“Autumn Leaves” Piano Tutorial

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Autumn Leaves Bio:
Autumn Leaves was composed by the Hungarian-French Composer Joseph Kosma with lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. Its original title is “Les Feuilles Mortes” which means “The Dead Leaves.” American songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics.
The song has an AABA form, meaning the first theme (or section) is repeated, followed by the second theme, and ending on the original theme. It has two common played keys: concert G minor and E minor.

Keep in mind, that if your instrument is not a Concert C instrument (like guitar and piano) you should know how to transpose to your key.

So if you are a Bb tenor sax player, the key Autumn Leaves is in is A minor (a whole step up from the concert key). If you are an Eb alto sax player, E minor (a minor 3rd down from the concert key). If you are a C instrument like piano or guitar, you will be playing in G minor as is.

This excerpt from the public television program the piano guy is brought to you by the National piano foundation I’d like you to meet my good friend and a great piano player Bradley Sowash how are you I’m great today well I am hoping you’re going to be willing to be unselfish enough to to throw out some of your good ideas as always you’re such a good jazz educator and a good piano player. it’s very helpful I think for our viewers to see what you do and what we want to talk about is the tune autumn leaves you now it’s really a standard it’s kind of a jazz standard although i guess it got really popular originally when Roger Williams recorded it we were doing some research mid-fifties I think at some point and it has the distinction of being the the longest-running number-one hit that was an instrumental ever so I think it might have some French roots too, I saw in a lead sheet, fake book I think that was the lyric and maybe and I guess Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics okay but anyway this tune is kinda fun because number one there’s some very identifiable chord changes, it follows going to two fives all the time or the circle of fifths that we talk about you can really do it in a couple of different versions you can do it more up like a jazz tune or more slowly like a ballad.

Let’s hear a couple of measures so that we can be thinking about it. Then we can start working through it. Yeah, that is very identifiable yeah I hear that in cocktail clubs and hot jazz settings and sometimes you hear it in grocery stores. maybe that’s the best way to approach this is by splitting it into two pieces and say let’s try it first as a slow ballad sound that kind of soft you know not soft maybe more emotional, you know, and then we’ll also try to give us give away some tips that we can do to make it sound a little bit more swinging. right and maybe I can see that those might even come together. we can set it up to perform this in a way that was a ballad first and then swinging in the end it’s a nice way to set up a tune.

Maybe we will do it that way If you’re going to do it slow, let’s talk about that one first. at that point you kind of sticking to chords in the left hand and more noodling in the right-hand. yeah I mean this song has those big holes in it. If you check it out, nothing space space space space space what we do with a space well we tastefully fill it.

Or in some cases not so tasteful. I know Roger William’s huge hit he had the Now the signature hook of that tune. He would make this huge run that would come down yeah I think that was sort of a musical leaves falling off the tree. clearly I think that was the the allegory there is that you are hearing leaves coming down but let’s give away just one trick let’s get our key together first. Gm G minor which has the same Black Keys as in Bb let’s just play G minor scale.

The other white keys except for Bb and Eb It is important know that scale if you are going to do that runs because they are solidly within those 7 notes. you can noodle your way down … Let’s do the tune and then we can do some kinda noodle down, I think he did some thirds … Let’s give that away real slowly right in the middle so we make sure we get on the camera there. you said minor thirds so do the tune and play it down low here. so I’m going to stay in those seven notes and start on the Eb and skip the next note. anything I asked if the next No and then come down and do it again. So some of them are minor thirds and some of them are major thirds. I’m just sticking with the key. Let’s say we are in C major. All the white keys. So you are just following those notes that you gave way the G minor scale and you are just playing them in thirds.

Do slowly one octave like that. okay so really it is just a function of I can’t because I don’t have good enough chops You just need to sit there and get good at going … but you know it doesn’t have to be that complicated any kind of a little scale passage if you can play this scale, which isn’t hard to finger, you can just noodle around that’s nice that works nicely for leaves falling whatever, just play those notes well that sound nice so it happens during the break of the melody you know falling leaves, a nice run Which means you do have to wear multiple personalities, that’s tricky you know you had to be the chord guy the melody guy and the fill guy – bass player you know the guitar player and the singer singing now you’re the trumpet in between or something. You have to think in segments like that okay that brings up a point, people sometimes say that they want to play all really complicated and big and sound full what they do is just play too many notes and are trying to do too much and it’s true that a really full performance has a lot going on but it’s in different roles sure here’s the bass, here’s the Harmony here’s the melody here are the fills.

We are taking advantage of the fact that piano is one of the only instruments we really have access to the full orchestra I think that we are after the sound of imitating a whole band interesting that is the sound we are after. that’s a good way to think about that mentally I gotta get a bass player in there you gotta get that stuff in the middle the harmonic area and you get the melodic line up on top right and everything in between the melody like this like four different instruments being imitated you should think that way that’s a good mental approach to take on that.

