Bill Evans – Autumn in New York, Jazz transcription with sheet music

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    Bill Evans – Autumn in New York with transcription with sheet music

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    Autumn in New York
    Composed by Vernon Duke (Jazz Transcription)

    During the course of his career, composer Vernon Duke worked with the most talented lyricists of the period—including Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Sammy Cahn, Yip Harburg, and Ogden Nash—but for this song he contributed his own words.

    The circumstances were happenstance, but the results enduring. Unlike most of his other well-known works, this tune was written without a commission or show in mind, inspired merely by the composer’s longing for New York
    during a stay in Westport, Connecticut, in the late summer of 1934.

    Yet this orphan tune would prove to be one of Duke’s most popular works, and until John Kander and Fred Ebbs raised the bombast level with their song “New York, New York” in 1977, it would stand as the definitive Big Apple standard.

    Yet, I can’t give Duke all the credit here. Earlier in 1934, he had enjoyed a huge hit with “April in Paris,” and his new song imitated the same “city and season” concept as well as the nostalgic imagery that lyricist Yip Harburg had contributed to the prior work. Even so, Duke gets kudos for the daring of his wordplay.

    How many tune smiths, seeking a rhyme for “inviting,” would settle on the syntactically challenged “thrill of first-nighting”? Or, with New Yorkers inmind, envision “dreamers with empty hands” sighing for “exotic lands”?

    Vernon Duke also doubled as a serious composer, and this piece, more than any of his other popular efforts, seems to straddle the divide between conservatory ambitions and commercial considerations, especially in its unusual harmonic movement.

    When the song eventually resolves into F minor, you can look back and contemplate the intricacy and misdirection of a structure that never states that chord at any point in its first 24 bars. The melody, with its alternation of downward-stepping and upward-sweeping phrases, perfectly
    matches the emotional arc of the words.

    “Autumn in New York” found a home in Murray Anderson’s 1934 revue Thumbs Up —Duke offered it when he learned the producer was looking for a song celebrating Manhattan in the fall. But the show, which opened in December 1934, never made it to autumn, closing in early May after 156 performances.

    Little fanfare greeted “Autumn in New York” at the time, and the song languished for 15 years, before Frank Sinatra turned it into a hit record with his 1947 interpretation. Sinatra, whose renditions remain the measuring rods for
    all other versions of “Autumn in New York,” would return to it again during two fall sessions: an October 1957 date for Come Fly with Me, and, finally, on an autumn day in New York itself, at his celebrated Madison Square Garden concert
    from October 1974.

    The song has inspired more than a few outré reconfiguration. Bud Powell’s Birdland performance from 1953, where he is joined by Charles Mingus and Art
    Taylor, is both eloquent and disturbing, with jarring cross-rhythms and a tonal palette that occasionally seems more suited for a horror film soundtrack than a modern jazz trio.

    On his 1954 recording, Shelly Manne dispenses with bass and harmony instruments entirely, instead engaging in an avant-garde musical conversation with Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuff re. And for his solo piano performance at the Maybeck Recital Hall, from 1990, Steve Kuhn does occasionally insert a chord or two, but they typically bear no obvious relation to those Vernon Duke provided in his sheet music. This is a stream-of-consciousness version of “Autumn in New York,” which eventually gets us to Manhattan, but only after many detours.

    Recommended versions

    Frank Sinatra, New York, December 4, 1947
    Billie Holiday, Los Angeles, May 1952
    Bud Powell (with Charles Mingus), live at Birdland, New York, May 30, 1953
    Modern Jazz Quartet, from Django , June 25, 1953
    Dexter Gordon, from Daddy Plays the Horn , Hollywood, September 18, 1955
    Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, and Shorty Rogers, from The Three & The Two, Hollywood, September 10, 1954
    Steve Kuhn, from Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 13 , live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Berkeley, California, November 18, 1990
    Mark Turner, from Mark Turner, New York, December 7, 1995.

    jazz transcriptions sheet music

    (From the book by Ted Gioia “The Jazz Standards A Guide To The Repertoire”).

