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Honeysuckle Rose (1929)

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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.


More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com

More on Andy Razaf at JazzBiographies.com

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

More information on this tune...

W. T. Kirkeby
Ain't Misbehavin': The Story of Fats Waller
Da Capo Press
Paperback: 280 pages

(In Kirkeby’s biography of Waller, one page is given over to an anecdotal history of the song.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

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).
Musicians' 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

Chord-outline melody requiring some definite vocal agility: quasi coloratura. Chromatic melody in bridge provides good tension arc for breath maintenance. Excellent improvisation medium.

Marty Heresniak, Voice Teacher, Actor, Writer, Singer

Quoted from: Heresniak, Marty and Christopher Woitach, “Changing the Standards -- Alternative Teaching Materials.” Journal of Singing, vol. 58, no. 1, Sep./Oct. 2001.

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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)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Honeysuckle Rose" may be found in:

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages

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

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages

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

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

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

W. T. Kirkeby
Ain't Misbehavin': The Story of Fats Waller
Da Capo Press
Paperback: 280 pages

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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

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

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Honeysuckle Rose.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Fats Waller recorded his own “Honeysuckle Rose” many times throughout his career. Particularly noteworthy among his many fine versions is one from a 1937 jam session with Tommy Dorsey and Bunny Berigan. That same year, Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt recorded the tune for the first time (All Star Sessions), featuring Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, whose arrangement would become widely used. Louis Armstrong also developed a significant relationship with the tune, and his version on the Satch Plays Fats album is a classic (Satch Plays Fats: The Music of Fats Waller)

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Fats Waller
Very Best of Fats Waller
Original recording 1937
This compilation treats us to two among the composer’s many performances of this tune. One presents a spirited small group featuring Bunny Berigan and Tommy Dorsey, while the other is a fascinating quasi-classical solo piano rendition.
Fletcher Henderson
Fletcher Henderson Story: Study In Frustration
1994 Sony 57596
Original recording 1932
Henderson’s arrangement of this tune stands as an important early example of his arranging style and would later be used by Benny Goodman. This exciting performance features the trombone of J.C. Higginbotham.
Thelonious Monk
The Unique Thelonious Monk
1991 Original Jazz Classics 64
Original recording 1956
Monk displays his unique mixture of reverence and innovation with a spirited take on this tune. Bassist Oscar Pettiford is featured prominently and drummer Art Blakey completes the trio.
Benny Carter
Further Definitions
1997 GRP 229
Original recording 1961
Carter revisits his arrangement from his classic 1930s collaboration with Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. Carter and Hawkins are joined in the saxophone section by relative newcomers Phil Woods and Charlie Rouse.
Nat "King" Cole
Nat King Cole Trio: Instrumental Classics
Blue Note Records 98288
Original recording 1945
Cole’s spirited, up-tempo performance shows off his brilliant instrumental skills, as well as those of guitarist Oscar Moore.
Louis Armstrong
Satch Plays Fats: The Music of Fats Waller
2000 Sony 64927
Original recording 1955
Louis, trading vocals with Velma Middleton, offers a charming and lightly swinging version of this tune.
Sarah Vaughan
At Mister Kelly's
1991 Polygram 32791
Original recording 1957
Vaughan, backed by a swinging trio, gives us a typically masterful and playful performance, taken at a relaxed pace.

- Noah Baerman

Pearl Django
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.

- Sandra Burlingame

Django Reinhardt
All Star Sessions
2001 Blue Note 20591
Original recording 1937
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. This track features saxophone greats Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, who contributed the arrangement.
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.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Andy Razaf and Fats Waller

Year Rank Title
1929 15 Honeysuckle Rose
1932 378 Keepin' Out of Mischief Now
1929 744 Blue Turning Grey Over You

Harry Brooks, Andy Razaf and Fats Waller

Year Rank Title
1929 32 Ain't Misbehavin'
1929 432 Black and Blue

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