Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14: John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman, "My One And Only Love"

Artist: John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman
Song: "My One And Only Love"
Album: John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman
Year: 1963

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Though it happens very rarely, there have been a few instances in music history where two of the greatest performers of their generation came together for more than just a "one off" recording.  While many do this for benefit records or to attempt to jump-start one of the players' careers, the most amazing work comes when both artists enter the studio simply wanting to record alongside one another.  If in such a situation, the performers in question are true legends, it is hard for a spectacular album NOT to be the result.  Every piece of this can be seen as clear fact with just a brief listen to the sonic bliss that is the aptly titled 1963 release, John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman.  As the story goes, the pair knew one another from their time as part of Dizzy Gillespie's band in the 1940's, though Hartman was initially hesitant to be a part of the project, as he did not feel his style would fit well with Coltrane's playing.  After seeing Coltrane play live, the two set a date, and six of the seven songs found on the album were recorded in single takes.  The only song that required a second take, "You Are Too Beautiful," only needed it because drummer Elvin Jones dropped a stick on the first attempt.  Such perfection is almost understandable considering the monumental level of talent in the room, and the stunning chemistry between the pair can be summed up in John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman's 1963 rendition of, "My One And Only Love."

The entire album boasts one of the most impressive lineups of players ever in the same studio, and it largely due to the fact that the band is comprised of Coltrane's backing band at the time.  The rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones are without question one of, if not the finest rhythm section in history, and pianist McCoy Tyner adds brilliant touches to play in contrast to Coltrane's sound.  On the record, Coltrane only plays tenor saxophone, and though he recorded a number o unforgettable moments, his performances here are without question some of his most inspired and beautiful.  From the moment "My One And Only Love" begins, Coltrane sets a soft, intimate mood, and few players have ever been able to achieve such expression of emotion as one finds here.  Working the melody as he sees fit, and it is performances such as this that prove just how brilliant he was at playing more structured pieces, as opposed to the more free style with which he built his legendary status.  Coltrane's playing on "My One And Only Love" has a vocal quality unlike any other instrumental performance in history, and in the latter parts of the song, this becomes most clear, as the pair seem to almost have a duet going.  Though he is best known for his revolutionary work in mode and tone, one cannot overstate the sheer beauty and brilliance that John Coltrane brings to "My One And Only Love."

For a number of reasons, it is mind-boggling that before this date with Coltrane, Johnny Hartman had not recorded for the better part of a decade.  Yet even with this fact in play, as well as the "single take" nature of the recordings, Hartman never sounded better than he does throughout the entire John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman album, and one would be hard pressed to find a more moving and striking voice anywhere in music history.  Easily able to work the entire vocal range, there is a sorrow that is ever-present in Hartman's voice, and it brings a distinct beauty and mood to every song that he sings.  On "My One And Only Love," Hartman perfectly matches the tone of the band behind him, and lets the mood they set carry his vocals.  At no point on the song does Hartman sound anything short of completely honest, and it is the combination of his immense talent and vocal heartbreak that proves how superior he was not nearly all of his peers.  It is with this idea in mind that one is left to wonder why Hartman does not receive the accolades that others of this era do, as there is little argument that he remains among the greatest vocalists in history.  Rarely has a vocalist meshed so seamlessly with a backing band, especially one that was not their own, and it is this amazing fusion that makes this version of "My One And Only Love" the definitive recording of the song.

While Hartman is far forward in the overall mix of the song, the balance that is achieved between the different musicians is absolutely perfect, and this is largely due to the production of the great Bob Theile.  Legend has it that along with Theile, Hartman's vocal idol, Billy Eckstine, oversaw the albums' recording, and this only adds more to the overall iconic status of the lineup present for the session.  Theile manages to give each instrument its own place in the music, and each musician clearly understands the exact nature of their role, resulting in harmony, as opposed to any single player attempting to take the spotlight.  This unselfish performance from all of the musicians proves that whenever this is honestly done, the greatest of musical results will be achieved.  Yet there is not a moment where either Coltrane or Hartman are not the center of attention, and they both manage to give "career performances," perhaps pushing one another to greater heights.  Truth be told, in his entire career, Coltrane only worked with one vocalist in the studio, and it may be due to the high level of musical achievement that can be found on John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman.  Later releases of the album contain both the original mono mixes, as well as stereo mixes, and the record remains one of the most impressive in all of music history.  Though some have tried to top their perfection, there is not another recording that even holds a flame to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman's 1963 take on "My One And Only Love."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your incredibly thoughtful commentary and in depth background on this album I only just became aware of.