In pop-music parlance, a ballad is a moderate- to slow-tempo number about love. The bass-baritone Johnny Hartman (1923–83) may be the all-time best ballad singer. During his life, he was nowhere near as renowned as Billy Eckstine, whose range he shared, or Frank Sinatra, whose intimacy and clarity of diction he equaled. Probably, as other musicians told Akkerman, he was constitutionally too shy, gentle, and quiet for stardom. But with saxophonist John Coltrane’s quintet, at its acme in 1963, he made one of the few universally appealing jazz albums. It made him an auditorium-packing headliner in Japan and, with a boost from Clint Eastwood via the Bridges of Madison County soundtrack, put him in the American jazz-singing pantheon. Although “Lush Life” was one of his signature pieces, Hartman lived neither lushly nor fast, so that Akkerman’s first-ever biography has no scandals, crimes, or even misdemeanors to report. Instead, it’s about the days and the achievements of a working musician and, despite some odd word choices, should thoroughly engross lovers of the Great American Songbook.
Gregg Akkerman, director of jazz studies at University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, has made a crucial contribution to keeping Hartman’s memory alive with this biography. Akkerman draws on extensive interviews, archives and his own sharp musical analysis to trace Hartman’s Chicago origins, his time serving in both Earl Hines’ and Dizzy Gillespie’s big bands and the creation of the classic 1963 album John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman. The author also looks at the longstanding comparisons between Hartman and Billy Eckstine and shows why their supposed rivalry was a canard. ...Now students and fans of jazz vocals can hope that this book will lead to a proper reissue of Hartman’s triumphant 1980 Bee Hive album, Once In Every Life, which contained all four of the Hartman songs that were included on the 1995 CD soundtrack to Madison County.
— DownBeat Magazine
Akkerman is a professional musician and educator, and his book offers superb verbal descriptions of Hartman’s recordings and concert performances. These word-paintings are a valuable part of any musical biography, for they encourage the reader to explore the music.
— Jazz History Online
The Last Balladeer not only reveals the gentle nature of the man, we learn of his steadfast devotion to his music and fierce determination to maintain his integrity in spite of misguided record producers and errors in judgment along the way. Johnny enjoyed moderate recognition in America, but his most loyal fans dwelt in the shadow of Mount Fuji. When we toured Japan together in 1977, he was greeted by crowds who displayed obvious devotion to his style of singing, and all concerts were at or near SRO in each city we visited. I think you will find Professor Akkerman's book entertaining and most enlightening.
— Jazz Vocalist
I've read The Last Balladeer and can verify that anyone who loves the singer's work will consider this a 'must-have.'
— San Diego Reader
While Akkerman makes no effort to plumb the singer’s psychological depths (or to provide Balliettian descriptions of his vocal magic), with this lucid and meticulously researched new book Hartman—whose life and career were models of self-effacing professionalism—finally has the biography he deserves.
— Jazz Journalist Association’S Jja News
In The Last Balladeer the author displays great empathy and affection for his subject, and if Johnny Hartman is in some way an underappreciated artist, Mr. Akkerman has done his part to set things right with a moving.
— Jersey Jazz
A 2012 Holiday Gift Guide Choice!
This book illuminates the life and career of the singer best known for his 1960 album with John Coltrane and the presence of his recordings in the Clint Eastwood 1995 movie Bridges of Madison County. Not surprisingly, Hartman's life encompassed a lot more, artistically, than those highlights.
— Hothouse Jazz Magazine
Johnny Hartman is perhaps the most undeservedly neglected vocalist in the history of twentieth-century popular music. With this meticulously researched and beautifully written volume, Gregg Akkerman has corrected that omission once and for all. Rich in biographical detail about Hartman's life and four-decade career and complemented by the most comprehensive discography ever published, The Last Balladeer is a must-have for anyone interested in American popular music.
— Leonard Mustazza, Author, Ol' Blue Eyes: A Frank Sinatra Encyclopedia
How can the most serene and pitch-perfect African-American baritone have had such an enigmatic career? In this eloquent, insightful account of Johnny Hartman’s life and music, Gregg Akkerman situates the definitive ballad singer within the context of conflicting demands and longstanding tensions between jazz and popular music.
— Barry Kernfeld, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz
Akkerman expertly captures the life and music of this vital, memorable jazz singer.
— Tad Hershorn, author, Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice
Hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed Johnny Hartman's voice over the years. Whether through his epic collaboration with John Coltrane or his music being featured in major Hollywood films, his incredible voice is one of the most identifiable, gorgeous sounds of the previous century. But how many people know about the man behind the music? Gregg Akkerman has filled a huge hole in jazz and popular music literature with 'The Last Balladeer,' a truly definitive work. Akkerman's tremendous research makes Hartman the singer— and more importantly, Hartman the man— come alive like never before.
— Ricky Riccardi, author, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years
Through excellent research into Johnny Hartman's life and career, Akkerman's The Last Balladeer accomplishes that rare feat in biography of conveying to the reader the day-to-day rhythm of his subject's life.
— Jeffrey S. McMillan, author of Delightfulee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan
This work is not cast in the mold of a typical biography. Rather, Akkerman (Univ. of South Carolina Upstate) chronicles four decades in the history of a tenuous business that demands a precise balance between musical artistry and public taste, in process addressing the question of why jazz singer Johnny Hartman (1923-83) failed to achieve stardom. The text reads easily and is rich in quotes from key personalities.
— Choice Reviews
This book fills a notable hole in jazz biography. Gregg Akkerman, a musician, scholar, and educator, has provided another example of the high quality of work published in jazz musicology and biography over the past 10 to 15 years. Meticulously and methodically, he traces Hartman’s life and career from beginning to end, enlisting the assistance of his widow and children and the surviving musicians who knew, worked with, and admired him. Akkerman also provides what is undoubtedly the last word on Hartman’s discography, making this the authoritative source for all things Hartman.
— ARSC Journal
The Last Balladeer tells the story of the life of a musician who moved between jazz and popular music and was successful at both, but never achieved the status of some of his colleagues—like Tony Bennet—who in turn did call him their favorite singer. Gregg Akkerman’s style is easy and focused mainly on the facts of biography and the background stories of various recordings. He is less concerned with the musical and aesthetic particulars of ballad bel canto that few cultivated as well as Hartman. But the book does reveal careful research, and Akkerman’s perceptive style of writing is a welcome addition to jazz literature.
— Jazzinstitut Darmstadt
TheLast Balladeer is a wonderfully written and well-researched book about the master of the jazz ballad written by educator and jazz pianist/singer Gregg Akkerman and published by Scarecrow Press.
— Icon Magazine
Gregg Akkerman...has produced a definitive work, not only about Hartman but about the music business and world that existed during Hartman's career. Akkerman has researched well, reaching out to Hartman's immediate family as well as musical colleagues such as the late Dr. Billy Taylor, Jon Hendricks, Tony Bennett, Ralph Sharon, and Tony Monte, among others.
— New York City Jazz Record