Judy Garland performed a morphing and modulating arrangement of the Betty Comden and Adolph Green gem “Just In Time” for about seven years, between 1962 (when it was crafted for her by Kay Thompson and Mort Lindsey as the opening number for a boffo television special that aired in February 1962 with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin) and her passing in June 1969. She performed a version of this arrangement on television and in countless live concert performances. And for this fan, this song and this particular arrangement captures something timeless.
On a Garland fan discussion list some years ago, a colleague posed an almost impossible query/challenge for those of us similarly smitten with this great artist’s gifts. If you had to choose, my pal asked, which performance from her 1963-64 television series “The Judy Garland Show” would you select as your favorite. The keeper, the be all and end all, your personal gem.
I don’t have to pause over this admittedly very subjective question. As might be otherwise apparent from other notes and appreciations, I admire skill and I especially admire skilled artistry when tempered by humanity and strength. Humility and humanity and honesty and communication. That’s the package. And one particular performance of “Just In Time” recorded on October 4, 1963, in the series episode that features a very young Barbra Streisand (and in which the famous Garland-Streisand duet of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again” is introduced), still takes my breath away. This performance is my choice for the timeless, “if you could only choose one,” close to my heart, laughter and tears and understanding … gem.
The image at the beginning of this note captures Judy early in this performance. She begins this performance seated on a piano bench beside the music director Mort Lindsay. I wrote the following in a response to a fellow fan’s query about why I preferred this particular performance to one later in the series that is more crisp and concert-like, more arranged and pristine. More practiced. My response:
I have always been entranced by this performance of “Just in Time” for a range of reasons:
- Judy’s clear comfort and joy in performing with Mort. The intimacy on the piano bench. Little looks exchanged.
- The gentle beginning … as she is starting to tell us a story.
- The pow transition … standing up … taking us where we go. And her joy at taking us there (the kick, the smile, the turn back to enjoy that moment with Mort at the end).
And for my own personal tastes, I love the imperfections in her voice , the genuine emotion, the story telling in this particular performance of the tune.
I attended a public master class with Barbara Cook at Northwestern University in October 2008. Ms. Cook is a serious appreciator of Garland and made note of this fact several times during the event including the comment “Mabel Mercer and Judy Garland had the most impact on my work.” Lyrics, emotion, the package. Ms. Cook said to one of the six graduate voice students in this class: “I’m less interested in your singing voice than in your BEING voice.” And somehow that’s part of my appreciation of episode 9’s performance of “Just in Time”. Available. Solemn at points and joyous at others. Being there for us in the song.
Judy in this performance allows herself to be imperfect and resonant and exuberant, and takes us with her.
© Martha Wade Steketee (June 13, 2019)