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Honeysuckle Rose (1929)

Origin and Chart Information
“Considered racy at the time, Andy Razaf’s lyrics are actually quite sweet.”

- JW

Rank 15
Music

Fats Waller

Lyrics Andy Razaf

“Honeysuckle Rose” was introduced as a dance number in the 1929 revue, Load of Coal, at Connie’s Inn in Harlem by its composer, Thomas “Fats” Waller. “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” also written that year for the musical revue Hot Chocolates, would become the two most enduring compositions born of the longtime collaboration of Waller and lyricist Andy Razaf.

Other songs in Waller and Razaf’s Load of Coal score included the wistful “My Fate Is in Your Hands” and “Zonky.” The oddly titled “Zonky” was a song about a dance written in the spirit of “Walking the Dog” or “Balling the Jack.” The song warns the listener “Other dances, they may come and go but when you learn the Zonky you will want it to stay.”

According to the Kennedy Center’s website page, “A Place Called Harlem,” Connie’s Inn was a Harlem speakeasy that featured song and dance revues. Found at the intersection of 131st Street and 7th Avenue it was second in popularity only to the Cotton Club. The owners eventually opened the originally segregated club to blacks who were allowed to patronize the club after the whites had gone home. Fats Waller was in good company at Connie’s Inn, at least with regard to other performers which included the likes of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Ethel Waters.

 

Fats Waller was a child prodigy who studied piano with virtuoso James P. Johnson. Some of his (more...)

 

Andy Razaf was the son of a Madagascar prince who married the daughter of the American consul to Madagascar. (more...)

Shortly after the opening of Load of Coal, “Honeysuckle Rose,” sung by Mildred Bailey, debuted on the air on Paul Whiteman’s Old Gold Show. Her double-tempo rendition is said to have been a setback for the song; subsequent recordings by Dave Wilborn with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (1930) and Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra (1931) did not become hits. Finally, in 1933, the public took notice with a Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra recording, which climbed the pop charts to number eighteen.

Recordings that made the pop charts include:

  • Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra (1933, #18)
  • Red Norvo and His Orchestra (1935, Mildred Bailey, Vocal, #9)
  • Fats Waller (1935, #17)
  • The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1935, Don Mattison, Skeets Herfurt and Roc Hillman, vocals, #17)
  • Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, and Dick McDonough playing on A Jam Session at Victor (1937, #4)

 

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

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Considered racy at the time, Andy Razaf’s lyrics are actually quite sweet. The verse is rarely sung, beginning with

Have no use for sweets of any kind, since the day you came around…

although it is included on Mildred Bailey’s The Rockin’ Chair Lady (1931-1950) Verve 644. The slangy chorus is a succession of praises for “My Honeysuckle Rose,” the one who makes the honeybee jealous and the flowers droop and sigh. -JW

Musical analysis of “Honeysuckle Rose”

Original Key F major
Form A – A – B – A
Tonality Major throughout
Movement The downward movement of “A” is step followed by a leap; then it arpeggiates up in “B, scalewise.

Comments     (assumed background)

This is a bouncy tune requiring some dexterity. Harmonic progression is neither unusual nor difficult, going from ii – V7 or ii – V7 –I most of the time. The harmonic progression of “B” is a variation on the one also found in the “B” sections of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “Cloudburst,” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Since the melody ascends step-wise at this point, it is IMPERATIVE that the bass line move in contrary motion, i.e. downwards. Otherwise, the identical line appears in both the melody and the bass line, creating parallel octaves and a great deal of boredom.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath's book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
Musician's Comments

The Fats Waller composition, “Honeysuckle Rose,” seems to be one of the most played standards ever. Charlie Parker used the harmony of the A section (first eight measures) on his “Scrapple from the Apple.” The syncopated melody has a great deal to do with its popularity as does the comfort of playing a two-five-one progression. The bridge is a series of major chords in the cycle of fourths and lends itself to motifs, which can be recycled in a key a fourth away.

Rick Leppanen, jazz bassist www.pearldjango.com


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Soundtrack Information
Honeysuckle Rose” was included in these films:
  • Tin Pan Alley (1940, sung and danced by Betty Grable)
  • As Thousands Cheer (1943, Lena Horne with Benny Carter and His Band)
  • Walking My Baby Back Home (1953, Janet Leigh dubbed by Paula Kelly)
  • New York, New York (1977, Diahnne Abbott)
  • Honeysuckle Rose (1980, Willie Nelson)
  • The Marrying Man (1991)
  • Human Stain (2003) (Jess Stacy)

And on Broadway:

  • Bubbling Brown Sugar (1976, Josephine Premise/Avon Long)
  • Ain't Misbehavin': The Story of Fats Waller (1978, Ken Page/Nell Carter)
  • Slow Drag (1997, Christopher Colquhon)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks

Jazz History Notes
Also by the Same Writers...
Reading & Research

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on a CD for more details at Amazon.com
Django Reinhardt

All Star Sessions
Compilation, 2001, Blue Note
Original recordings, 1935-1939
An interesting track on an interesting album. The All Star sessions, compiled between 1935-39, highlight the guitarist’s work with American jazz greats touring Europe. The result is a highly entertaining romp where gypsy swing meets stride roll.

Pearl Django

Avalon
2000, Modern Hot Records
This quintet of violin, bass, and three guitarists (sometimes playing unusual models) has brought the lively sound of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France into the 21st century. They insert some amusing quotes into their improvisational playfulness.

Joe Williams/Count Basie Orchestra

Live At Orchestra Hall, Detroit
1993, Telarc 83329
The smooth-voiced vocalist reunites with the Count Basie band after 40 years. Williams is buoyant and exciting as always, singing the song as it was supposed to be sung.

Erroll Garner

Body and Soul
1991, Sony 47035
Original recording, 1951, Legacy
This is an interesting take on the Waller tune as pianist Garner works through it with a trio. Though Garner was self-taught and could not read music, his stride playing is reminiscent of Waller yet distinct in its own style.

Ray Brown/Monty Alexander/Russell Malone

Ray Brown/Monty Alexander/Russell Malone
2002, Telarc
This bass/piano/guitar trio digs into a very rhythmic reading of “Honeysuckle Rose” updating it with modern improvisations and clever quotes.
Jazz History Notes

On the evening of January 23, 1938, jazz music became “legitimate.” On the stage of Carnegie Hall, Benny Goodman’s Orchestra and guests brought jazz to the hallowed bastion of classical music. For two hours the Hall resounded with great, swinging music.

There were a number of firsts that night. Aside from the fact that it was the first jazz concert at Carnegie, part of the evening’s program included a jam session: a 16-minute excursion on “Honeysuckle Rose,” which featured both black and white jazz musicians (members of the bands of Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington). The first time a jam session had been recorded, and it lay in Benny Goodman’s closet until its release in 1955, proving that it was, indeed, a very special evening.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Benny Goodman

Carnegie Festival
Jazzterdays Records 102411
Written by the Same Composer or Team...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team. Click on a name to see all of a writer's jazz standards.

Andy Razaf and Fats Waller

YearRankTitle
192915Honeysuckle Rose
1932378Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now
1929744Blue Turning Grey Over You

Harry Brooks, Andy Razaf and Fats Waller

YearRankTitle
192932Ain’t Misbehavin’
1929432Black and Blue
Reading and Research

Additional information on “Honeysuckle Rose” may be found in:


1 paragraph including the following types of information: anecdotal, history and performers.

1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.

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

1 page including the following types of information: anecdotal and history.

Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.

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