Tunes on Tuesday: Autumn Leaves

Why this tune?

Today (September 22, 2020) is the autumnal equinox, the first official day of the autumn season. The cool autumn weather has also arrived in Washington, DC, making this a good time to feature one of the most famous songs of the season, “Autumn Leaves.” I perform this regularly with Barbara Papendorp, who sings the original French lyrics by Jacques Prévert. The song (titled in French “Les feuilles mortes”) was written originally for the 1946 film Les Portes de la nuit (Gates of the Night). Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics to Joseph Kosma’s melody in 1950, and the song has stayed popular among singers and instrumentalists ever since. It’s particularly popular among jazz players. Jazz historian Philippe Baudoin calculated that it’s the eighth most-recorded jazz tune of all time.

Dig this detail!

Mercer toned down the darkness of the original lyrics in his English version, starting with the title, replacing the French “The Dead Leaves” with “Autumn Leaves.” Prévert closes the song with:

And the sea erases on the sand
The footsteps of disunited lovers

Mercer’s version:

But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Hear the story

Check it out!

Barbara Papendorp and I recorded a version for the Facebook group Jam Of The Week

Karrin Allyson sings French & English lyrics

Keith Jarrett, Tokyo ’96: Spotify

Yves Montand

Turns out there are versions of the song in additional languages. Here’s one in Finnish from Anneli Sari

Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer in Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology professional working at a small DC nonprofit

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