Jazz Standards.com : Jazz Standards : Songs : History : Biographies
Home Overview Songs Biographies History Theory Search Bookstore About

I Didn't Know What Time It Was (1939)

Share your comments on this tune...

Origin and Chart Information
“Tatum’s piano playing is so rich and colorful that the listener tends to forget that this is a solo effort.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 82
Music Richard Rodgers
Lyrics Lorenz Hart

This Rodgers and Hart song was introduced by Benny Goodman, with vocalist Louise Tobin, on the Columbia label on September 13, 1939. It entered the charts on October 28, lasting for 13 weeks and peaking at sixth position. On December 23, Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra’s version hit the charts for 2 weeks and rose to thirteenth position.


More on Benny Goodman at JazzBiographies.com

More on Louise Tobin at JazzBiographies.com

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

Around the same time, Marcy Westcott and Richard Kollmar sang “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” in the Broadway musical for which it was written, Too Many Girls, which opened at the Imperial Theater on October 18, 1939, and ran for 249 performances.

In 1940, Rodgers and Hart wrote the score for another musical, Higher and Higher, which included the song “It Never Entered My Mind.” The lyrics for both of these songs have two things in common: both are examples of the then current trend to use a common expression as the key phrase or song title; and the subject of the lyrics of both songs are said to reflect Lorenz Hart’s alcoholism.

According to Rodgers, Hart would write his lyrics after Rodgers had written the music, whereas Oscar Hammerstein would present the lyrics to Rodgers before the music was written. Getting Hart to write was not often easy. After Hart missed several meetings, Rodgers would sometimes go to Hart’s apartment and start playing the piano in an attempt to coax lyrics from the reticent Hart.


More on Richard Rodgers at JazzBiographies.com

More on Lorenz Hart at JazzBiographies.com

In Listening to Classic American Popular Songs Allen Forte says of Rodger’s music, “This temporal wandering in the tonal space directly corresponds to the confusion expressed in the lyric, ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.’” It is a matter of conjecture, then, whether the confusion reflects Hart’s alcoholism, Rodgers’ tonal wandering, or both.

The successful Broadway musical was ripe for screen adaptation. In the 1940 film, Too Many Girls, Lucille Ball replaced Broadway’s Marcy Westcott, although Ball’s voice was dubbed by Trudy Erwin. A Cuban drummer named Desi Arnaz was recruited from the Broadway cast, and it was on the movie set that Lucy and Desi met.

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages

(Author/educator Forte devotes eight pages to the Rodgers & Hart song, including its history and analyses of the both the music and the lyric which is reprinted in the book. It also has a companion CD.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Sonny Clark
Sonny Clark Trio
2002 Blue Note 33774
Original recording 1957
Until his untimely death, pianist Clark was poised to become a major heir to Bud Powell as a dominant bebop-inspired pianist. One of his most influential and enduring moments can be found on this tight, swinging recording of this tune along with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones.
Billie Holiday
All Or Nothing at All
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1956
Holiday’s later years are well-documented on this performance featuring the stellar backing of a group including pianist Jimmy Rowles and saxophonist Ben Webster. Her voice is scratchy, but the command and emotion are striking, as she injects a great deal of pathos into the tune.
Art Blakey
1991 Original Jazz Classics 90
Original recording 1963
In the mid-1960s, saxophonist Wayne Shorter would exert a tremendous influence with his interpretations of his own harmonically modern ballads. Here we rewind a couple years to the height of his tenure in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to hear his interpretation of a standard ballad. The results are both beautiful and historically enlightening.

- Noah Baerman

Benny Golson
Groovin' With Golson
1991, Original Jazz Classics 226
Original recording, 1959
Tenor saxophonist Golson leads a quintet featuring trombonist Curtis Fuller and drummer Art Blakey on a spirited rendition of the song which allows the horn men some valuable time in the forefront.
Art Tatum
Best of Solo Masterpieces
2003, Pablo Records
Original recording, 1955
Tatum’s piano playing is so rich and colorful that the listener tends to forget that this is a solo effort. The pianist’s reading allows an insightful look into the nuts and bolts of the song.
Cassandra Wilson
Blue Skies
2002 Winter & Winter 919018
Original recording 1988
Vocalist Wilson shows her versatility and interpretive skill with this delightful performance. Mulgrew Miller is the star behind the scenes, contributing some modern, soulful piano and a very hip arrangement.
Cedar Sweet Basil Trio: Walton, Carter, Higgins
St Thomas

This performance is a definitive example of the Sweet Basil Trio, a name given to pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins, who often played together at the New York club by that name. The tight arrangement and dramatic transition from a relaxed, open groove to full-on swing are irresistible and are trademarks of this highly sympathetic unit.
Buster Williams
Something More
1995 In + Out 7004
Original recording 1989
Bassist Williams presents a spirited performance here of one of his signature tunes. The clever and moody arrangement is helped along by an all-star band featuring saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Herbie Hancock.
Brad Mehldau
The Art of the Trio Vol.1
1997 Warner Bros. 46260

In the hands of pianist Mehldau and trio the song takes on a whole new life. Mehldau’s improvisation is wildly imaginative while remaining grounded, and the group plays with a symbiosis that is stunning. The tune is interpreted in 5/4 time, yet feels totally relaxed.
Dorothy Dandridge
Smooth Operator
1999, Polygram
Original recording, 1961
While not the strongest singer Dandridge’s voice is suited to the song, giving it a late-night, gin-joint feel. The real treat here is her “backing band” of Oscar Peterson on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Alvin Stoller on drums.

- Ben Maycock

Copyright 2005-2015 - JazzStandards.com - All Rights Reserved      Permission & contact information

Home | Overview | Songs | Biographies | History | Theory | Search | Bookstore | About