Playlist: Autumn Leaves

I’ve got a playlist for everything. Have you returned home after a crazy summer and just want to put a sweater on and take an autumn walk in the cool of the evening? I’ve got a playlist for that.

“I listen with my imagination”.

My regular readers have probably heard me say this when I’m talking about music. I often talk about “getting something” from a song or an artist; or having a singer “take me” somewhere. I often will use this tendency of mine to explain my love of things I just can’t defend; my guilty pleasures. If a song takes me to a certain place in time or a geographical location then I love it – even if the critic in me understands that the song may be “lousy”.

TV in the BackyardListening with my imagination has resulted in many, many playlists that I’ve put together through the years to compliment a season or an activity or a “vibe”. A lot of these collections of songs are perhaps personal and better enjoyed by me than by you. I mean, Huey Lewis and the News may scream “Springtime!” to me but you may recall falling in love with them in the summer and you equate “If This Is It” with hot August nights.

Autumn is an easy one, right? “Autumn Leaves”, right? It’s a standard. As is “Autumn in New York”. And, yes, you could load a playlist up with countless versions of both of these songs and it would take you until the dead of winter to listen to it. But there’s more.

You can go to Allmusic and search for “autumnal” under “Album Moods”. It really is a mood and the word “autumn” need not be in a song’s title. One of the first articles I wrote for SoulRide spoke of how the summer – while great – is a pretty soulless, hedonistic time but the fall is a time for hearth and home. During the summer you don’t think at all – it’s just kicks. But in the fall there are less distractions. You return home, in more ways than one, and begin to look inward more. You feel more in autumn.

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This whole vibe calls for a certain type of music, a certain type of artist. When I was in high school, when autumn came I was drawn to more earthy sounds; brown sounds. Earth tones of a different type. Bob Dylan, for example. I mean just look at the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Dylan songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “It Ain’t Me Babe” and one of my favourites, “I Want You”. Organic music. Like Canada’s Neil Young. Once in high school I wrote a series of poems inspired by his song “Cinnamon Girl” – the colour theme goes on, cinnamon being brown. Few artists have affected me as much as Van Morrison has. His first two albums are possessed of a grounded, homey sound as Van celebrates God, nature and a woman. Think “Sweet Thing” from Astral Weeks and the title track from Moondance. Later, Van released the 10-minute “Autumn Song” on his Hard Nose the Highway LP.

TheHeartofSaturdayNightIt is an absolute crime to devote only a paragraph to Tom Waits. I’ll have to be content to say that Tom’s early music evokes the world of Sinatra the saloon singer as seen through a cracked highball glass. His songs are populated with forlorn characters who exist on the fringes of a Kerouacian universe where the pinnacle for some is a Saturday night driving with your girl and for others it’s finding one last bent butt from a package of Kent’s. Tom’s music is best experienced under a grey September sky as a cold breeze tries to penetrate your pea coat. Songs like “Ol’ ’55”, “New Coat of Paint” and “Tom Traubert’s Blues”.

My own personal memories aside, though, a lot of jazz music is generally considered “autumnal” and it stands to reason. This music’s main characteristic may be improvisation but it also is music of some depth, a depth that needs to be pondered. Since we’ve already established that the fall is the time for thought and introspection, jazz – including vocal jazz – is the perfect soundtrack to the season. Any jazz will do, really, although West Coast jazz and certainly bossa nova may feel too sunny. Stick with the classics; John Coltrane’s Blue Train or his quartet’s Ballads album. The best-selling jazz album ever, Kind of Blue from Miles Davis and several other smoky jazz artists; Duke Ellington, Canadian Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, George Shearing, Coleman Hawkins among others. Big band music can also provide an after dinner/living room aura.

untitledWhile there is lots of autumnal music, the best autumn playlist is one that specifically addresses the season; which means we will have to go back to the aforementioned standards – “Autumn Leaves” and “Autumn in New York”. But there is also a couple of autumn-themed albums we should look at. The Ray Charles Singers issued albums devoted to each of the four seasons. I was happy to find three of the LP’s “in the wild” but finally had to order Spring is Here online. Autumn Nocturne from 1959 features autumn songs you’d expect but also offers other clever highlights such as “When the Leaves Bid the Trees Goodbye” and “A Faded Summer Love”. “The Other Ray Charles” and his pleasant choral group provide delightful, relaxing listening.

