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10 Great Versions of Standard “Autumn in New York”

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

Rhyming “inviting” and “first-nighting” is pretty cool, I must say. “Autumn in New York” was written by Russian immigrant Vernon Duke (birth name: Vladimir Dukelsky) in the summer of 1934 while he was in Connecticut and homesick for New York City. Duke did not expect this classic tune to be a hit. He’s quoted as saying it did not contain “a particle” of popular appeal and called his poem set to music “a genuine emotional outburst.” The concept for the song didn’t totally come out of nowhere though. A few years prior, Duke composed (with lyrics by Yip Harburg) another season/city standard, “April in Paris.” Other Great American Songbook entries from Duke include the cheery “Taking a Chance on Love” (also with lyrics by Harburg) and the somber “I Can’t Get Started” (with lyrics by Ira Gershwin).

Unlike a lot of his compositions, “Autumn in New York” wasn’t written specifically for a play or film. However, the song found a home as the closing number in the revue Thumbs Up. The show, which debuted in December 1934, received tepid reviews, and only ran for five months (it didn’t even make it to autumn). Earlier in December ‘34, the very first recording of “Autumn of New York” was released. The nostalgic tune wouldn’t get on the path to becoming a standard until over a decade later when Frank Sinatra recorded it for Columbia in 1947. Despite being recorded countless times since, Sinatra’s is the only version to make a dent on the charts, peaking at No. 27 in 1949.

Sinatra would record it again for the 1958 concept album Come Fly With Me (my favorite version of his, which is among the 10 great recordings listed below). Ol’ Blue Eyes also performed it at Madison Square Garden in 1974, which became the TV program and live album Sinatra: The Main Event. In 1979, Sinatra would record and popularize “New York, New York,” which ultimately replaced “Autumn in New York” as the most widely known NYC standard.

Here are 10 terrific versions of “Autumn in New York.” Enjoy!

Jo Stafford

Released: 1950 (recorded in 1947)
From the album Autumn in New York and Other Classics

Stafford not only recorded “Autumn in New York,” she named her album after it (or perhaps the label named the album, an early entry in the LP format). Paul Weston, who Stafford would marry in 1952, provided the lush arrangements. [Other jazz artists with an Autumn in New York LP include guitarist Tal Farlow, pianist Kenny Barron, and saxophonist Charles Lloyd].

Buddy De Franco

Released: 1953
From the album Mr. Clarinet

De Franco rose to prominence at the tail end of the big band era and went on to become one of the few bebop clarinetists. Hearing his version of “Autumn in New York” makes me wish we had more clarinet in jazz.

Billie Holiday

Released: 1956 (recorded in 1952)
From the album A Recital By Billie Holiday

Arguably the definitive version of the standard, Holiday’s recording was ranked No. 5 on TimeOut’s list of the 100 Best New York Songs. That’s the great Oscar Peterson on piano. Click here to read our interview with Barry Avrich, director of the excellent new documentary on Peterson.

Kenny Dorham

Released: 1957 (recorded in 1956)
From the album ’Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia

There’s a great story in Miles Davis’s autobiography about a time when Kenny Dorham, an underrated Texas trumpeter who honed his skills in Austin, sat in with Davis at Cafe Bohemia in the winter of 1956. Dorham – not the great Miles Davis – shined brightest that night. Davis asked sax player Jackie McLean how he sounded, and McLean replied, “Miles, tonight Kenny is playing so beautiful, you sound like an imitation of yourself.” Davis, never one to be upstaged, stormed out of the club, recalling later in his autobiography that Dorham “had this shit-eating grin on his face and was walking like he was 10 feet tall.” Dorham’s version, recorded at that same club, features the gorgeous trumpet tone McLean was talking about.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Released: 1957
From the album Ella and Louis Again

It’s Ella and Louis! Need I say more?

Frank Sinatra

Released: 1958
From the album Come Fly With Me

I prefer this one to the original hit version for Columbia. Sinatra simply couldn’t miss during his legendary ‘50s run with Capitol.

Mel Tormé

Released: 1963
From the album Mel Tormé Sings Sunday in New York & Other Songs About New York

Tormé is in fine voice in this version taken from an LP consisting of all tunes about NYC. He sings Duke’s original opening verse, which many singers omit: It’s time to end my holiday/And bid the country a hasty farewell.

Sun Ra

Released: 1993 (recorded in 1991)
From the album Sun Ra Sextet At the Village Vanguard

This date, recorded a few years before Sun Ra passed, has the avant-garde jazz visionary playing synthesizer. It’s not as out-there as I was expecting. For more on Sun Ra, check out our review of the fascinating new documentary, Fire Music: The Story of Free Jazz.

Joe Lovano

Released: 2005
From the album Joyous Encounter

A tender tenor take from Grammy-winner Lovano. This instrumental is a nice walk around the park featuring Joe’s rich tenor tone.

Diana Krall

Released: 2020
From the album This Dream of You

“Autumn” is perfectly suited to Krall’s contralto voice. The multiple Grammy and Juno award winner’s take features strings and of course her tasty piano. She strikes a melancholy tone that conjures images of evening walks around the Village with a nip in the air.

Lovers that bless the dark
On benches in Central Park
Greet autumn in New York
It’s good to live it again

Do you have a favorite rendition of “Autumn in New York”? If so, let us know on Twitter, IG, or Facebook @360degreesound.

Now stick & stay for more great jazz articles…

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