As you hear this remarkable previously unreleased recording of a 1974 live performance by Johnny Hartman at New York's Town Hall, you'll easily understand why Hartman was John Coltrane's favourite vocalist and much respected by other jazz players. His voice is truly a musical instrument. As a result, he not only has the jazz pulse, the rhythmic flow of time but he is also able to subtly change and adapt his sound and dynamics as a skilful horn player would.
This was Johnny Hartman's last concert - he died in 1983 - and this is one of his very few live recordings. Live recordings preserve the very essence of the life force that is jazz. Hearing Hartman so alive on all of these tracks brings new dimensions to the lyrics. He infuses the lyrics with his own memories. This performance is even more riveting because Johnny is telling his story. "I'm a saloon singer" he says, ”… and saloon singers drink and smoke a lot”. So was Frank Sinatra and both bring the listener right into the song because saloon singers also light up the memories of the audience.
The week of this concert was also the week Duke Ellington died. Johnny pays tribute to him: "Everything has its beginning and its end. Be thankful that you were a part of it." Of Duke and others who have gone, Hartman says: “I was most fortunate to have known these people, I had that privilege; one of the most beautiful things in my life." He then precedes "Lush Life" by saying it was written by Billy Strayhorn when he was only 16 years old. "I did it with John Coltrane." he says. It was part of the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman recording and became a classic version of this intensely introspective song.
Johnny never engaged in what used to be called "showboating" – using attention getting devices that were marginal to the song. He became the song. Johnny came out of Chicago. Musicians were very much aware of his nonpareil qualities, and this recording should also inform-and delight-present and future listeners. The music is timeless, and so is the pleasure it brings. - Nat Hentoff Syndicated jazz music critic