Maurice Hartman (July 3, 1923 – September 15, 1983) was an American
bass jazz singer who specialized in ballads and earned critical acclaim,
though he was never widely known. He recorded a well-known collaboration
with the saxophonist John Coltrane in 1963 called John Coltrane and Johnny
Hartman, and was briefly a member of Dizzy Gillespie's group. Most of his
career was spent recording solo albums.
Born and raised in Chicago, Hartman began singing and playing the piano by
age eight. Hartman attended DuSable High School studying music under Walter
Dyett before receiving a scholarship to Chicago Musical College. He sang as
an Army private during World War II, but his first professional work came in
September 1946 when he won a singing contest awarding him a one-week
engagement with Earl Hines. Seeing potential in the singer, Hines hired him
for the next year. Although Hartman’s first recordings were with Marl Young
in February 1947, it was the collaboration with Hines that provided notable
exposure. After the Hines orchestra broke up, Dizzy Gillespie invited
Hartman to join his big band in 1948 during an eight-week tour in
California. Dropped from the band about one year later, Hartman worked for a
short time with pianist Erroll Garner before going solo by early 1950.
After recording several singles with different orchestras, Hartman finally
released his first solo album, Songs From the Heart, with a quintet for
Bethlehem Records in 1955. Releasing two more albums with small labels,
neither very successful, Hartman got a career-altering offer in 1963 to
record with John Coltrane. The saxophonist likely remembered Hartman from a
bill they shared at the Apollo Theater in 1950 and later said, “I just felt
something about him, I don’t know what it was. I like his sound, I thought
there was something there I had to hear so I looked him up and did that
album.” Featuring all ballads, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is widely
considered a classic. This led to recording four more albums with Impulse!
and parent label ABC, all produced by Bob Thiele.
With the 1970s being difficult for singers clinging to the pre-rock American
songbook, Hartman turned to playing cocktail lounges in New York City and
Chicago. Recording again with small labels like Perception and Musicor,
Hartman produced music of mixed quality as he attempted to be viewed as a
more versatile vocalist. Referring to his approach to interpreting a song,
Hartman said, “Well, to me a lyric is a story, almost like talking, telling
somebody a story, try to make it believable.” Returning to the jazz combo
format of his earlier albums, Hartman recorded Once in Every Life for Bee
Hive, earning him a 1981 Grammy nomination for Best Male Jazz Vocalist. This
was quickly followed up by his last album of newly recorded material titled
This One’s for Tedi as a tribute to his wife.
Hartman recorded new tracks for Grenadilla Records on their jazz label -
Grapevine. These were dance tracks of Beyond the Sea and Caravan with
Caravan also having an extended 6-minute version.
In the early 1980s Hartman gave several performances for jazz festivals,
television, and radio before succumbing to lung cancer at age sixty. His
reputation grew considerably in 1995 when the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s
Bridges of Madison County (1995) featured seven songs from the then
out-of-print Bee Hive album.