Johnny Hartman: the great yet little known song stylist

Johnny Hartman

Johnny Hartman (born John Maurice Hartman), 1923-1983, was from Louisiana but grew up in Chicago. Imagine the best qualities of Frank Sinatra’s voice from the 1940s and 1950s – tender and thoughtful, or manly with confidence – and you’ll have an idea of Hartman’s voice.  Now: lower that voice to a baritone-bass – and you’ve got Hartman.  Like Sinatra, he had a homely face and a great voice – but Hartman’s interpretive skills with a ballad were more sensitive – were finer – than Sinatra’s.


Contemporary singer Gregory Generet has written of Hartman: “ [He] was a master of emotional expression, putting everything he had into every word he sang. His rich, masculine baritone voice never wavered in its sincerity. The only vocalist ever to record with John Coltrane, he was mostly known only to true jazz lovers during his glorious career.” Generet’s correct when he writes “glorious”; he’s also correct when he writes “mostly known only to true jazz lovers.” Hartman’s performances on record are “glorious” and he was always too little known by the general public, and is by now all but eclipsed in the Internet-era that is the 21st century, where History is 10 years ago.

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Cole Porter (1891-1964)

“Down in the Depths on the 90th floor” (1936)


Manhattan, I’m up a tree,
The one I’ve most adored
Is bored
With me.
Manhattan, I’m awfully nice,
Nice people dine with me,
And sometimes twice.
Yet the only one in the world I’m mad about
Talks of somebody else

– And walks out.
With a million neon rainbows burning below me
And a million noisy taxis raising a roar,
Here I stand above the town
Drinking champagne with a frown,
Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor.

And the crowds in all the nightclubs punish the parquet
And the couples at the bar clamour for more.
I’m deserted and depressed
In my regal eagle’s nest,
Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor.

When the only one you want wants another,
What’s the good of swank and cash in the bank galore?
Why, my janitor and his wife,
They have a perfectly good love life;
And here am I,
Facing tomorrow,
Alone in my sorrow

– Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor!

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Listen to this 1955 recording of Johnny Hartman singing “Down in the Depths (on the 90th floor)”:

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