    Bud Powell – Autumn in New York (1954)


    Bud Powell (Piano)

    George Duvivier (Bass)

    Art Taylor (Drums)

    Tommy Potter (Bass)

    Roy Haynes (Drums)

    Billie Holiday – Autumn In New York (1952)



    It’s time to end my lonely holiday
    And bid the country a hasty farewell.
    So on this gray and melancholy day
    I’ll move to a Manhattan hotel.
    I’ll dispose of my rose-colored chattels
    And prepare for my share of adventures and battles
    Here on the twenty-seventh floor,
    Looking down on the city I hate and adore!


    Chorus 1
    Autumn in New York
    Why does it seem so inviting?
    Autumn in New York
    It spells the thrill of first nighting.

    B (Bridge)
    Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds
    In canyons of steel,
    They’re making me feel
    I’m home.

    Chorus 2
    It’s Autumn in New York
    That brings the promise of new love.
    Autumn in New York
    Is often mingled with pain.

    Dreamers with empty hands
    May sigh for exotic lands
    It’s Autumn in New York
    It’s good to live it again.

    The Story behind “Autumn in New York”

    Prohibition of the public manufacture of alcoholic beverages had been established in 1919, through the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment, as everyone ultimately recognized
    that the law was effective only in the production of gangsters connected with the bootlegging industry.

    In 1934, the construction of cocktail lounges became
    a major part of the building industry. As crime associated with bootlegging wound down, so did many of its stellar
    figures. John Dillinger (1902-34), bank robber and murderer extraordinaire (sixteen known killings), was shot to death by agents in July as he left a movie theater where he had just seen Manhattan Melody.

    Everyone loved the movies in those days. Folk figures ‘‘Baby Face’’ Nelson, ‘‘Pretty Boy’’ Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde—later immortalized in a movie—also went to meet their maker, all under violent circumstances.

    The Hays Office established a code of decency for the motion picture industry, including a ban on the depiction of double beds or naked babies, or any suggestion of seduction or of cohabitation without marriage. Unmarried Hollywood
    couples allegedly included Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, George Raft and Virginia Pine, and Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck.

    As usual, American culture was riddled with contradictions.
    The continuing erosion of soil in the plains states from dust storms was responsible for the increasing migration westward. This national tragedy and its consequences were later immortalized in John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize
    winning book, The Grapes of Wrath.

    Also on the national scene, the Social Security Act was passed, while unemployment was at 21.7%. A ticket to the Metropolitan Opera on a Saturday evening cost between $1.50 and $4.00, but the price of admission to a movie was between 35 and 50 cents.

    Movies flourished with such gems as Academy Award-winning It Happened One Night (starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert), The Gay Divorcée (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), and Of Human Bondage (Leslie Howard and Bette Davis).

    In popular music, the Big Band era was in full swing, literally, with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, the Dorsey Brothers, and other fine groups.

    Songwriters continued to produce wonderful melodies, such as ‘‘Blue Moon,’’ by Rodgers and Hart, Harry Warren’s ‘‘I Only Have Eyes For You,’’ ‘‘You And The Night And The Music,’’ by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, and Cole Porter’s hits, ‘‘You’re The Top’’ and ‘‘I Get A Kick Out Of You.’’
    ‘‘Autumn in New York’’ appeared in the show Thumbs Up, which opened in New York December 27, 1934, and had 156 performances.

    It was Vernon Duke’s only entry in this musical. He had been involved with American musical theater productions since 1925, but the first show for which he wrote all the music was Walk A Little Faster (1932), the musical that contained what is perhaps his most famous song, ‘‘April In Paris.’’

    Unfortunately, Thumbs Up was completely overshadowed by Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, which had opened on November 21 of that year and ran for 420performances. Among its songs were the hits ‘‘Anything Goes,’’ ‘‘I Get A Kick Out Of You,’’ and ‘‘You’re The Top.’’

    ‘‘Autumn in New York’’ is the sequel to ‘‘April in Paris’’(1932), with E. Y. Harburg’s beautiful lyrics, dubbed the most perfect popular song of its era by someone—perhaps by Duke himself, who was known to have a very high regard for his music.

    Other well-known songs by Vernon Duke include ‘‘I Can’t Get Started,’’ (Ira Gershwin lyrics), ‘‘What Is There To Say,’’ lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, and ‘‘Taking a Chance on Love’’ (from Cabin in the Sky), with lyrics by John Latouche. It is somewhat surprising that Duke, having worked with these highly skilled professional lyricists, decided to write his own lyrics for ‘‘Autumn In New York’’—with considerable success, it must be added.

