Songs I Like #1: John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, “You Are Too Beautiful”

The year my first serious relationship ended, I moved into my grandma’s condo on Queen Anne and would rumble home after midnight four nights a week from my line-cook job on the 1 bus. My company was addicts reading paperbacks and hollow-eyed yuppies gazing out the window. In the ride’s half-hour-plus, I could usually get through all of John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman’s 1963 record, my head pressed to the bus’s rattling plexiglass. Hartman, a pick-to-click who never quite clicked (Tony Bennett had endorsed him as his favorite singer to no effect, just as Sinatra had done for Bennett five years earlier, making him a star), has a warm baritone. His voice should go with Trane’s playing like chocolate with frozen chicken, but the pairing is actually wonderful: Coltrane’s voluble, complex style keeps Hartman from getting too sugary, and Hartman’s relaxed, reflective voice gives Coltrane’s quartet a place to stretch out from. Besides, this song killed me, like lost-love songs do when you’ve just lost love. The lyric’s restraint was what I yearned for, its longing what kept me sleepless that whole first sad six months.

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