Friday, August 29, 2014

Autumn Leaves Waltz

Two years ago I made my first attempt at playing Autumn Leaves.  In the 2012 Autumn Leaves blog post  I emphatically stated that this song was not an up-tempo swing number for me,  although that is usually how it is played by jazz pianists.   The song and the lyrics have special meaning for me, having to do with my parents that I lost as a teenager.  I played it then as a ballad,  and made a little tribute video to go along with it.

My recent efforts to make some progress on learning to play faster tunes have rekindled a hankering for playing Autumn leaves again.  This time I don't want to play it as a ballad,  but I don't want to play it as a straight ahead 4/4 swing tune either.  I would like to do something completely different.

Of all the fine versions of Autumn Leaves that I listen to,  there is one that I come back to over and over again. There is a very unusual  treatment of the song by Steve Kuhn  that just grabs my attention immediately.  First of all,  it is a waltz in 6/8 time  rather than a 4/4 swing,  which gives it this wonderful flowing sense of movement.  Then,  of course he re-harmonizes it,  but most strikingly he also re-melodicizes it.  (Is that a word?)

The head of the piece has a different melody,  yet you can still tell that it is Autumn Leaves!  Just Beautiful.

I am trying here to take a few pages out of Steve Kuhn's book.    My arrangement is done in 6/8 at 180 BPM.  I have re-harmonized  a number of the chords throughout the tune,  but the biggest change is that the melody is changed too.  I took some of the melody ideas from Steve's version and added some of my own.

The new harmony and melody combined with the movement of the 6/8 time seem to give the feel of creating and releasing a lot of musical tension throughout the song.  This was certainly a fun endeavor!

For those that insist on the standard formula of stating the original melody, then improvising, then coming back to the composer's melody - you may be disappointed in my version of Autumn Leaves Waltz.

Steve Kuhn

Steve is a Brooklyn, NY boy- so you have to love him just for that!  He also has a discography as long as your arm.  I really don't have many recordings by him,  but I think I'm going to have to change that.

Geek Alert

There are many geeky things to discuss here.  I do use a lot of tritone substitutes in this arrangement,  including using a Db7alt for the second measure of Gm  that is a frequent pattern in the original.  I'm pretty sure that this is what Steve is doing also.

The one part of the song that I'm least happy with is the alto sax solo.   I tried using trumpet, tenor and vibes too,  but none of them sounded as good as I wanted.   I think band-in-a-box may have difficulty generating solos with a 6/8 feel to them.  That is just conjecture though.

My teacher Ed suggested an intro and little quoted second ending that I've added to the track that really give a flavor of the 6/8 groove.   

1 comment:

  1. Ken,
    You certainly did not waste anytime getting this rendition published.
    Nice work. Love the sax solo too:)
    You definitely have a terrific approach-even if it did originate with Steve Kuhn.
    It really works beautifully. Keep going!!