In 1917, the pianist and drummer Art Hickman penned the song “Rose Room,” named after the ballroom in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where at the time he was leading a band. Jazz aficionados know the 32-bar song through Duke Ellington’s seminal 1932 recording, and also as the harmonic basis for Ellington’s composition “In a Mellow Tone” (or “In a Mellotone”).
Among the most notable interpretations of “Rose Room” with guitar is the version that the clarinetist Benny Goodman recorded in 1939 with his sextet, including Charlie Christian. Legend has it that Goodman’s manager, John Hammond Sr., snuck Christian onto the stage during a break in a West Coast engagement. Never having heard Christian, Goodman began to play “Rose Room,” thinking the young guitarist from Oklahoma wouldn’t be able to hang with the chord changes. But Christian nailed the changes, and he and Goodman exchanged chorus after chorus for 45 minutes.
To learn “Rose Room,” use David Hamburger’s arrangement, shown here and also appearing in the AG book Early Jazz and Swing Songs for Guitar. Start with the chords, strumming them four to the bar, until you have them under your fingers—and in your ears. Then learn the melody as written, before adding your own variations.
As a bonus, I’ve transcribed the first chorus of Christian’s “Rose Room” solo with the Benny Goodman Sextet, as heard on Genius of the Electric Guitar, which serves as an excellent introduction to jazz guitar soloing in general. Christian might have played it on the electric, but there’s no good reason you can’t play it on the acoustic guitar. Learn it note for note, playing along with the original recording and borrowing any phrases you like for your own toolkit.
Watch a Hot Club-style interpretation of “Rose Room.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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