Autumn Leaves

(by Joseph Kosma)

Autumn Leaves is a very well known jazz standard song. It was composed by Joseph Kosma in 1946 for the movie Les Portes de la Nuit. The original title was Les Feuilles Mortes (in French please!). English lyrics and title by Johnny Mercer in 1949.

Jazzmen will usually want to play this one in G minor. Guitarists, you have be warned! So many of us tend to play it in the “Fakebook key”, which is E minor / G Major, with the first chord being Am7. If you want to avoid a little surprise at a jam session (or a bad experience) just be prepared to play Autumn Leaves in G minor / Bb major, like the grownups do. (-:

It’s also advisable to learn the classic introduction to Autumn Leaves. It’s just a bass riff that goes 1-b3-5-6 (and back down), defining a Gm6 chord. You can hear it on the Cannonball recording. When I play gigs as a leader, I often simply start this riff and the other musicians come in whenever they like. (See below for PDF and mp3 clip of intro suggestions for jazz guitarists…)

The whole song stays pretty much in the same key (and it’s related major) throughout. There’s not really any “funny business” going anywhere, except for that little “III-VI-II-V” turnaround going to Eb in the few last bars. You’ll have to shed it a little.

I find this piece allows for a lot of freedom in improvisation. It also lends itself to many styles. I personally play that tune all over the place, from a ballad tempo all the way to some up-swing in 5/4 time!

Unfortunately this song is often perceived as a beginner tune by intermediate players. Some students taking lessons with me often dismiss it like this : “Ahhhrg, you know, it’s just …” and are sometimes ashamed of playing the tune! I don’t subscribe to this way of thinking; most professional jazz musicians love to play Autumn Leaves! (no kidding)

Autumn Leaves: Introduction

NEW Finally, a comprehensive guide on the intro to Autumn Leaves + suggestions on how to approach this on the guitar! (-:

Please download the PDF of the introduction here and listen to this mp3 for an audio explanation:

Here is the mp3 file for the introduction. 

Autumn Leaves: Chord Melody

Now, a chord melody on this tune is available both for beginners and intermediate players…

Both PDFs above contain:

  • the leadsheet (chord symbols + melody)
  • the chord melody arrangement (played in the audio and video here)
  • a basic chord chart (basic guitar shapes for you to use.)

Audio Demonstration (EASY Chord Melody)

Here is the mp3 file for the EASY level chord melody demonstration. I took some performance liberties in the chord melody, but it still is a good reference for melody and harmony on the song.

Video Demonstration (Intermediate Chord Melody)

In this video, Autumn Leaves jazz guitar chord melody (intermediate level) is demonstrated, with some improvisation. See the intermediate pdf (with TABS) for the complete arrangement.

Suggested listening

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s Somethin’ Else album recorded in 1958. The introduction is haunting and memorable. It features Miles Davis playing the theme and then a classic solo. Definite “must have” album.

My “other favorite” track is played by the Ahmad Jamal trio. They go crazy (with a straigh-ish groove) on the Eb chord (it’s a bVI in analysis) and they really stretch. You should seek this one too! Also to check out: Keith Jarret, Jim Hall, Barney Kessel, McCoy Tyner.

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