Friday, July 16, 2010

Michael Fremer Album Review

Johnny Hartman (reissue)
I Just Dropped By to Say Hello

Impulse/ORG A-57 2 45rpm 180g LPs

Produced by: Bob Thiele
Engineered by: Rudy Van Gelder
Mixed by: Rudy Van Gelder
Mastered by: Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering

Review by: Michael Fremer

Perhaps had the dulcet-toned baritone Johnny Hartman lived beyond sixty (he passed away from lung cancer in 1983) he might have experienced a resurgence similar to Tony Bennett’s—not that Hartman was ever as popular as Bennett.

Though Hartman’s brand of sophisticated balladry was rooted in pure jazz (why else would John Coltrane ask to collaborate with him?) he drifted occasionally towards an easy Mel Tormé or even Bobby Short cabaret style delivery and in his later years as popular jazz singing hit hard times he played cocktail lounges.

His phrasing was impeccable and his tone gave “the velvet fog” a run for his money and here, backed by jazz greats Hank Jones, Illinois Jacquet, Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, Milt Hinton and Elvin Jones (sounding more laid-back than you’ve probably ever heard him) Hartman finds the pocket from the first note of “Charade” and doesn’t stray.

The eleven song set doesn’t have a bad moment—unless you’re not enamored of sophisticated, popular balladry. Hartman’s timing and phrasing are exquisite and he plays it close to the vest except for a few brief phrases of “Our Time,” a tune he co-wrote, where he sings with greater fervor and passion than I can recall hearing him on record.

Rudy Van Gelder gets this one, recorded in two sessions fall of 1963, just right including the piano sound. The instruments are panned hard right/left leaving center stage to Hartman and it works fine, though the “instruments in a box” perspective now sounds somewhat dated—as do most recordings of that time, but in terms of timbral accuracy and transparency they can’t be beat.

Hartman recorded a great record for the tiny Evanston, Illinois based Bee Hive label in August of 1980 backed by a small group. While he suffered an occasional lyric lapse, his phrasing, timing and unerringly perfect diction were intact. The recording by the late Ben Rizzi, who went on to own Astoria Studios in Long Island City, is spectacularly intimate and natural, but don’t look for it on reissued vinyl anytime soon.

Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions locked up the rights to the album back in 1995 and some of the tunes were featured on the soundtrack to Eastwood’s movie “Bridges of Madison County.”

I got an advance of the soundtrack CD and was surprised to hear the Beehive songs had been transferree at the wrong speed making Hartman’s voice sound cartoonishly deep.

As I remember it, I contacted Eastwood’s office to alert them to the problem and I was initially told it was impossible but later I received a thank you call for spotting a problem caused by someone playing the digital transfer at the wrong sampling rate! I think they caught it in time to fix it for either the initial release or maybe the second pressing.

Clint, do you want to go into the vinyl record business? Call me!

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission

This Date In Music History - July 16


Thomas Boggs - Box Tops (1947)

Stewart Copeland - Police (1952)

Edward Joel Kowalczyk - Live (1971)

They Are Missed:

Singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, who had success in the ‘70s with "Taxi," "W-O-L-D" and the #1 hit "Cat’s In The Cradle," was killed in 1981 (age 38) after suffering a cardiac arrest while driving on a New York expressway. His car was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer, causing the gas tank to explode.

Latin jazz musician Cal Tjader was born today in 1925. He died on May 5, 1982.

Singer Billy Williams died in 1984 (age 74). Had the 1957 US #3 single "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter)."

In 1988, Steve Cayter, a road crew technician with Def Leppard, died of a brain hemorrhage on stage before an American show at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre.

John Panozzo, drummer with Styx, died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1996 (age 48).

Born on this day in 1940, Tony Jackson, bass, vocals, The Searchers. Jackson died on August 18, 2003.

Born today in 1941, Desmond Dekker, Jamaican singer. Died May 25, 2006.

Jo Stafford ("You Belong To Me") died of congestive heart failure in 2008.

Gordon Waller of Peter and Gordon ("A World Without Love") died of a heart attack in 2009.


"Baby Let’s Play House" is the first Elvis Presley song to land on a national chart. But it’s not on pop or even R&B. The track gets listed on the Country survey. 1955

The Coasters recorded "Poison Ivy" in 1959.

The Beach Boys signed to Capitol Records in 1962, their first hit was in September of the same year with the immortal "Surfin' Safari."

The Beach Boys recorded "In My Room" in 1963.

Tommy James and the Shondells started a two week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1966 with "Hanky Panky," a song first recorded by The Raindrops.

The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer In The City" was released in 1966.

Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton formed Cream in 1966, and although the three piece group only lasted 2 years, they left behind some classic recordings including "Sunshine of Your Love," "Badge," "Strange Brew" and "White Room;" among others.

During recordings at Abbey Road studio’s in London in 1969, the Beatles worked on two new George Harrison songs, "Here Comes The Sun" and "Something."

The Who's "I'm Free" was released in 1969.

Smokey Robinson made his last appearance with The Miracles at a concert in Washington DC in 1972.

Bob Dylan released the soundtrack to "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" in 1973. It contains Bob Dylan’s mournful “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” The film stars Dylan and Kris Kristofferson.

Loggins and Messina broke up in 1976.

Barry Manilow went to #1 on the US album chart in 1977 with 'Barry Manilow Live,' the singers only US chart topper.

Shaun Cassidy went to #1 on the US singles chart in 1977 with "Da Doo Ron Ron."

In 1989, Tom Jones lost a paternity suit, and was ordered by Judge Judy Sheindlin to pay $200 a week in child support to 27 year old, Katherine Berkery, of New York. Further terms of the settlement were agreed upon a couple of months later.

The film soundtrack to 'The Lion King' started a nine-week run at #1 on the US album chart in 1994.

In 1995, rap singer and actress Queen Latifah was the victim of a car-jacking attempt that went wrong, leaving her bodyguard shot and wounded.

Michael Jackson performed at a birthday party for the Sultan of Brunei in 1996 and receives an estimated 15-20 million dollars.

Matchbox 20 went to #1 on the US singles chart in 2000 with "Bent."

In 2003, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde is detained by police following a PETA (Physicians for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protest outside a Paris KFC. Despite the efforts of Hynde and others, the chickens inside, original recipe and extra crispy, remain dead and tasty.

Pollstar's Top 100 North American Tours list for the first half of 2007 puts Rod Stewart at #1 grossing $48.1 million and the Police's at #3 taking in $41.9 million.

In 2007, three masked men, carrying sledgehammers and crowbars, broke into the home of former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona and escaped with goods including the singers BMW M5 sports car, two laptops, two gaming machines and two televisions. The robbers held a knife to the neck of the former pop star during the raid on her home in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

Also in 2007, the White Stripes played their 'shortest live show ever' at George Street, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. Jack White played a single C# note accompanied by a bass drum/crash cymbal hit from Meg. At the end of the show, Jack announced, "We have now officially played in every province and territory in Canada." They then left the stage and performed a full show later that night in St John's.

In 2008, Rush performed "Tom Sawyer" on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. The Canadian trio's last US television appearance was on a ‘75 episode of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Later, fellow Canadain Neil Young does a turn on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman.

2009 - A stage being built in France for a concert by Madonna collapsed, killing two workers and injuring six others. Technicians had been setting up the stage at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille when the partially-built roof fell in, bringing down a crane. Madonna was performing on her Sticky and Sweet tour in Udine, Italy, when she received news of the incident and was said to be "devastated" by the news.