Immediately to the west of the Rifftides World Headquarters deck is a large Red Maple in full glory. Sometimes these trees are called Sunset Maples. Naturally, since this blog is devoted to jazz and other matters, the Rifftides staff insisted on accompanying shots of the trees with a song featured on this blog virtually every autumn for a dozen years.
Our rough count shows that, all told, there have been 87 recordings of “Autumn Leaves,” although that seems a low estimate. The question this time around was, which version? We had no problem ruling out pop pianist Roger Williams playing annoying descending arpeggios to simulate falling leaves—a million seller in the 1950s— or the Arabic version “بيذكر بالخريف” by the singer Fairouz, despite her cool voice and good tenor sax, trombone and piano solos—or the enormously popular Melachrino Strings, with harp interjections that are only marginally less schmaltzy than Roger Williams’s arpeggios. All of those are accessible on YouTube, if you’re determined to hear them.
No, we’ll stay with jazz versions, just two from among dozens and dozens of possibilities. We thought it would make sense to start with a vocalist because Johnny Mercer’s lyric in English is as important to the song’s success as were the French words Jacques Prévert put to Joseph Kosma’s composition. Here is Eva Cassidy (1963-1996) singing “Autumn Leaves” in an appearance at the Washington, DC, club Blues Alley ten months before she died of melanoma.
Choosing one instrumental version of “Autumn Leaves” presented the staff with too many possibilities—splendid recordings by Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Ben Webster, Chet Baker with Paul Desmond, Chick Corea with his Akoustic Band, Keith Jarrett alone in Tokyo, and dozens of others.
The winner in the 2017 “Autumn Leaves” sweepstakes is Bill Evans. His arrangement of the piece was a highlight of his 1959 Riverside album Portrait In Jazz, itself a centerpiece of his discography. The popularity of his version encouraged him to keep it in his repertoire long after the death of bassist Scott LaFaro. LaFaro’s loss and the eventual departure of drummer Paul Motion ended the edition of the Evans trio that had a profound influence on the development of jazz in the 1960 and beyond. Here is the Evans version of “Autumn Leaves” by his trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and the Danish drummer Alex Riel. This was during a European tour in 1966.
In case you’d been wondering (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Autumn Leaves” is in AABC form. The piece offers a popular way for beginning jazz musicians to become acquainted with jazz harmony as the chord progression consists almost solely of ii-V-I and ii-V sequences which are typical of jazz. It was originally, and is most commonly, performed in the key of G minor, but is also played in E minor and other keys. Eva Cassidy’s version is in B-flat minor.
The song’s iim7 – V7 – IMaj7 – IVMaj7 – ii7(b5) – V7 – im chord progression is an example of the circle-of-fifths progression
Enjoy your practice session.