On a recent gig there were some requests for autumn songs – “Autumn Leaves”‘ naturally, which never goes away but I never tire of either, as long as it’s not played too fast. Its imperishable structure and cyclical chords make it a great vehicle for blowing, plus people know and like it. Also “Autumn In New York”, which is maybe the best of this lot, a masterpiece with the great line describing Manhattan’s streets as “canyons of steel”.
“Autumn Nocturne”, “Autumn Serenade” and “Early Autumn” are also good tunes for this season, as are “September Song” and “Indian Summer”. We thought we’d put a medley of autumn tunes together and my ever febrile sense of punsmanship led me to suggest songs with the word “fall” in them, like “Let’s Fall In Love” or “I Fall In Love Too Easily”. Naturally these offerings were greeted with groans and blank looks, though no actual violence from my fellow musos. Come to think of it, Wayne Shorter wrote a tune called “Fall”, which is never played or asked for because nobody actually knows it.
Another one I like is “‘Tis Autumn” by a guy named Henry Nemo, no relation to Jules Verne’s nutty evil geneticist character. It’s a ballad with a really tuneful melody and cute, fanciful words which actually include some scat-like syllables:
Old Father Time checked, so there’d be no doubt;
Called on the North wind to come on out,
Then cupped his hands so proudly to shout,
“La-di-dah di-dah-di-dum, ’tis autumn!”
Trees say they’re tired, they’ve born too much fruit;
Charmed on the wayside, there’s no dispute.
Now shedding leaves, they don’t give a hoot –
La-di-dah di-dah-di-dum, ’tis autumn!
Then the birds got together to chirp about the weather
After makin’ their decision, in birdie-like precision,
Turned about, and made a beeline to the south.
My holding you close really is no crime –
Ask the birds and the trees and old Father Time.
It’s just to help the mercury climb.
Oh La-di-dah di-dah-di-dum, ’tis autumn.
The lah-di-dah business is pretty funny, though a slight cut above the infantile fa-la-la-la-lah nonsense of other great moments in white scat singing, like “Toora Loora Loora” or the “Shooby-dooby-do” of “Strangers In the Night”, living proof that even Frank Sinatra was human. Or how about “Good Morning Starshine” from Hair, with its asinine “Glibby glub gloopy, nibby nabby noopy….Tooby ooby wala, nooby aba waba…”. Jesus, they must have taken some bad acid that day.
The first time I heard “‘Tis Autumn” sung, I figured the singer had just forgotten the words in these spots, I never dreamed those actually were the words. Same with the Mmmm-mmm business on the bridge. It’s as if Nemo ran out of ideas in those bars and come to think of it, I often run out of ideas in bars too.
“‘Tis” really is a beautiful song though, my favourite record of it is by Richie Kamuca from late in his life. He sings it very tenderly with an approach not unlike Chet Baker’s, then plays a typically warm tenor solo, God he was good.
Musicians have lots of fun making up new words to songs, often of the unprintable variety. In the la-di-dah part on this one, we generally have a field day. We’ve been known to sing “The drummer’s dumb, I grabbed a gun, and shot him!”
Or, “It was rum, he showed his bum, his bottom!” That’s about as clean as it gets, I’m afraid.
Or, in tribute to the late, great jazz trombonist J.C. Higginbotham (his real name) – “He blew with glee, good old J.C., Higginbotham!”
I was playing “‘Tis Autumn” once on a gig with a singer and a saxophonist who shall remain nameless was playing some really beautiful obbligatos behind her. Except whenever we came to the la-di-dah bit, he whispered some not-so-sweet nothings in my ear about the singer, right along with the melody, making me laugh so hard I threw my back out, yet again. The singer turned around with a dirty look to see who was making all the racket and there was my man, horn in mouth, just as innocent as a choirboy and me doubled over, chortling away and almost peeing my pants.
Sometimes I feel guilty about taking the money for gigs.
© 2013 – 2015, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.