    After emigrating to the United States from Russia via France, Vernon Duke’s career as a songwriter began in earnest when, at the suggestion of George Gershwin, he changed his name from the Russian Vladimir Dukelsky. Vladimir, however,
    did not disappear from the musical scene, but continued to write concert music of a modern cast, which never received much public exposure.

    In contrast, his adoption of the American popular song idiom and the popularity of his songs that ensued are extraordinary. In these respects he is sometimes compared
    to Kurt Weill, although, in my opinion, the Weill songs are less idiomatic, whatever their other virtues may be.

    In Duke’s autobiography (Duke, 1955), he depicts himself as a colorful and gregarious character who knew everyone and was on familiar terms with many famous figures, including his fellow Russian, Prokofiev. His somewhat tangential
    relation with George Gershwin is often mentioned now, especially because Duke was engaged in the completion of songs that Gershwin left unfinished at the time of his death in 1937. The extent of his involvement in this work is still
    disputed, but it seems clear, for example, that he completed the Verse of ‘‘Love Is Here To Stay.’’

    After ‘‘April in Paris’’ (1932), perhaps Duke’s most beautiful and highly original song is the one recorded by our artists, ‘‘Autumn in New York.’’ Indeed, the title suggests that Duke thought the two songs to be closely associated. It is perhaps
    surprising that ‘‘Autumn In New York’’ was not popular when it first appeared.

    The reason for this seems apparent—to me, at least, as in terms of harmonic progression and melodic contour the song was years ahead of its time.

    It was not until the 1950s that ‘‘Autumn In New York’’ became a standard, and even then it was best known among jazz musicians, in large part because of Sarah Vaughan’s wonderfully expressive recording. It was never on ‘‘Your Hit Parade.’’

    With these observations in mind, I turn now to a discussion of those features of the song, which, like those of ‘‘April In Paris,’’ set it apart from the mediocre songs of its era.

    Musical analysis of the song

    At the very beginning of the Verse, the little ascending gestures (‘‘It’s time to’’ and ‘‘end my lonely’’) are enclosed within a larger contour that descends, to end on the repeated notes that set ‘‘holiday’’ (Ex. 3-21). The second two-bar phrase then complements the first, ascending unidirectionally from that low C to the higher C that sets the syllable ‘‘-well’’ in bar 4. We will return to this phrasal pattern of descent-ascent in the Refrain, where it has a more specific connection with the lyrics.

    jazz transcription

    The second four-bar phrase of the verse (‘‘So on this gray and melancholy day’’) begins by repeating the opening of the first phrase, but shifts suddenly to a new harmony on ‘‘I’ll move.’’ In a beautifully pictorial way, the repeated notes of ‘‘move to a Man-’’ underscore the decisive tone of the text.

    In the second eight-bar phrase of the traditional sixteen-bar verse, the lyrics project a more optimistic mood, with the amusing inner rhyme ‘‘dispose’’ and ‘‘rose’’ and thewitty introduction of the highfalutin word ‘chattels,’’ in the fashion of Ira Gershwin.

    With its dramatically ascending and descending motions, the melody of this second part of the verse differs radically from that of the first, especially the ascent to the peak on ‘‘and prepare,’’ which is followed by the slower descending ascending motion that sets ‘‘Here on the twenty-seventh floor.’’

    This phrase also returns to the home key of F major, thus refocusing the music and settling the song in a more peaceful and reflective harmonic environment.

    But the most effective lyrics of the Verse are yet to come: ‘‘looking down on the city I hate and adore!’’ There is an increase in dissonance as the melody reintroduces
    chromatic notes outside the Fmajor key (‘‘looking down on the city’’), and especially with the pungent chord that sets ‘‘hate.’’ 21 The contrast, harmonically, with the consonant tonic F harmony that sets the closing syllable ‘‘-dore’’
    could hardly be stronger.

    Thus, the verse of ‘‘Autumn in New York,’’ with its contrast of country and city, its imagery of the Manhattan landscape and the introspective reflections, is a powerfully expressive part of the song. As is the case with many of the better
    songs in this repertoire, it really should not be left out in performance, although it often is.


