I’ve had this very old song in my head for several days now, not knowing precisely who performed it or how old it was, so last night I went searching on YouTube and found it. It’s Harry James, famous trumpeter of the swing and Big Band eras, and this particular number, “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” features Helen Forrest on vocals.
This song–and some of the live clips you see in the above video–was recorded on July 31, 1942. On that day World War II was at its height. American troops were on their way to an island in the Pacific called Guadalcanal, where they would land on August 7 for the first sustained land fighting of the war. The Shoah (Holocaust) was just beginning its terrible final phase, with mass gassings occurring all over Nazi-held Poland. In the meantime, German armies were about to face their epic clash with the Russians at a grimy industrial city on the Volga called Stalingrad. In Hollywood, director Michael Curtiz was just about finished with the studio shooting of a movie called Casablanca, which would wrap on August 3.
“I’ve Heard That Song Before” is one of the snazziest numbers of the Big Band epoch. If you’re a Woody Allen fan you may recognize it; it plays over the opening credits of his 1986 film Hannah And Her Sisters.