalist I’m featuring today: Johnny Hartman (1923-1983). Hartman was not nearly as well known as he should have been, perhaps because his output was small. But his voice was beautiful, mellow and smoky—like a combination of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. And although Hartman is considered a jazz singer, I’ll put him under “pop” because he sang mostly ballads—and because I don’t want to leave him out.
The collaboration with Coltrane is limited to a single album, Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane (1963). But it is, I think, the greatest stand-alone album of jazz vocals ever produced. Billie Holiday is still the best singer, but in individual songs rather than album collections. Many jazz buffs will beef, saying that the Hartman/Coltrane songs are romantic ballads, but remember how many jazz greats (including Charlie Parker) recorded ballads.
The album has six songs, each of them a classic. All but one were recorded in a single take. The setup is the same for each: there are long solos by Coltrane, and then vocals by Hartman with Coltrane in the background. The result is mesmerizing. I’ll put up four of them and link to the other two. There are no live performances because this was a studio album. The “studio musicians” were great jazz musicians as well: McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on bass. For the following four, click on the line that says “Watch on YouTube“:
My favorite: “My One and Only Love”
“They Say It’s Wonderful” (written by Irving Berlin for the musical Annie Get Your Gun!)
“Lush Life” (the Billy Strayhorn classic):
“Dedicated to You”
and . .
You can buy all the songs for six bucks on iTunes, or for 12 bucks on Amazon. Here are the Amazon ratings: