MARGATE — Jeff Hartman taught English and Spanish at Mainland Regional High School and coached the tennis team for 18 years. While a heart condition forced him into early retirement in 2002, his love of music and teaching continues today through singing and songwriting.
Hartman, 64, of Margate, grew up one of 10 children in Moorestown, Burlington County. His grandmother was a violin prodigy and his father a jazz trumpet and clarinet player who wanted his son to play the trumpet.
When he was 10, Hartman snagged his sister's plastic guitar she got for Christmas and kept practicing until he could play a few tunes. After hounding his father for a real guitar, he finally got one a few years later. Playing by ear, he strummed and sang along with all the 1970’s guitar ballads, played religious music like “Amazing Grace” and wrote his own songs.
After attending St. Bonaventure College, Hartman did not know what he wanted to do. He ended up getting his secondary teaching certification.
“I walked into the classroom and I was hooked. Teaching was my calling,” said Hartman. “I am and have always been a teacher at heart: I love mastering a concept or skill and then sharing my knowledge with other people."
Hartman said it took him a while to learn that "the secret to teaching is internal more than external; it’s about how you approach the job."
"You have to have a sense of humor, you have to have empathy for your students, and you have to have genuine passion for the work you’re doing. My favorite teachers were always the unorthodox ones: those who bent the rules, worked outside of the box, and surprised us daily," he said. "Those teachers inspired passion in me, because they were passionate themselves. That’s something I tried to emulate as a teacher. I went out of my way to demonstrate concern and love for my students by being fully present and dedicated to their experience.”
While singing and songwriting took a back seat to a successful teaching and coaching career, Hartman never stopped playing with the music and lyrics in his head. He has been recording professionally since 1988 and had his first hit with a song he wrote titled “Young Love.”
Since then, he has released many songs, albums and EP’s that can be heard on Spotify. Hartman said he was planning to play at some local spots when the pandemic hit in early 2020.
“I have spent a lot of this past 18 months writing and recording with my writing partners Kit Worton and Bob Fowler," Hartman said.
Hartman has released 70 songs over the years. The biggest influences to his music are artists like James Taylor, Don McLean and Bryan Adams. Hartman said each of them are great storytellers who bring something special to their music. Today he gets his inspiration from people in his life and his heart.
Getting feedback from listeners is genuinely heartfelt by Hartman, who said he feels like his is accomplishing what he set out to do when listeners tell him that his words have moved them.
His recent album “Acoustic Favorites” dropped on Dec. 1 and includes 27 original love songs and teaching songs. He went acoustic on this album somewhat in defiance of over-produced songs.
“I feel people, especially young people want to hear sincerity and passion in your voice. So, what better way to express myself musically than to present an album with a voice, a couple of my own background vocals, and an acoustic guitar," he said. "I added a couple of extra instruments to fill things out a bit, but my desire was to have the songs stand on their own, and to touch my listeners. There’s something on “Acoustic Favorites” for everyone."
Available on Spotify and Apple music, the album includes songs that Hartman said evoke different emotions in “Except,” “The ABCs of You and Me,” and “This School Called Earth” that touches on grieving over the loss of a child.
Spotify has included 24 of Hartman’s most recent releases on their Release Radar list and “This School Called Earth” made it to the Spotify Discover Weekly list, a highly competitive recommendation list for listeners.