Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Charlie Parker and "Honeysuckle Rose": Voice Leading, Formula, and Motive

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Charlie Parker and "Honeysuckle Rose": Voice Leading, Formula, and Motive

Article excerpt

[1] One of the most intriguing items in the Charlie Parker discography is his first recording, a medley of "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Body and Soul" performed as an alto saxophone solo. Probably recorded in 1940, "Honeysuckle Rose"(1) is unique: a multichorus solo from early in his career.(2) For the first time we hear Parker confronting the problem of embedding a well-known swing standard inside the personal network of improvisational formulas necessary for multichorus fluency at a bright tempo. Clarence Davis, a Kansas City trumpet player and associate of Parker's in the late 1930s, recorded him on amateur equipment.(3) Parker also recorded "Honeysuckle Rose" in his first professional recording at radio station KFBI with the Jay McShann band on November 30, 1940,(4) probably about ten months after the solo recording. Surprisingly, Parker never recorded the piece again professionally, nor have other live performances turned up from his later career, suggesting that the altoist dropped it from his repertory.(5)

[2] This paper begins with two readings of the chorus of "Honeysuckle Rose" to introduce elements of voice leading and motive in the tune itself. The first reading, based on Schenkerian principles, is one I think Steve Larson would have agreed with. I then present a second reading with a modified Schenkerian approach and compare it with the first reading. Next, I continue with a general discussion of formula in improvisation and its relation to motive and voice leading. The final part of the paper relates these issues to Parker's solo recording of "Honeysuckle Rose."(6)

"Honeysuckle Rose" Chorus: Original melody

Example 1. "Honeysuckle Rose" original melody, analysis of A1, A2, and A3 sections-Traditional

(click to enlarge and see the rest)

[3] The first analysis of the "Honeysuckle Rose" chorus appears in Example 1. As I have argued in previous publications,(7) ambiguous primary lines are not uncommon in the repertory of jazz tunes and popular standards; indeed, an improvised solo can often show how the improviser interprets the piece. Parker seems to hear as the primary tone of the song, which he then duplicates in his solo. Whether the primary line proceeds -or --is trickier, however. Example 1 proposes a more orthodox --reading of the piece.

[4] In Example 1, the A section appears on the first system and the bridge on the second system. The chorus follows conventional 32-bar AABA form with no variants in the A sections. The original melody appears on level e. Level a posits the piece as based on a --primary line. To save space, level a compresses the overall background (i.e., that which would extend over the entire 32 bars) so that the opening F-major chord of the first A should be thought of as connected to the /V and /I at the end of the last A. Each A section then features a --middleground descent, as shown at level b.

[5] At level b of Example 1 (second system), the bridge is conceived as generated by a neighbor motion from the /I chord from the beginning of the piece to /IV at the bridge's beginning. The of the IV chord is then suspended to become the seventh of the C7 (V7) chord for the last four bars of the bridge. This as the seventh of the C7 then resolves back to A4 as /I at the beginning of the final A3 section.

[6] At level c of the A section of Example 1, we see important details added. The opening F-major chord over measure 1 proceeds to a C7 (V7) chord with the A4 suspended as a thirteenth. This A4 eventually resolves to over the V7 chord (over measure 4) as the structural dominant of each A section.

[7] For the bridge at level c, again on Example 1 (second system), we see the IV and V chords at level b delayed to the last two bars of each of their four-bar units, as these chords are each preceded by their secondary dominants. …

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