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If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight) (1926)

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Origin and Chart Information
“It is my opinion that James P. was a better writer than Fats, although Waller’s tunes have had much more success.”

- Willie "The Lion" Smith

Rank 155
Music James P. Johnson
Lyrics Henry Creamer

Vocalist Eva Taylor introduced this song in a 1927 recording with husband Clarence Williams’ Blue Five. Three years later, the version by Detroit-based band McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ was on the charts for 12 weeks:

  • McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (1930, George “Fathead” Thomas, vocal, #1)
  • Tom Gerun and His Orchestra (1930, #5)
  • Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra (1930, vocal, #13)

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

Pianist James P. Johnson and lyricist Henry Creamer wrote “If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight)” in 1926, the same year as “Alabama Stomp” which was used in Earl Carroll’s Vanities that year and the next. The two also collaborated on two unproduced musicals in 1926, Geechee: Dusky Romance in Three Acts and Chicago Loop: Musical Comedy in Two Acts, and in 1927 three of their tunes were used in the short-lived revue A la Carte. In 1928 they wrote the revue Shuffle Along, which would be their last collaboration.


More on Henry Creamer at JazzBiographies.com

More on James P. Johnson at JazzBiographies.com

Johnson along with pupil Fats Waller cut a piano roll of the tune for the QRS Company in 1927, and that same year George Randol and Andy Razaf featured the tune in Irvin C. Miller’s revue Brownskin Models. For the next three years the tune basically languished, save for two 1929 recordings, one by the Kansas City orchestra of George E. Lee and the other by the Mound City Blue Blowers (mentioned in the history notes). But 1930 would prove to be the decisive year for the song.

In January, 1930, the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers orchestra from Detroit cut a fine version with a vocal by their unique vocalist George “Fathead” Thomas, which landed #1 in the charts and was their only record to reach the top. A recording by vocalist Ruth Etting, star of the Ziegfeld Follies, created a stir amongst white audiences and sold well, despite not making the charts. But perhaps one of the best-loved recordings was Louis Armstrong’s version from August, 1930, recorded with Les Hite’s band in Los Angeles, which was the stomping ground of Tom Gerun’s Orchestra, who recorded their version in September, 1930. Armstrong’s version is played at a fine, rocking, two-beat dance tempo, slower than the version by McKinney.

James P. Johnson was a talented songwriter, but by the late-1920s he was looking more toward writing larger-scale pieces and did write an opera, a symphony and a string quartet. But his songwriting skills were much admired by his peers, and pianist/composer Willie “The Lion” Smith admitted: “It is my opinion that James P. was a better writer than Fats, although Waller’s tunes have had much more success.” “If I Could Be With You,” “Charleston” and “Old Fashioned Love” would turn out to be the biggest successes for Johnson, and royalties from these helped him make it through the lean time of the depression.

More information on this tune...

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages

(Author/composer Wilder analyzes the musical content of the song in his definitive book on American popular song.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Eva Taylor
Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2 (1923-1927)
Original recording 1927

Vocalist Taylor offers up this popular and iconic early interpretation of “If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight” alongside her husband, pianist and bandleader Clarence Williams. The vocals are appealing, as is the excellent cornet playing by Jabbo Smith.

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong Collection, Vol. 6: St. Louis Blues
Original recording 1930

This is an old-style ballad, with prominent tuba and banjo, but Armstrong was always on the cutting-edge. He states the melody brilliantly on trumpet and vocally before solos commence. Lawrence Brown’s trombone solo is also noteworthy.

Count Basie
The Essential Count Basie, Vol. 1
Original recording 1939

Basie states the melody himself on piano here, but that is only the beginning. Helen Humes steals the show with her subtly bluesy vocals and Buck Clayton has a particularly strong performance on trumpet.

James P. Johnson
Snowy Morning Blues
Original recording 1944

Accompanied only by Eddie Dougherty on drums, Johnson offers a straightforward reading of the melody he composed, while his excellent left hand work shows why he is considered the father of stride piano.

Benny Carter
Swingin' the ‘20s
Original recording 1958

Benny Carter, best known for his alto saxophone playing and composing/arranging, is featured here on trumpet and sounds utterly convincing. It does not hurt to have the genius of Earl Hines providing stimulation on piano, of course.


- Noah Baerman

Helen Humes
Songs I Like to Sing
1988 Original Jazz Classics 171
Original recording 1960
Arranger Marty Paich does a wonderful job of building on the singer’s strengths, and Humes responds magnificently. Sung with coquettish vulnerability, this rendition is genuinely touching.
Carmen McRae
1994 Legacy Recordings 57887
Original recording 1965
Superb phrasing and impassioned delivery make this live recording of the song a must listen. McRae can whisper and growl in the same breathe, interpreting a complexity of emotions not readily apparent in the lyrics.
Oscar Peterson
This is Oscar Peterson
2002 RCA Bluebird 63990
Original recording 1952
Peterson’s piano playing is characteristically refined, but it is the ornamentation he hangs on the song that makes this rendition special. His fleet fingers set off mini-pyrotechnics that emerge from the quietest moments.
Mark Murphy
Crazy Rhythm and His Debut Recordings
1999 GRP Records 670
Original recordings 1956-1957
Vocalist Murphy’s straightforward delivery of stride pianist James P. Johnson’s gem captures all the underlying blues feeling that the composer and lyricist, Henry Creamer, intended.

- Ben Maycock

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