    Contour plays a basic role in the refrain as well as in the verse. The initial descending gesture that is identified with the melody of the song and that sets the title phrase, ‘‘Autumn in New York,’’ is followed immediately by the contrasting dramatic ascent (‘‘Why does it seem so’’). These gestures immediately evoke images of the New York skyline, creating a stunningly pictorial gesture.

    At the time Duke composed the song (1934), Manhattan’s reputation as the home of the skyscraper was well established: At a height of 102 stories, the Empire State
    Building (1930-31) remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for many years, and it is still a mecca for visitors to the city.

    jazz transcription

    The first two four-bar phrases of the Refrain are identical melodically, and both project the lyrics that express the attractiveness of the city, with ‘‘thrill of first nighting’’ answering the query ‘‘why does it seem so inviting?’’

    Each phrase ends with the expressive leap downward on long notes (‘‘-viting’’ and ‘‘nighting’’), although the harmonic setting for the leap at the end of the second phrase
    (‘‘nighting’’) signals the marked contrast of harmonic orientation that begins to develop in the bars that follow. This part of the song begins with the descending
    gesture that sets ‘‘Glittering crowds,’’ a new idea.

    The continuation, however, is accompanied by a harmonic peregrination very similar to the onewe heard in the
    ‘‘rose-colored chattels’’ section of the verse.

    Duke’s lyrics here work very well with the change of key: the onomatopoeic ‘‘shimmering clouds,’’ which contrasts
    strikingly with the image of ‘‘canyons of steel.’’ ‘‘Steel’’ then rhymes with ‘‘feel’’ in the next line—a nice juxtaposition of words—and with the ever-active change of harmonic direction, the music arrives at the cadence, on the lyric ‘‘home.’’

    Actually, however, the music has not yet reached home in the tonal sense of key, for the final section now begins with the return of the theme of the song and the title phrase, ‘‘It’s Autumn in New York,’’ to which is attached the optimistic
    ‘‘that brings the promise of new love.’’

    Melodically, this phrase is identical to the opening phrase of the refrain, so that ‘‘new love’’ receives the expressive
    descending leap associated in the opening music with ‘‘inviting’’ and ‘‘first nighting,’’ unifying the two remote parts of the song.

    Now, however, there is an unexpected change, and with it comes the most beautiful moment in the song. I refer to the setting of the lines, ‘‘Autumn in New York/Is often mingled with pain.’’ If the melody here had followed the pattern
    of the first eight-bar period of the Refrain, as described above, it would simply have repeated the first four-bar phrase. Instead, it begins at a higher pitch, with
    correspondingly greater tension.

    This tension does not diminish with the lyrics ‘‘is often mingled with pain.’’ Now the melody carries the music to a minor harmony, setting ‘‘pain’’ in bar 23 (see Ex. 3-22). Nor is there a reduction of tension in the next lyrics, ‘‘Dreamers with empty hands.’’

    Although the music has now returned to the tonic key, it is the minor version of that key, F minor, that we hear. And it is at this point that the apex melodic note appears, the high E that sets the adjective ‘‘empty’’ in ‘‘empty hands.’’ 26 Now the tension eases, with a return to a major harmony underpinning ‘‘may sigh for exotic lands.’’

    We are still in F minor territory, however, so that the sudden return to F major territory with the reappearance of the opening theme and title lyrics of the refrain in bar 29
    is startling, an awakening of the ‘‘dreamers,’’ as it were, and a trenchant instance of word painting.

    There is one more unexpected change yet to come, and that
    is the return to the minor key at the very end, after just one bar of the song’s theme in its original form. Thus, the final line of the lyrics, ‘‘It’s good to live it again,’’ ends in F minor, the minor version of the tonic key, clearly concluding,
    in its plaintive way, with a less than joyful view of New York in the traditionally reflective and nostalgic season of the year—at least in American popular songs.

    In its harmonic development and its unexpected changes in particular, Vernon Duke’s ‘‘Autumn in New York’’ is extraordinarily complex and, as I indicated above, ahead of its time by at least a decade. These features notwithstanding,
    or perhaps because of them, the song continues to appeal to both listener and performer.

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