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February 14, 2010

A Song for Sunday #39

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 8:41 pm
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This post is for Jane.

I’m putting my Bach series on hold for this week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, but there’s more great Bach stuff on the way. Instead, today’s tune is Honeysuckle Rose, Fats Waller’s great Jazz standard, performed by guitarist Dick McDonough. McDonough is fairly obscure now, but he was mighty prolific in the 1930’s, playing with Waller, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, the Dorsey Brothers, Glen Miller- pretty much the who’s who of 30’s Jazz. His guitar style is characterized by, as the Classic Jazz Guitar site puts it, “chordal melody, single string melody, double stops, bending strings, dissonant harmonies and syncopated rhythms.” McDonough unfortunately died at the young age of 34 in 1938. One wonders what his “dissonant harmonies” could have produced had he lived into the Bebop era.

Here are the lyrics, written by poet Andy Razaf, who also put the words to Waller’s other canonical tune, “Aint Misbehavin'”:

Every honey bee fills with jealousy
When they see you out with me
I don’t blame them
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

When you’re passin’ by,
Flowers droop and sigh
I know the reason why
You’re much sweeter
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

Well, don’t buy sugar
You just have to touch my cup
You’re my sugar
And it’s oh so sweet when you stir it up

When I’m takin’ sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
You’re confection
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

I was reminded of this song while studying the lais of 12th-century Anglo-Norman poet Marie de France, whose “Chevrefoil” is an addition to the Tristan and Iseult legend. In the lai, the honeysuckle and hazel are symbols of lovers who cannot be separated (“Chevrefoil” refers to the honeysuckle, though it literally translates as the more prosaic “goatleaf”).

He could not live away from her.
This was the way with them: they were
Like the honeysuckle which you see
Wrapped around a hazel tree;
When it takes hold there and has bound
The trunk with tendrils all around,
They will live, both vine and stem,
But should someone uncouple them,
Then the hazel quickly dies,
And the honeysuckle likewise.
“So we, fair friend, can never be-
I without you; you without me.”

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