Autumn Leaves (1945 song)

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"Les Feuilles mortes"
Song by Jacques Prévert and Joseph Kosma, English lyrics by Johnny Mercer
English title"Autumn Leaves"
Released1946 by Enoch & Cie (fr)
GenreJazz, pop
Composer(s)Joseph Kosma
Lyricist(s)Jacques Prévert (French), Johnny Mercer (English)

"Autumn Leaves" is a popular song and jazz standard composed by Joseph Kosma in 1945 with original lyrics by Jacques Prévert in French (original French title: "Les Feuilles mortes"), and later by Johnny Mercer in English. An instrumental version by pianist Roger Williams was a number one best-seller in the US Billboard charts of 1955.


Kosma was a native of Hungary who was introduced to Prévert in Paris. They collaborated on the song Les Feuilles mortes ("The Dead Leaves") for the 1946 film Les Portes de la nuit (Gates of the Night) where it was sung by Irène Joachim and Yves Montand.[1] The poem was published, after the death of Jacques Prévert, in the book "Soleil de Nuit" in 1980. Kosma was influenced by a piece of ballet music, "Rendez-vous" written for Roland Petit, performed in Paris at the end of the Second World War, large parts of the melodies are exactly the same, which was itself borrowed partially from "Poème d'octobre" by Jules Massenet.[2] The first commercial recordings of "Les Feuilles mortes" were released in 1950, by Cora Vaucaire [fr][3] and by Yves Montand.[4] Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyric and gave it the title "Autumn Leaves". Mercer was a partner in Capitol Records at the time, and Capitol recording artist Jo Stafford made the first English-language recording in July, 1950.[1]

Structure and chord progression[edit]

The song is in AABC form.[5] "Autumn Leaves" offers a popular way for beginning jazz musicians to become acquainted with jazz harmony as the chord progression consists almost solely of ii–V–I and ii–V sequences which are typical of jazz. Although it is in most times played in G minor, the original key of the composition was A minor.[6]

The song's iv7–bVII7–bIIImaj7–bVImaj7–iiø7–V7–i chord progression is an example of the circle-of-fifths progression.[7]

\relative c' {
\partial 2.
\new ChordNames {
\set chordChanges = ##t
\chordmode { r2. c1:m7 f:7 bes:maj7 ees:maj7 a:m7.5- d:7 g:m}

\new Staff {
\tempo "Medium jazz"
\key g \minor
g'4 a bes | ees1~ | ees4 f, g a | d2 d2~ | d4 ees, f g | c1~ | c4 d, e fis bes1

Other versions[edit]

As a jazz standard, "Autumn Leaves" has accumulated more than a thousand commercial recordings.[8]

The song was recorded steadily throughout the 1950s by leading pop vocalists including Steve Conway (1950),[9] Bing Crosby (1950), Nat King Cole (1955), Doris Day (1956), and Frank Sinatra (1957). It was also quickly adopted by instrumental jazz artists including Artie Shaw (1950), Stan Getz (1952), Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal (separately in 1955), Duke Ellington (1957), Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, and Vince Guaraldi (all 1958). Roger Williams made the song a number-one hit in the U.S. in 1955,[1] the first piano instrumental to reach number one.[10]

In 2012, jazz historian Philippe Baudoin called the song "the most important non-American standard" and noted that "it has been recorded about 1400 times by mainstream and modern jazz musicians alone and is the eighth most-recorded tune by jazzmen."[6]


  1. ^ a b c Gioia, Ted (2012). The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 24–26. ISBN 978-0-19-993739-4.
  2. ^ Massin, Brigitte (1999). Les Joachim: Une famille de musiciens. Paris: Fayard. ISBN 978-2213604183.
  3. ^ "Les Feuilles mortes; Cora Vaucaire". Bibliothèque nationale de France. 1950.
  4. ^ "Les Feuilles mortes; Yves Montand". Bibliothèque nationale de France. 1950.
  5. ^ Spitzer, Peter (2001). Jazz Theory Handbook, p. 81. ISBN 0-7866-5328-0.
  6. ^ a b Baudoin, Philippe (2012-07-01). "History and Analysis of 'Autumn Leaves'". Retrieved 2021-12-14.
  7. ^ Kostka, Stefan; Payne, Dorothy; Almén, Byron (2013). Tonal Harmony with an Introduction to Twentieth-century Music (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 46, 238. ISBN 978-0-07-131828-0.
  8. ^ "Autumn Leaves". AllMusic.
  9. ^ Henson, Brian (1989). First hits, 1946–1959. Colin Morgan. London: Boxtree. ISBN 1-85283-268-1. OCLC 19389211.
  10. ^ Anonymous. "Roger Williams". Nebraska Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2006-11-07.

External links[edit]