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Where or When (1937)

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Origin and Chart Information
Long before socio-political topics became de rigeur on Broadway, Rodgers and Hart were tackling such issues in their musicals.

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 208
Music Richard Rodgers
Lyrics Lorenz Hart

The 1937 Broadway musical Babes in Arms, with music by rodgers and Hart, ran for 289 performances and produced several hit songs: “My Funny Valentine,” “Johnny One-Note,” I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Where or When,” and the title song. The musical revolved around a group of teenagers who put on a show in an effort to avoid being sent to a work camp. “Where or When” was introduced in the show by young Mitzi Green and Ray Heatherton. The cast also included future stars Dan Dailey and Alfred Drake who sang the title song.

 

More on Lorenz Hart at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Richard Rodgers at JazzBiographies.com
 

The orchestra of Hal Kemp with Skinnay Ennis on vocals took “Where or When” to the charts in 1937 for 16 weeks where it spent one week as number one. The flip side of the recording was another song from the show, “Johnny One-Note,” which charted for three weeks. In 1943 Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians also had a hit with “Where or When.” Your Hit Parade featured the song eight times.

 

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

Oddly, for the 1939 movie of the same name which starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland most of the Rodgers and Hart score was cut except for “Babes in Arms,” “Where or When” (which was not well featured), and “The Lady Is a Tramp” (heard only as an instrumental). “Where or When” is sung by Betty Jaynes and Douglas McPhail in a rehearsal sequence in the film, and Judy Garland is later cut short in her performance of the tune. New songs were written for the film by Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown, and others, and the score received an Oscar nomination.

Long before socio-political topics became de rigeur on Broadway, Rodgers and Hart were tackling such issues in their musicals. The script for the original Babes in Arms appeared to be lost but was revived in 1959 by drama critic George Oppenheimer under the supervision of Rodgers. This is the version which is now presented in revivals. In the show the wealthy Southerner who agrees to back the kids’ production will do so only if the black dancers (played on Broadway by the incredible Nicholas Brothers) do not appear in it. The teenagers are outraged, but the show goes on; however, not without a happy ending.

Alec Wilder, discussing “Where of When” in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, says, “Because of its unprecedented octave and a fourth climb, step-wise, which constitutes the closing statement of the song, it must be considered a dramatic song.” Wilder finds this device melodramatic and “the plethora of repeated notes” monotonous.

Hart’s lyrics describe the frustration of deja vu in “Where or When”:

It seems we stood and talked like this before,
we looked at each other in the same way then,
but I can’t remember where or when.

In his book The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists Philip Furia points out that the monotony of Rodgers’ repeated notes heightens the torment and that “Hart’s rhymes have the teasing simplicity of deja vu: ‘then’ and ‘when’ echoing under ‘happening again’....”

Richard Rodgers in his autobiography Musical Stages says that he and Hart received mail from college psychology professors who used the song to illustrate lectures on the psychic phenomenon.

Lena Horne sang “Where or When” (as well as “The Lady Is a Tramp”) in the Rodgers and Hart biopic Words and Music. Frank Sinatra used the song as an album title, Erroll Garner recorded a stunning version on Concert by the Sea, Dion and the Belmonts had a hit with it in 1960, Harry Connick, Jr. sang it on the soundtrack of When Harry Met Sally, and pop star Rod Stewart included it in his album of standards. It remains a favorite of contemporary artists such as trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, saxophonists Anton Schwartz and Eric Alexander, pianists Lynne Arriale and Stefan Scaggiari, vocalists Jay Clayton, Norma Winstone, and Giacomo Gates, and guitarist Ron Eschete.

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages


(Author/educator Forte thoroughly analyzes the musical content of “Where or When” over seven pages.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Sandra Burlingame

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Reading and Research
Additional information for "Where or When" may be found in:

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.)

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages


(7 pages including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Theatre Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 568 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary and music analysis.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)

Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers
Musical Stages: An Autobiography
Da Capo Press
Paperback: 384 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: anecdotal.)
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Jazz History Notes

Vocalist Peggy Lee’s first major gig was with one of the top bands in 1941: Benny Goodman. Goodman’s sextet version of “Where or When” has an almost ethereal vocal by Lee who is delicately accompanied by pianist Mel Powell on celeste.

Guitarist Johnny Smith was a favorite among jazz fans and other guitarists. He inaugurated his contract with Roost Records in 1952 with a version of “Where or When.” The session also included tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, and their arrangement of the Rodgers and Hart tune is skillful and finely honed.

Trumpeter Clifford Brown was a facile, dexterous jazz player at up-tempos, but his beautiful tone made him engaging on ballads. His treatment of “Where or When” from his session with strings is a prime example of his great musicianship.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Benny Goodman
Small Groups 1941-1945
Sony 44437

iTunes
Johnny Smith
Moonlight in Vermont
Roulette Jazz 93091

iTunes
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown with Strings
Polygram Records 558078
Original recording, 1955
iTunes
Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers

Year Rank Title
1937 6 My Funny Valentine
1939 82 I Didn't Know What Time It Was
1935 91 My Romance
1934 94 Blue Moon
1932 118 Lover
1938 123 This Can't Be Love
1935 124 Little Girl Blue
1940 181 It Never Entered My Mind
1937 208 Where or When
1937 222 Have You Met Miss Jones
1938 228 Spring Is Here
1927 246 My Heart Stood Still
1927 278 Thou Swell
1936 284 There's a Small Hotel
1938 289 Falling in Love with Love
1928 310 You Took Advantage of Me
1941 335 Bewitched
1937 336 The Lady Is a Tramp
1932 337 Isn't It Romantic
1926 429 Blue Room
1932 449 You Are Too Beautiful
1940 455 I Could Write a Book
1925 489 Manhattan
1935 527 It's Easy to Remember (and so Hard to Forget)
1929 536 With a Song in My Heart
1930 671 Dancing on the Ceiling
1936 825 Glad to Be Unhappy
1942 842 Ev'rything I've Got (Belongs to You)
1942 908 Wait Till You See Her

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