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Where or When

     We have a request this week from my friend, Mary, in Los Angeles for her mother’s favorite, Rodgers' and Hart's Where or When.  It’s one of their best-known and one of those songs that seems immediately to grab the attention of anyone who listens to it.

It was written in 1937 as a ballad for the Broadway show Babes in Arms and was performed by Ray Heatherton and Mitzi Green, so I gather it was sung as a duet.  The enigmatic lyrics paint a kind of romantic déjà vu.  Never having seen Babes in Arms, I’m not sure exactly how the lyrics fit into the situation, but even without the context of plot, they seem to intrigue.

      This tune for me demonstrates how easily many good standards can be treated in a variety of styles.  It can be thought of as happy or wistful, and done ballad-like or swung.  I find the bridge very fetching melodically in ballad mode, but to me the repeated notes of the refrain suggest a little more swinging approach.  (I recall that Alec Wilder tended not to like a lot of repeated notes, but I think they can oddly add a real rhythmic drive. Think of Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor by Cole Porter.  It starts with seven repeated notes (“mil-lion Ne-on rain-bows burn-“).  And off you go!)

      Anyway, in this version I did a little of both, a lush first time through on piano, and then a little trio swing feel, and then finally, for fun and fire power, I enlisted the big band.  Some years back, Ashley Kahn did a feature on NPR about a Benny Goodman/Peggy Lee small-group rendition of this tune done in the baleful post-Pearl Harbor Christmas season of 1941.  Theirs was very slow and sad.  My version is not so poignant.  I never thought of this song somberly, I guess. I hope it still works.  Click on the title in red to hear it.  (A harmonic note for players, it adds a little variety if, playing in E flat here, you harmonize the second measure (“stood and talked”) with Am7 and D7-9.)

 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.

The clothes you’re wearing are the clothes you wore.

The smile you are smiling you were smiling then

But I can’t remember where or when.


Some things that happen for the first time

Seem to be happening again.

And so it seems that we have met before

And laughed before

And loved before

But who knows where or when.

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