Quintette du Hot Club de France: Honeysuckle Rose

In a way, this 1938 version of “Honeysuckle Rose” is a throwback to the earliest recordings of the QHCF. It is set in a bouncy two-beat, and Reinhardt takes the first solo, going back and forth between melody and improvisation. But closer listening shows that the group had come a long way in just over three years. First of all, Django’s style had evolved to primarily single-string solos. While his earlier recordings showed him to be a master of varying styles from single-string to chords to runs to maintain listener interest, his recordings from this period show a new confidence in the strength of his single lines. His “Honeysuckle” solo has only one little octave outburst, yet we are captivated by his solo. He is also more harmonically savvy, and the “outside” note choices he makes sound much more assured than on his Japanese Sandman solo of six months earlier. Grappelli’s rhythmic sense is more attuned than on the early sides and his playing displays elegance and fire simultaneously. The little ensemble figure Reinhardt and Grappelli play in the final chorus is simply delightful, and when Grappelli solos during the bridge, there is Django offering vocal encouragement.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Count Basie: Honeysuckle Rose

With Walter Page and Jo Jones standing firm behind him, Count Basie’s two stride piano choruses at the opening of “Honeysuckle Rose” tie the aggressive rhythms of Kansas City to the swinging life of Harlem. Then come the Count’s men, amping up the infectious upbeat and bringing in Midwestern riffs that sound suspiciously like “Tea for Two.” (The most danceable “Tea for Two” you’ve ever heard, that is.) Meantime, Lester Young demonstrates that his ethereal, hollow sound is as capable of charging through the swingers as it is of floating through the ballads and mid-tempos. Listening 70 years later, we can also hear how his solos rewrote the saxophone vocabulary: There are phrases in Young’s single chorus that were later borrowed and developed by Paul Gonsalves, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, all the way through Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman—and this inside less than 40 seconds of music. No wonder they called him the President.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Red Norvo: Honeysuckle Rose

In his day, Red Norvo recorded and gigged with everyone -- Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Frank Sinatra, Charles Mingus, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. Indeed, no other jazz musician of his generation had more diverse credentials. Norvo could flat his fifths with the boppers, or drink his fifths with Eddie Condon and the Chicagoans. But today he is unfairly ignored, dealt with as a modest footnote in the history of the music. What a shame! Few jazz bands in the 1930s were hipper than the Red Norvo Octet. Here in a rare integrated recording session from 1935, the xylophonist leads his band on a hard-swinging journey through "Honeysuckle Rose." What a strange, engaging mixture! The band tackles the song at a fast bop-like tempo, but by the end the horns are tossing out Dixieland counterpoint. A top-tier performance from an underrated ensemble that was always full of surprises.

December 08, 2007 · 0 comments


Ralph Sutton: Honeysuckle Rose

Question: What's a 70-year-old white guy in 1990s upscale California doing with 1920s Harlem rent-party stride piano? Answer: Playing the hell out of it. Sutton was only 7 when Fats wrote "Honeysuckle Rose," but sounds like he was anointed in the Reverend Waller's Abyssinian Baptist Church. After a long, out- of-tempo intro, Sutton settles into a loping 4/4 to quote from "At the Codfish Ball." Did lowdown Ralph in highfalutin Berkeley feel like a fish out of water? No matter. Soon hitting his stride, Sutton double-times it to the finish line with such wit and wallop as did Waller wallow. Wow!

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments


Fats Waller: Honeysuckle Rose

When Roaring '20s Chicago gangsters abducted Fats Waller to sing "Happy Birthday" to Al Capone, they showed more musical refinement than etiquette. Too voluminous to fit in a cake (his emergence would've been a sight!), Waller was a premier entertainer in an era when jazzmen actually strove to ensure people enjoyed themselves. Here, after a chorus of his delightfully decorous stride piano, Fats dispenses a tongue-in-cheek vocal with a wink in his voice broad enough to make the primmest librarian laugh out loud. "Honeysuckle Rose" is a trip to the candy store without the guilt. Confection, goodness knows! Yas, yas.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments


Coleman Hawkins: Honeysuckle Rose

This arrangement of Thomas “Fats” Waller's classic opus is the unmistakable work of Benny Carter; the opening saxophone ensemble beautifully reflects his sensibility as an alto saxophone soloist. Also striking is his use of the tune’s original chord changes creating sonorities now long gone from the performance practice of standard tunes. Hawkins’s solo presages his earthshaking 1939 “Body and Soul” recording –- for example, measures nine through thirty-two. Another nice Carter touch is the sax background during Hawkins’s second chorus that sustains the opening G minor 7th chord without resolution during measures one through four (and similar places) -- adding a subtle tension of delight. The closing riff (decorated by Reinhardt’s well-recorded jaunty guitar), like the opening chorus, bears Carter’s timeless touch of brightness and class.

November 07, 2007 · 1 comment


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