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Tracks Unwrapped

Rose Room


Here's a video of clarinettist Albert Nicholas and his band swinging Rose Room (I do not have details of the band members).




I want to take you to a little room
A little room where all the roses bloom
I want to lead you into Nature's hall
Where ev'ry year the roses give a ball
They have an orchestra up in the trees
For their musicians are the birds and bees
And they will sing us a song
As we are strolling along


Rose Room was written by West Coast drummer, pianist and bandleader Art Hickman and composer, lyricist and publisher Harry Williams as far back as 1917 (it was Williams who wrote In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree). The number is named after the Rose Room of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco where Art Hickman was playing at the time. Two years later, Columbia took the band to New York for a recording session that included Rose Room - the recording became a best-seller for the record label and the band the following year. You can listen to the recording on an old 78 rpm record here.

St Francis Hotel


The St Francis Hotel in 1904


The St. Francis Hotel is located on Powell and Geary Streets in San Francisco. It was built in the early 1900s from the estate of Charles Crocker, a railroad magnate, as an investment for his children. Originally it was to be called The Crocker Hotel, but was finally named after one of the San Francisco Gold Rush hotels. The hotel opened in 1904 and went on to host many celebreties including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

By the 1920s, it became a favourite place for film stars - Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford .... and a young Art Hickman led the orchestra in the Rose Room where he played music similar to that of Paul Whiteman. Art subsequently moved on to New York and the Biltmore Hotel and the roof garden of the New Amsterdam Theatre.


Listen to one of the better sound reproductions of Art Hickman's Orchestra playing Whispering from 1920. The YouTube entry gives much more information about Art including the information that: 'His orchestra is also credited, perhaps dubiously, with being among the first jazz bands. One who disputed this notion was Hickman himself. At first he even disputed that "jazz" was music at all, alternatively calling it a kind of bubbling water or just noise.'





Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle


One of the visiting celebrities to the hotel was film comedian Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle. In 1921, Arbuckle and friends were staying at the St Francis and held a party for people from the Hollywood scene. Apparently, during that afternoon, Arbuckle called the house doctor to see a young actress, Virginia Rappe, who had been taken sick. A day or two later, the young woman died. Another woman, a friend of the actress, who had also been at the party claimed that Arbuckle had assaulted and raped the actress and the story hit the headlines. Later, the woman's testimony was considered to be unreliable as she had a lengthy record of extortion. Nevertheless, Arbuckle was brought to trial in 1921. After two trials where the juries were unable to reach a verdict, Arbuckle was finally aquitted after a third hearing ... but his career was ruined.

Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle




There is an interesting video documentary about Fatty Arbuckle and his story introduced by Paul Merton.



The first recording of Rose Room was actually recorded by Joseph C. Smith's orchestra a year before Art Hickman's recording, since then it has become a jazz standard. Duke Ellington recorded it in 1932 and used the chord changes as a basis for his composition In A Mellotone.

The first recording with the lyrics appeared in 1928 on Columbia by the Garden Dancing Palace Orchestra - apparently collectors and historians feel this was a psuedonym for 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 Bing Crosby and Al Rinker both worked with the band before joining Paul Whiteman where with Harry Barris they became The Rhythm Boys.


Listen to the Garden Dancing Palace Orchestra playing Rose Room in 1928 - the vocalist here is possibly Walton McKinney.





When Ellington recorded the tune, it also gained a subtitle 'Rose Room - In Sunny Roseland' and the number can be found under both titles. Here's the Ellington Orchestra playing the tune in 1932.





There is a story that in 1939, guitarist Charlie Christian came on to the bandstand one night where the Benny Goodman Quartet was playing and jammed Rose Room for 45 minutes of solo after solo. Goodman was impressed - Charlie Christian was hired.

Listen to Charlie Christian soloing on Rose Room with the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1939 with Benny Goodman (clarinet), Charlie Christian (guitar), Fletcher Henderson (piano), Lionel Hampton (vibraphone), Artie Bernstein (bass) and Nick Fatool (drums).





