Autumn Leaves, 2012

I wanted to show you the maple tree on the west side of the house at its peak of fall glory. The question was, whose version of “Autumn Leaves” should accompany it? I considered those by Miles Davis, Eva Cassidy, Eddie Higgins, Doris Day, Cannonball Adderley, Sarah Vaughan, Nat Cole—including one of Cole singing the song in Japanese—and a couple of dozen others. In the end it came down to Bill Evans, from Portrait In Jazz, recorded on December 28, 1959, with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian.

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  1. Terence Smith says

    Thanks for reminding us of this moment, and of the OTHER “Autumn Leaves” take from that day.

    These guys were inventing more than a new concept of the “jazz” trio: new ways to swing and relate which Bill Evans had been maybe envisioning for years.

    They seemed to be bringing subtle new moods to music itself, and to expand the meaning of “ensemble”.

  2. Frank Roellinger says

    Thanks, Doug. Beautiful picture and excellent track. A few of your readers may not know that, as good as this track is, it was not the preferred version recorded that day. That version had been recorded in mono only and thus did not appear on the original stereo LP. The stereo LP contained the track presented here and the preferred version appeared only on the mono LP. The latter may be heard here:

    • Terence Smith says

      Yes, which is “better”? And Frank, I assume you have The Legendary Bill Evans Trio: The 1960 Birdland Sessions. Four sets, March and April, 1960, “Autumn Leaves” in every set…new vistas every visit.

      And as with Portrait in Jazz, many moods in the other numbers. That Trio changed the atmosphere itself, but in such a subtle, natural, and unforced way that it didn’t seem revolutionary…just musical.

      As several, including B.E., said in recent Rifftides “quotes” piece, it isn’t always necessary to *strive* for originality. They seemed just to focus on the Truth.

      Not everybody can be as into it as Bill, Scott, and Motian. But they seem to *bring* us into it.

      • says

        Yeah, that’s the one I heard first. It’s very easy to identify: Scott’s significant descending triplet-phrase in his solo break got repeated by Bill as kind of response. The trio sounds tighter, more decisive here, maybe due to mono all coming out of one channel?

  3. Mark Mohr says

    I was hoping Bill Evans’ “Autumn Leaves” would make your top five. Happy to see you rank it #1. That song appeared on so many Bill Evans albums and live recordings over the years, it’s interesting to see it evolve musically in terms of tempo and style.

    FYI our Autumn Leaves are beautiful here, just up the street from you in Spokane!

  4. says

    Thanks for posting the very first version of the immortal French evergreen I ever heard; it was Bill Evans who introduced me to the song, even before I knew the other famous rendition with Cannonball & Miles,

    Well, it’s a French chanson by Joseph Kosma, composed to the lyrics of Jaques Prévert, sung here by the equally immortal Juliette Greco in her inimitable, dark, fragile way in 1967.

    It’s about time to harvest some of those beautiful fallen leaves for sticking the most colorful on my kitchen window.

  5. says

    In the sideswipe of Storm Sandy, Toronto got a lot of rain and wind. Sadly the 110+ year old silver maple in my front yard lost a couple of large branches, making it look a bit like a tall palm tree. But the tree-guy says it’s actually still very healthy. Nevertheless, it’s with a bit of melancholy that I looked at your lovely maple, and think: “Autumn Leaves” is a bit of a cliche, isn’t it?

    Let’s give equal time to another, less-often heard tune, “Autumn Serenade”… (but why does most everyone do it as a rhumba?)

    John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman:

    Harry James: (I guess this was ‘pre-rhumba’…)

    Terry Pollard with Don Fagerquist:

    Joanie Sommers:

    George Shearing: Here, they eventually break out of the rhumba, then go back.

    Or even more rare, “Autumn Nocturne”…

    A 1941 version by Claude Thornhill:

    One by Charlie Spivak that was a good size hit:

    Lou Donaldson:

    and, if you wait 4′!5″, Sonny Rollins plays it:

      • says

        That’s a bit late for … Halloween, Doug, don’t you think so? It’s so creepy, so very creepy, especially the Lady at the organ.

        By the way: I’ve never seen leaves falling down in symmetric cascades, have you? Good fingering, though :)

        Now, what does Mr. Williams’ smile mean at the end?

        “Ha! Successfully wrecked this one too!” 😉

      • David says

        Many years ago I played behind Williams in a Symphonic Pops concert. He came across as a somewhat jaded (who wouldn’t be?) but genial guy. He was very easy going at the rehearsal, telling the orchestra to just have fun, and if you feel like throwing something in, feel free. He advised the string section that it wouldn’t hurt to sway back and forth a bit while playing – not that he got any cooperation on either suggestion. His stage patter was some of the funniest I’ve ever heard. The music was about a 50/50 mix of shlock and comedy. At one point he spoke of his admiration for Bird & Diz and played a short, credible bebop medley with just his trio (perhaps as an antidote.) The funniest part came after intermission. He had an assistant take down a list of requests from the audience, then proceeded to play through the list, ending with “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” I have no idea whether what followed was spontaneous, or part of his usual routine, but for the entire rest of the concert he would insert, at least once in each number, a quotation of “Deep in the Heart…” a tritone away from whatever key we were in.

  6. dick vartanian says

    a lot of great names have popped up here – but I don’t know how you could have made a better choice

  7. dick vartanian says

    I remember when this record came out (sometime in the 50’s I think). I never heard it again until just now – and I don’t feel any differently about it.