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Autumn in New York (1934)

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Origin and Chart Information
“... the song was a genuine emotional outburst and, possibly, this genuineness accounted for its subsequent standard status.”

- Vernon Duke

Rank 121
Words and Music Vernon Duke

Vernon Duke’s composition was written for the 1934 show Thumbs Up! and introduced by J. Harold Murray. Thirteen years later it rose to number 27 on the pop charts thanks to a fine vocal version by Frank Sinatra.

 

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954
 

Composer Vernon Duke wrote three pieces for Thumbs Up!: a dance number for Hal Le Roy to tap to, a tango for J. Harold Murray, and the finale, “Autumn in New York.” Only the latter remained in the show which opened on December 27, 1934, and closed five months later. In his autobiography Passport to Paris Duke described the show as “a decent, average revue [that] received decent, average notices.”

 

More on Vernon Duke at JazzBiographies.com
 

Duke wrote “Autumn in New York” while vacationing in Westport, Connecticut. Again from his autobiography he discusses the “premier” of the tune: “Both the long ‘conversational’ verse and the constantly modulating refrain contained not a particle of what the Harms (publishing company) moguls called ‘popular appeal’; the song was a genuine emotional outburst and, possibly, this genuineness accounted for its subsequent standard status. I played it at one or two Westport get-togethers and found the listeners retreating to the bar in the middle of the verse.”

It’s this very same verse that composer Alec Wilder, in his book American Popular Song, The Great Innovators 1900-1950, praises. “The verse may be the most ambitious I’ve ever seen. It begins simply enough, but halfway through it’s almost as if the other musical side of the man couldn’t be silent and the rest of the verse was finished by Dukelsky.” Here Wilder is alluding to composer Vernon Duke’s “other” life as a composer of extended works. Wilder continues: “It’s extremely difficult and very lush. But I find it very interesting, and I approve of its experimental nature. After all, it’s in the verse that the writer should be freer, for in practical terms it’s the chorus that’s being sold or promoted.”

But then again, perhaps the problem with the song was that it was too far ahead of its time in 1934. The big bands of Harry James and Charlie Spivak played the tune on radio broadcasts in 1944, and there was a 1946 recording made for Musicraft Records by vocalist Louanne Hogan. But it wasn’t until 1947 with recordings by vocalists Jo Stafford and Frank Sinatra that the tune made any kind of splash.

Duke’s lyrics to the verse could easily be the message from a post card: “It’s time to end my lonely holiday, and bid the country a hasty farewell.” He goes on to mention returning to a Manhattan hotel “on the 27th floor, looking down on the city I hate and adore!” The lyrics of the chorus are a joy, filled with picturesque writing: “glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel” and in the second chorus “jaded roues and gay divorcees, who lunch at the Ritz,” all of which explain why New York in autumn is so special.

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages


(Educator Forte devotes six pages to information on “Autumn in New York,” including its history and analyses of the lyric and music, plus the lyrics and a companion CD.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Duke’s lyrics to the verse could easily be the message from a post card: “It’s time to end my lonely holiday, and bid the country a hasty farewell.” He goes on to mention returning to a Manhattan hotel “on the 27th floor, looking down on the city I hate and adore!” The lyrics of the chorus are a joy, filled with picturesque writing: “glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel” and in the second chorus “jaded roues and gay divorcees, who lunch at the Ritz,” all of which explain why New York in autumn is so special.

- Chris Tyle

Musical analysis of “Autumn in New York”

Original Key F major
Form A1 - B - A2 - C
Tonality Primarily major; minor tonality occurs in the penultimate measures of “A2” and “C.”
Movement Arpeggiated in both directions over the range of a 10th. Some stepwise movement and chromatic embellishment.

Comments     (assumed background)

On the surface, this melody is of simple construction. The main motif is based on a descending pentatonic scale over I followed by an ascending IV arpeggio. This is combined with a very sophisticated ascending harmonic progression (that might have been a prototype for Neal Hefti’s “Cute”).

Vernon Duke follows up with more of the same in “B”; fragments of the F and Ab pentatonic scale over Gm7 and Bbm7 harmonies lead to a brief false key change to Ab major, a pleasing surprise to the ear. He then turns to C minor by way of a common-tone modulation using a iiø7 of the new “key of the moment” (in this case, Ab6 - Dø7, a.k.a. Dm7(b5)). C minor becomes C major, and from there it is easy to return to the original tonic key.

In the second half of “A2,” Duke replaces the ii7 (Gm7) chord with a iv chord (Cm), which becomes the ii7 of yet another new “key of the moment,” Bb minor. “C,” which starts out in F minor, contains yet one more harmonic surprise when he takes the song to Db major via an Ab7(#5), accomplished by means of lowering the F a half-step to create the pivot chord. Improvisers will find endless possibilities with this favorite.

