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Rose Room (1917)

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Origin and Chart Information
Ellington later utilized the chord changes for his 1940 composition, “In a Mellotone.”

- Chris Tyle

AKAIn Sunny Roseland
Rank 199
Words and Music Art Hickman
Harry Williams

West Coast bandleader Art Hickman introduced his composition in an instrumental version in 1917 while performing in the Rose Room at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. In 1919 Columbia Records brought the band to New York to record, and they waxed “Rose Room” in a marathon session that September. The next year their recording was a bestseller for Columbia Records:

  • Art Hickman and His Orchestra (1920, #5)
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1932, #15)

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

The first recording of “Rose Room” was made by Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra for Victor Records in June, 1918. The group had a residency at the Plaza Hotel in New York and a successful recording career from 1917-1922. Their version of the number utilizes an arrangement similar to that of Hickman’s recording the following year, which might indicate that Hickman arranged the tune for publication as an orchestra “stock” which could be purchased at any music store. Yet Hickman’s recording undoubtedly scored higher with the public due to the prominently featured saxophone and Hickman’s snappy, ragtime piano solo.


More on Art Hickman at JazzBiographies.com

More on Harry Williams at JazzBiographies.com

It wasn’t until 1928 that a vocal version of the tune was recorded for Columbia Records. Although the band name on the label reads as the Garden Dancing Palace Orchestra, collectors and historians feel it is a Seattle-based group led by trombonist Jackie Souders. Souder’s orchestra was a popular Northwest group with a residency in the mid-1920s at Seattle’s Olympic Hotel, and vocalists Bing Crosby and Al Rinker both worked with the band before heading to Los Angeles for fame and fortune with Paul Whiteman.

“Rose Room” was an unusual tune for its time when ragtime’s popularity was fading in favor of the 32-bar song and the 12-bar blues. Composer Alec Wilder, in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, calls it “a good, loose, natural song, definitely ahead of its time.” Wilder’s assessment is spot-on, as the tune’s heyday was during the swing era when the open melody and moving chord changes found favor with arrangers and improvisers alike.

Vocal recordings of “Rose Room” are few and far between, with good reason. The lyrics are very flowery, almost an early 20th period piece. No doubt the lyrics were tacked on by a worrisome publisher knowing that instrumental sheet music sold less than songs. The title is never even mentioned in the tune, and the lyrics’ sole purpose is to relate how wonderful it is to be in “sunny roseland,” where flowers sway and breezes blow.

More information on this tune...

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

(Hischak discusses the song’s history, including its performers and films in which it has appeared.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
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Jimmie Lunceford
Sweet Rhythm
Original Recording 1934

Lunceford’s big band offers up a classic rendition of “Rose Room,” with pristine ensemble work and a relaxed swing feel. The real star here is Willie Smith, who contributes the great arrangement and orchestration.

Django Reinhardt
Original Recording 1937

Guitarist Reinhardt interprets the melody to “Rose Room” fabulously and takes a great solo, as does his cohort Stephane Grappelli on violin.

Artie Shaw
King of the Clarinet 1938-39
Hindsight Records
Original Recording 1939

This performance by Shaw’s band is tight and swinging yet relaxed. Shaw’s arrangement is sophisticated, as is his work on clarinet.

Sidney Bechet
Sidney Bechet 1941 1944
Original Recording 1941

Bechet offers some great soprano saxophone work on this appealing old-school performance. His “New Orleans Feetwarmers” include guitarist Everett Barksdale, pianist Willie “the Lion” Smith” and trumpeter Charlie Shavers, who recorded “Rose Room” on numerous occasions.

Lester Young
Comp Lester Young Studio Session on Verve
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1954

This quintet performance has a flowing swing feel, and some extremely fluid and inventive tenor saxophone work by Young. The other solos here are by Jesse Drakes on trumpet and Gildo Mahones on piano, and these are very good as well.


- Noah Baerman

Cannonball Adderley
Julian Cannonball Adderley
2003 Verve 422830381
Original recording 1956
Quincy Jones arranged this sophisticated mid-tempo swing set which features saxophonist Adderley and his stellar horn section delivering some outstanding solos.
Lennie Niehaus
Lennie Niehaus, Vol. 3: The Octet, Pt. 2
Original Jazz Classics 1767
Original recording 1955
Saxophonist Niehaus leads this splendid group through an arrangement that combines the big sound of a large group with the intimacy of a small one . It’s heavy on the brass with a dynamite rhythm section.
On Stage
1999 Concord Jazz 4143
Original recording 1976
An engaging, buoyant reading of “Rose Room” marks this live set. The energetic and inventive interplay between Red Norvo on vibes and Tal Farlow on guitar is magical.

- Ben Maycock

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