Photo: Chris Lake
Florida Icon Jack Hartmann
I used to have a little bit of a crush on Karen Carpenter. The plan was I would write a song for A&M Records — that was the record company she was with back then — and she would record my song, and I would get to meet her and then marry her and then we’d become the song-writing duo of the world. Of course, that was before I met my wife.
The reason I came to Florida was to play golf. I was the No. 1 man on my high school team in New York, and I wanted to go to the top golf school in the country, which at that time was the University of Florida. That’s how I ended up at UF. But when I got there, the reality was there were golfers there who were way better than me.
Elvis, the Beatles, the Beach Boys influenced me. Fabian. Frankie Avalon. The guy who sang ‘Mack the Knife,’ Bobby Darin. All those guys were cool. I think that’s why I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play.
After UF, I went up north to get my master’s in child psychology and came back and got a job as a social worker in Pinellas County. All the time that I was working, making my living during the day, I was playing music at night.
My wife was a kindergarten teacher when I met her. She told me her kids were having trouble learning nursery rhymes, and she asked me if I could put them to music. So I did, and that’s how her being a teacher kind of took me down the road of making music for young children.
We post about two new videos a week on YouTube. Sometimes more. It’s a piece of cake for me to write new songs. I can’t fix a toilet, but I can write songs.
One year for Halloween a bunch of teachers got dressed up as me — with the mustaches. You’ve got to have the mustache.
My wife and I were at an educational conference recently, and a first-grade teacher said, ‘I don’t think you have anything on prepositions.’ So that got the wheels turning. In a week, I had five songs on prepositions.
Somebody said it must be easy to do concerts for little kids. Well, you go try to stand in front of 300 4- and 5-year-olds and you see how long you can keep them entertained. It’s not an easy deal.
For the videos, I have to be healthy and look good, so I try to take care of myself. I go to my dermatologist regularly, and I get laser treatments regularly. I don’t do plastic surgery. I’ve never done that, but I do all the other good stuff. Do I need to stay in shape? Hell, yeah. I’m 69, and I still have to bounce around.
When I’m doing concerts, and I see this dad over there frowning, it gets me fired up to do even more. What I tell the adults is to have fun. Your kids will remember these moments of singing these silly songs. Just have fun and be a little silly.
Teachers do one of the most important jobs you can possibly do. So I think — and where the money is going to come from I don’t know — but to give teachers higher salaries would be a good thing. I see how hard they work.
The YouTube thing is fun, but it’s pretty damn competitive, so you better put your A-game out there. We’ve had more than 322 million views so far, and we’re approaching 1 million subscribers.
We get a lot of feedback from teachers. Sometimes, they’ll tell me what they think I should write a song about. And I also write things I think are important, like a nice song to give kids a feeling of doing all they can do to make it a good day and not to wait for other people to make you have a good day. It’s helping them take ownership: I’m going to be friendly; I’m going to listen to my teachers; I’m going to pay attention; I’m going to be helpful; and I’m going to have an awesome day. So I wrote a song called ‘I’m Going to Make This an Awesome Day.’
My wife and I love St. Augustine, not just because of the history, but it’s a real music city.
What we do differently than maybe some other children’s performers is we do a variety of styles of music. We’ll do hip hop. We’ll do country, reggae, Latin, rock. We do good beats, up tempo, as opposed to songs that are a little sing-songy. I think our music is on the cool side, too, a little edgier maybe.
The only time I do get nervous performing is when someone asks me to perform at a wedding or a funeral.
I’m extroverted when I’m entertaining, but not at parties. There, I’m quiet. I’m fine just sitting with the guys watching a ball game.
The Tampa Theatre is one of my favorite venues.
Here I am at 69 and I’m doing what I really love doing. I’ve had people ask when I’m going to retire. Retire? Retire from what? Fun? Good money? Kids saying I’m the coolest thing in the world?
Read more in Florida Trend's December issue.
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