Charlie Christian


Charlie Christian

The website says that: “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.'

The website also says: 'Vocal recordings of “Rose Room” are few and far between, with good reason. The lyrics are very flowery, almost an early 20th century 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.'



In sunny Roseland, where summer breezes are playing
Where the honey bees are 'A-Maying'
There all the roses are swaying
Dancing while the meadow brook flows
The moon when shining is more than ever designing
For 'tis ever that I am pining
Pining to be sweetly reclining
Somewhere in Roseland
Beside a beautiful rose.


The tune has been taken up by big bands and many times by 'Gypsy Jazz' bands following a great recording by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.




In the 1950s, Phil Harris and Alice Faye used Rose Room as their theme tune for their radio show. The broadcast started with the tune Sunday followed by an ad before the theme tune and the half hour comedy show started. Here's one of their episodes 'Julius Is Missing' with an introductory ad for a 17" RCA television!





Phil Harris was actually given the birth name of Wonga Philip Harris, the son of two circus performers. He was a drummer and orchestra leader, although today many people remember him as the voice of Baloo in the 1967 Jungle Book movie, Thomas O'Malley in The Aristocats and Little John in Disney's animation of Robin Hood. He married actress Alice Faye in 1941. He is seen as a pioneer in radio situation comedy, first with Jack Benny and then with his show with Alice.

Here is a movie clip from 1947 with Phil Harris and his Orchestra playing and singing That's What I Like About The South.




There is video of a live concert with clarinettist John Crocker's band playing Rose Room in 1982 with Johnny McCallum (guitar), Vic Pitt (bass) and Norman Emberson (drums).




The Westin St. Francis Hotel is still there in San Francisco with rooms from $199 dollars a night (click here). There is now a 'Colonial Ballroom' for dancing, and the nearest reference to Rose Room is their tea room - the Compass Rose Tea Room (pictured below).

In a month when there are elections in the UK, Wikipedia tells an interesting anecdote about the St Francis Hotel: 'Part of the fame of the St. Francis was because of its legendary chef, Victor Hirtzler. Hirtzler learned to cook in Strasbourg, France, and then cooked Compass Rose Tea Roomfor royal courts across Europe. According to Hirtzler, he had created a dish for King Carlos I of Portugal, called La Mousse Faisan Lucullus, a mousse of Bavarian pheasant's breast and woodcock flavored with truffles, with a sauce of cognac, Madeira and champagne. The dish was so expensive, and the King ate it so frequently, that he bankrupted Portugal twice and was assassinated in 1908, followed by the downfall of Portuguese monarchy in 1910. Victor moved to New York, became the Chef of the Waldorf Hotel, and then was persuaded by the manager of the St. Francis, James Woods, to move to San Francisco.'

'In 1916, Hirtzler again cooked a dish which had political consequences. The Crocker family were fervent Republicans, and they hosted a dinner at the hotel for Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican candidate for President of the United States, who was locked in a close race with incumbent Woodrow Wilson. Twenty minutes before the banquet began, the waiters, who were members of the culinary workers union, went on strike. Hughes wondered if the banquet should be canceled, but Hirtzler insisted upon it going ahead, and served the meal himself. When the Union learned that Hughes had crossed a picket line and eaten the dinner, they distributed thousands of leaflets denouncing him as anti-union. On election night, Hughes went to bed believing he had won the election. The next morning he awoke and learned that he had lost California by only 3,673 votes, and by losing California had lost the election to Wilson. The margin of his defeat was less than the turnout of union voters in San Francisco. By saving the dinner, Hirtzler had lost the election for Hughes.'


We end this unwrapping with a rather scratchy video of Earle Warren and Barry Emmett playing Rose Room in 1961. It has Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Gene Ramey on bass and Oliver Jackson is the drummer.




For 'tis ever that I am pining
Pining to be sweetly reclining
Somewhere in Roseland
Beside a beautiful rose.


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More Tracks Unwrapped:

Laird Baird
When You Wish Upon A Star
St James Infirmary

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