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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

Recommendations for This Tune
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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.

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.

The Modern Jazz Quartet
Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings
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.

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.

Sun Ra
The Sun Ra Sextet at the Village Vanguard
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.


- 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.
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.
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

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