The satire on Washington politics and political figures, I’d Rather Be Right, opened on Broadway in late 1937 and ran for 290 performances. With a book by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman and music by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart, it starred George M. Cohan as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Advance ticket sales set a record.
Although Rodgers and Hart were pro-FDR, they liked the idea of lampooning political institutions and felt that the project could be done in good taste and with humor. But they were extremely unhappy with the choice of Cohan with whom they’d worked in Hollywood five years earlier. He made no attempt to hide his contempt for the songwriters. Besides, Cohan hated Roosevelt. In fact, on opening night Cohan inserted his own lyrics into an encore, much to the displeasure of the songwriters. But in his autobiography Musical Stages Rodgers admits that although reviews of the show weren’t raves, Cohan received glowing accolades. “I’ll be the first to admit that he fully deserved them,” says Rodgers.
The show’s setting is New York City’s Central Park on the Fourth of July. An engaged couple, played by Joy Hodges and Austin Marshall, are bemoaning the fact that they can’t marry until the young man gets a raise which his employer can’t afford until the President balances the national budget. The young man falls asleep in the park and dreams that he meets Roosevelt. Along with his Cabinet and the Supreme Court, the President sings and dances his promises to help the young couple in numbers such as “We’re Going to Balance the Budget.”
Biting satire reigned supreme in numbers such as “Take and Take and Take” and “A Little Bit of Constitutional Fun.” All of the songs in the musical were politically topical and did not survive outside of the show. The one ballad, “Have You Met Miss Jones?” was sung by Hodges, the “Miss Jones” of the title, and Marshall. Rodgers explains in his autobiography the song “...was introduced simply as one way of getting the President’s cabinet to become sympathetic to the young lovers’ plight.”
Alec Wilder in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 says, “The rising scale lines in ‘Have You Met Miss Jones?’ are far from pedestrian.... Its verse is a dream: graceful, sad, sweet, and romantic. The chorus has all the charm, grace and eloquence which we have come to expect of both Rodgers and Hart.”
In his book Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs William Zinsser calls it one of his “two favorite key-changing bridges--gems of unexpectedness--(‘Then all at once I lost my breath’).” His other favorite is Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” (“And in your lonely flight”). In his commentary on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” on jazzstandards, reed and horn player Jay Thomas suggests that the bridge with its movement through keys by major thirds might have been an inspiration for Coltrane’s composition.
Some have attempted to read secret meaning into Hart’s lyrics. In drug parlance “a jones” is an addiction, especially to heroin. However, the term has come to mean an intense yearning for anything like clothes, sex or chocolate. The first lines of the verse, which describe love at first sight, are physical in nature which is typical of Hart’s lyrics which often equate love with some kind of bodily pain that overcomes reason:
It happened--I felt it happen.
I was awake--I wasn’t blind.
I didn’t think--I felt it happen.
Now I believe in matter over mind.
The last lines of the lyric are especially open to such interpretation:
Now I’ve met Miss Jones,
And we’ll keep on meeting till we die,
Miss Jones and I.
British pop star Robbie Williams, who sang “Have You Met Miss Jones?” in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), helped renew interest in the song. Most of the major jazz singers have recorded the tune, including Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day in her Rodgers and Hart tribute backed by the Billy May Orchestra. (Female singers usually change the lyrics to “Have You Met Sir Jones?”)
Vocalist Tony Bennett used the song as the title of an album. The Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra recorded the tune as did trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker and bassist Ray Brown; guitarists Tal Farlow and George Van Eps; pianists George Cables, Ahmad Jamal, and Red Garland; vibist Cal Tjader and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Recent recordings are by pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias, saxophonist Don Braden, guitarist Mark Elf, harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens, and pianists Bill Mays, Roger Kellaway and Bob Florence.