K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Reading and Research
Additional information for "Autumn in New York" may be found in:

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages


(6 pages including the following types of information: history, lyric analysis, music analysis and song lyrics. (Book includes CD).)

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages


(1 page including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Theatre Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 568 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary.)

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

How fortunate it is that alto saxophonist Charlie Parker recorded so many lovely ballads on his “with strings” albums. His unerring taste may have led to the resurrection of many a great popular song. Bird’s masterly approach on these selections shows what a brilliant jazzman he was.

Stan Kenton’s Orchestra was a powerful force in jazz in the 1950s; his band became a kind of “training camp” for many musicians who went onto successful careers in the Hollywood studio and recording industry. Stan’s recording of “Autumn in New York” features a Bill Russo arrangement and trumpeter Buddy Childers.

The Three was the name given to a group composed of the creme de la creme of West Coast “Cool” Jazz. Made up of Shorty Rogers on trumpet, Shelly Manne on drums (both ex-Kenton sidemen), and Jimmy Giuffre on baritone sax, the unusual group does what might be one of the most engaging versions of “Autumn in New York.”

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes
Polygram Records 23984
Original recording, 1950
iTunes
Stan Kenton
Portraits on Standards
Blue Note Records

iTunes
Shelly Manne
The Three and tThe Two
Original Jazz Classics 172
Original recording 1954
iTunes
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Autumn in New York.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Charlie Parker’s, thanks to his 1952 version of “Autumn in New York” with strings (Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes), stands as perhaps the definitive instrumental interpreter of the song. For a less densely-textured instrumental version, the Modern Jazz Quartet’s elegant recording from the following year is recommended (Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings). Among vocal recordings, the 1957 collaboration between Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald is a standout (Ella and Louis Again).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Billie Holiday
Lady in Autumn: The Best of the Verve Years
Polygram Records
Original Recording 19

Holiday’s interpretation of “Autumn in New York” is tender, clear and unsentimental. The band is terrific as well, with Oscar Peterson’s piano a particular standout.

iTunes
Bud Powell
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 2
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1953

This inventive trio performance with George DuVivier and Arthur Taylor is rich, heavily arranged and somewhat edgy compared to most of Powell’s ballads.

iTunes
The Modern Jazz Quartet
Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings
Prestige
Original recording 1953

This elegant rendition of “Autumn in New York” combines several of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s strengths, from the intricately arranged introduction and coda to the more loosely structured and endlessly inventive soloing of vibraphonist Milt Jackson.

iTunes
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
Ella & Louis Again (Dig)
Umvd Labels
Original Recording 1956

Fitzgerald and Armstrong each take a turn at the melody here, eventually singing together as the song wraps up, and unsurprisingly the results are wonderful. As a bonus, Armstrong plays a half-chorus of trumpet.

iTunes
Sun Ra
The Sun Ra Sextet at the Village Vanguard
Rounder
Original recording 1993

Sun Ra was always an inventive iconoclast, but with one foot in more traditional sounds. Most of the tradition here is provided by the soulful and melodic playing of saxophonist John Gilmore, with Ra himself offering some quirky interjections on synthesizer.

iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Buddy Defranco
Mr Clarinet (Special Packaging)
Umvd Labels

Clarinetist DeFranco offers up a great bebop interpretation of this song.Drummer Art Blakey, pianist Kenny Drew, and bassist Milt Hinton make up the ultimate rhythm section in support.
iTunes
Phineas Newborn Jr
Phineas' Rainbow
2001 Koch Jazz 8585
Original recording 1957
A dazzling display of technical ability marks this impetuous invention. Nimble-fingered pianist Newborn conducts a clinic on how to refashion a standard in a contemporary image.
John Stetch
Heavens of a Hundred Days
2000 Justin Time 145
Original recording 2000
In a dramatic, breath-taking reading of the song, pianist Stetch runs the gamut from delicate touch to vigorous strike.
iTunes
The Hi-Lo's
Love Nest/All Over the Place
2001 Collectables 6694
Original recording 1960
The vocal quartet of The Hi-Lo’s combined extraordinary voices with musical creativity. Their reharmonization of “Autumn in New York” is set against an orchestra conducted by the great Marty Paich.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Vernon Duke

Year Rank Title
1934 121 Autumn in New York

Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin

Year Rank Title
1935 5 I Can't Get Started (with You)

Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg

Year Rank Title
1932 130 April in Paris
1933 232 What Is There to Say

Vernon Duke and John Latouche

Year Rank Title
1940 549 Cabin in the Sky

Vernon Duke, Ted Fetter and John Latouche

Year Rank Title
1940 214 Taking a Chance on Love

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