We’re thrilled to announce that the Savory Collection, Vol. 3: Honeysuckle Rose will be available for preorder starting May 19, exclusively on Apple Music.
In the coming weeks, we’ll explore the collection track by track. Today, Loren Schoenberg takes us through the title track, "Honeysuckle Rose" - actually, three versions of the title track. We start with a previously unknown jam session version by the song's composer, Fats Waller, followed by two more variations by the Benny Carter Orchestra, and the John Kirby Sextet.
Enjoy the podcast!
Fats Waller singing “Honeysuckle Rose.”
Loren Schoenberg: “Honeysuckle Rose” was written by one of the greatest jazz pianists and composers and entertainer’s of jazz’s earliest years, and that’s of course Fats Waller.
Fats Waller really means a lot to us at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and that’s because he’s a Harlem musician. Raised there. His father was a minister in Harlem. And Fats really rose up through the Harlem music scene and succeeded there before he became internationally famous as a bandleader, singer, and entertainer.
This volume of the Savory Collection has three different versions of Honeysuckle Rose. But even before we get into those, let’s just go into the tune itself.
It’s a relatively simple tune with a relatively simple melody that’s repeated over and over again. And yet, or maybe because of that, it became a musician’s favorite not long after it was written. It was a tune that musicians loved to jam on because the chord sequence and the melody offered kind of a blank slate.
Fats Waller playing “Honeysuckle Rose.”
The tune was written in 1929 by Fats Waller and his lyricist Andy Razaf, with whom he collaborated on many of his most famous tunes. "Honeysuckle Rose" was written in 1929 for an off-Broadway review called “Load of Coal" done at Connie’s Inn, the famous Harlem nightclub and was originally a soft shoe dance number.
Also in 1929 (it was a heck of a year for Fats Waller), he and Louis Armstrong attracted a lot of attention with their famous “Ain’t Misbehavin’” performance that helped catapult Armstrong as a major entertainment figure. And of course, Fats Waller was just writing tune after tune that became what we call standards and classics.
The versions of “Honeysuckle Rose” that we have to share with you include one by Fats Waller and it’s from a really kind of an amazing session. It was done at WNEW radio studios for a series called “Martin Block’s Jam Session.”
Martin Block was the first of what became known as disc jockeys. And the reason they were called disc jockeys was because they played discs, records, on the air. And believe it or not in the 1930s, that was very unusual. The main thing you heard on the radio was live music. Live music from a nightclub or a concert hall or a theater or from the studio itself. It was unusual to play records. Martin Block became so famous with his show “Make Believe Ballroom,” in which he made believe he was in a ballroom and he played recordings by bands and kind made believe that they were performing all on the same night, that there was actually pressure on him to feature live music. And he did many of these shows in the late ‘30s of which only a handful exist and most of those that exist, all in really bad sound quality. In the Savory Collection we have several of them in phenomenal sound quality.
Fats Waller participated in one session with Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden and friends that has come out on many bootleg recordings over the years. This session was issued in many different ways.
In the Savory Collection, we have not only that session, but one that was never known to exist and that’s very exciting. And that session is heard in its entirety in The Savory Collection Vol. 3. They do Honeysuckle Rose. You hear Fats Waller on the piano, joined by truly an all-star band. Jack Teagarden on the trombone. Two of the greatest and most original reed players of the era, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell and saxophonist Bud Freeman. Jack’s brother Charlie Teagarden plays the trumpet. And in the rhythm section, we have Eddie Condon on guitar, who was very famous as a bandleader in those days. Artie Shapiro on the bass. And really one of the first jazz drummers, Zutty Singleton, who was a few years older than Louis Armstrong. He with Louis during his early years in and around New Orleans. And played on some of the classic records Armstrong in the mid-to-late 1920s.
This band never played together again. It was a one-shot deal. We include the entire session on this particular iTunes release. They do “Honeysuckle Rose.” And it’s a great version because the composer Fats Waller, the composer is at the piano. You just close your eyes, and imagine that you’re actually there while you’re playing it because the sound quality is phenomenal and the performance is relaxed in a way that it couldn’t be otherwise.
Fats Waller/Jack Teagarden/Eddie Condon “Honeysuckle Rose”
There are two other versions of “Honeysuckle Rose” on this album. The Carter is a fast one. It’s a little frustrating because it’s incomplete. But it’s a real peek into the Savoy Ballroom, known as “The Home of Happy Feet.” An amazing venue in Harlem that catered to – it was very unusual at the time—interracial couples were welcome there. There were very few places in the US actually where interracial couples were welcome. But it was mainly a venue for the folks who lived in and around Harlem. And the band battles and the dancing and the music that happened there were legendary. And we get to hear Benny Carter on the alto saxophone and his big band closing a broadcast from the Savoy Ballroom. You’ll hear the announcer from the ballroom I.D. the place. But not before Benny Carter really gets to whip out a really very fast and fluid and fiery saxophone solo.
Benny Carter solos on “Honeysuckle Rose.”
The other version of “Honeysuckle Rose” that we have to share is by the John Kirby Sextet, a very unusual band for its day. It had three horns—trumpet, alto saxophone, and clarinet, piano bass and drums – John Kirby played the bass. And they played hot music, jazz music, in a humorous way. Not that it was in any sense funny or that they played it for jokes. But like in the music of Sonny Rollins or Thelonious Monk or Ellington or Armstrong, there’s humor in the music. And there’s humor in the John Kirby Sextet. Sometimes they interpret things in the “classical” style, full of irony and great musicianship. They do “Honeysuckle Rose” here and its one of the first broadcasts they ever made. And not only that, sitting in singing is another Harlem legend, Leo Watson, who sang in a free associating, Dada-esque way - a wild way of scatting. He was way ahead of his time. He was a drummer too and he plays on another jam session tune in the Savory Collection. But here is sits in with the John Kirby Sextet for a short and crazy version.
John Kirby Sextet plays “Honeysuckle Rose.”
Charlie Shavers on the trumpet, he was really the musical director of the band. Buster Bailey on the clarinet.
So Honeysuckle Rose was a tune that meant a lot to all of the musicians who play on the Savory Collection Vol. 3. It’s one of the great tunes of all time. And we are so thrilled to be presenting three classic versions, never-before-heard.
Benny Carter Orchestra plays “Honeysuckle Rose.”