The opening of this highly praised 1961 album by Stan Getz and Eddie Sauter is named for a phrase uttered by the White Rabbit, the first of many anthropomorphic creatures in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In the novel what he is actually saying is, “Oh dear, oh dear, I shall be too late.”
In Disney’s adaptation of the story, the Rabbit famously says, “I’m late, I’m late, a very important date.”
The record itself is a through-the-rabbit-hole adventure in jazz, unlike any other previous album. Getz commissioned Sauter to arrange a series of pieces for strings with which he would perform. The arrangement contain no part for the tenor saxophone, only opening in which he could improvise. “I’m Late, I’m Late” is the only to feature an additional jazz musician, drummer Roy Haynes, who adds to the frantic feel of the recording.
Sauter derived the opening passage in “I’m Late, I’m Late” from a theme Bela Bartok’s 1936 composition Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste (if you skip to the second movement in this performance you’ll hear it). The two first met when Sauter was working for Benny Goodman at the time Bartok was commissioned to compose Contrasts in 1938.
Goodman made his debut as a classical performer in early 1941, first performing Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano with Bartok, and then, adding violinist Joseph Szigeti, Contrasts. This is the around the same time Goodman first recorded Sauter’s “Clarinet ala King” and “Benny Rides Again.” He may have taken the title for the second from Buck Benny Rides Again, a Jack Benny comedy released the previous year. And suddenly, we’re down the rabbit hole…
“I’m Late, I’m Late” has a rush hour feel suited to a Monday morning in January. And with that we need to get moving because there’s a lot to do in the record shop before opening up this morning!