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England’s Norrie Paramor issued Autumn in 1961 and his program presents the pleasures of an autumn spent in New York City. Paramor employs a full orchestra with his chorus as opposed to Charles’ smaller backing group and mixes “Autumn in New York” and “Autumn Leaves” with “Harlem Nocturne” and “Broadway Melody”. Another charming album with excellent and evocative album art.

Other “autumnal” albums include Frank Sinatra’s September of My Years. Everything from it’s Grammy-winning cover art to the title track to Frank’s versions of “This is All I Ask” and “September Song” make this album a perfect companion to raking leaves. Another is one of my favourite albums ever, Robert Goulet’s Two of Us. Bob’s second LP finds him in subdued voice singing lovely songs cradled in fine arrangements by Glenn Osser. Jimmy Durante brings us the standard “September Song” on his album of the same name released in 1963. While the Schnozzola was no Caruso, his world-weary voice and orchestral songs of retrospection are perfect for this time of year.

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At this point in my life, though, it’s really the jazz and pop vocal sounds I turn to in autumn. I’ll never forget the time my wife and I saw Tony Bennett at Roy Thompson Hall. It was October 14, 2004; a typically cool, windswept fall evening. We had dinner in a nearby pub and shopped in the Hall’s record store where I bought a couple of Bennett CD’s. Ever since then, I go to Bennett in the autumn; his early albums, especially Cloud 7, I Left My Heart in San Francisco and I Wanna Be Around. Tony does well on “Autumn in Rome” and “Autumn Leaves/Indian Summer” from his Grammy-winning MTV Unplugged album.

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Other sneaky little hidden gems include “This October”. Originally written by Bobby Troup, it was recorded by his wife, Julie London, and appeared on her third album, Calendar Girl (1956). The version I like, though, is a 1959 recording by the Four Freshmen from their album The Four Freshmen and Five Guitars.  The versatile Bobby Darin assembled an orchestra for many recording dates and plays piano on the instrumental B-side from 1960, “Autumn Blues”. “Autumn Nocturne” (Mancini, Sonny Rollins) and “‘Tis Autumn” (Nat Cole, Chet Baker) have also been essayed many times.

We talked earlier about “Autumn Leaves” and “Autumn in New York” being standards that have been recorded by many artists; and that’s as it should be as these are excellent songs and we load our autumn playlist with many versions of them. “Autumn Leaves” has been recorded as an instrumental and with vocals by Tom Jones, Pat Boone, Louis Prima, Bob Dylan, Roger Williams, Percy Faith and Boots Randolph.

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The only version of “Autumn in New York” to chart in the US is my favourite. Frank Sinatra’s 1949 recording hit #27 and Frank would record it at least twice more. Other great versions include those by Billie Holiday, Harry Connick, Jr., James Spencer, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and Charlie Parker.

Here’s your playlist for those cozy October evenings. The sun sets much earlier and you walk down paths strewn with wet, golden leaves, smelling the wood burning in a neighbour’s fireplace.

“Autumn Blues” – Bobby Darin

“Autumn in Rome” – Tony Bennett

“Autumn in New York” – Frank Sinatra (3 versions), Billie Holiday, James Spencer, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

“Autumn Nocturne” – Henry Mancini

“This October” – the Four Freshmen

“Autumn Leaves” – Tom Jones, Boots Randolph, Roger Williams, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Percy Faith, Louis Prima

“September Song” – Jimmy Durante

“Indian Summer” – Frank Sinatra

“‘Tis Autumn” – the Ray Charles Singers

“A Faded Summer Love” – the Ray Charles Singers

“September in the Rain” – Marty Robbins

“September Skies” – the Brian Setzer Orchestra

“Autumn Song” – Van Morrison

“Love in a Tower” – Norrie Paramor

“Penthouse Serenade” – Norrie Paramor

“Here’s That Rainy Day” – Robert Goulet

“Autumn Leaves/Indian Summer” – Tony Bennett

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