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. 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. 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. (-:
It's also advisable to learn the "classic" intro. It's just a bass riff that does 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 reallly any "funny business" going anywhere, except for that little "III-VI-II-V" 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 from ballad to up-swing in 5/4!
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! (-:
-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)
Video Demonstration (Intermediate Chord Melody)
Autumn Leaves jazz guitar chord melody (intermediate level) demonstrated, with some
improvisation. See the intermediate pdf (with TABS) for the complete arrangement.
"Cannonball" Adderley's Somethin'
album recorded in 1958. The
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.
Click below to hear mp3 samples.