Actually play just a couple measures if you would kinda in tempo with that slower feel OK so you really are just taking advantage of the spaces to noodle a little bit and get in there It is all right in the scale, those 7 notes. The counterpoint to that would be all right if we were doing this in a jazz trio are you were doing this yourself trying to make it swing, which this tune does very well what do you do differently other than just doing it a little faster you need to tell us about sometimes jazz tunes pick up a bit of vocabulary or tradition just by being passed around played by different guys in there starts to be a sort of a rendition that is the definitive way to play it even though that’s not the way the original went okay this is an example of that.

There are what we call kicks on this song where the the chords instead of being in the normal position which is the beginning of the measure chord, chord, chord, chord you hold back a little bit and play this little rhythm I’ve heard that a million times. that is a fun way to do it. You hear all the jazz recordings do that you get that little kick in there It is not always the exactly same rhythm. exactly the same rhythm but you can just hold back on that chord We changed the melody originally. We started out swinging. on that one, it’s the fourth kick. it tends to be open like … you fill it anyway you want. my version of thinking through it you hear a bass player walk one measure then you go back to head. so who knows who first did it that way but it seems like you call that on a gig everybody knows how to do that.

That’s just for the A section. the second section typically goes into a hard swing with like a walk and something and so there aren’t kicks in the second half okay so there aren’t kicks in the 2nd half typically. Let’s talk briefly – where we could talk ourselves into a huge black hole here so we’ll try to to keep it is on top of the water as possible about the chord changes – the fact that this goes 2 5’s or the circle of fifths all the time but your ear really follows the chord changes in this tune well right. It is very logical. in fact and that logic can inform the way you improvise if you play little patterns well let’s look at the chords first. okay so here’s the roots of the chords first. So here are the roots of the chords. the second chord is an F, 4 notes up and the next chord is a B-flat 4 notes up and the next chord is 4 notes up so these are all the roots i am playing. okay this next one … again you’re talking about the roots of the first four chords which starts on a Cm Starts on a C minor.

Again all these chords stick to the keys. There is nothing surprising about this chord. The flavor of the chord may be different could be minors or majors, or 7ths but the roots are all going from C, F, Bb to Eb exactly so it’s moving around the circle here. the next logical one would be a Ab but they cheat a little bit and play an A natural to keep us from getting out into outer space another fourth and then another fourth and then back home So it moves right around the circle of fifths okay and that’s what they sometimes people heard about it.

But people say that they don’t know about the circle the circle of fifths you spent a lot of time worrying about some other things but in essence it is a roadmap in the case of a lot of chord changes that chords have this tendency to move in those intervals. it makes it easy to memorize tunes when you realize that. right It is just a pattern. okay so now putting that into practice with this you were … well I was going to say that because that’s so patternistic, you can play patterns with your solo. I’ll just take a C minor 7 Can we take one step backwards to make it clearer for the viewers let’s just play the chord changes with nothing else.

Just the root and a chord in your right hand. so we will just follow I’ll do them all in root position F, Bb, EbMaj 7. Amin7b5 4 up to D, Then 4 up to G. those roots just kept going up by fourths. we could do it that way. my left hand … It just moves up by fourths. yeah okay that’s a good visual I think. all right now you are talking about a little pattern well it is nice to play sequences.

You hear this all the time in Bach. Bach is always doing this and then in 5 more places you can borrow from that and do a kind of sequence just taking the same idea and moving it down, even a really simple idea just taking patterns and moving them down. speaking of Bach I had a gig a couple of years ago that where the song came into play I was suppose to play all Baroque music ok they were in costume and in Renaissance clothes on and eating turkey legs, and carrying swords and they wanted to to hear a lot of Baroque music well jazz guys run out pretty short and so I just picked songs are paternalistic like this from the world of jazz and played them in a baroque way so instead of this I was… That sounds strangely familiar well I can show a simple way to to play a bass line on the second half for this you don’t have to know how to walk to play a nice bass line this is going to give us an idea for a great bass line to use so just playing roots on one and any other chord tone on beat 3 so we are playing half notes check it out So play the root each time on beat one and any other chord tone on the other ones That’s good for the viewers so what we’re talking about is walking a bass line getting to a point where you have something interesting to play It’s on your way to a walk in your left hand.

A good stepping stone is to say you need to play the root when the chord happens. when it on one or whatever but to get from one to the other just take any note in between those two. any chord tone – in any note in the chord That is a nice way to start that’s a good stepping stone to walking where you fill it all in. And that is more advanced and that has a lot more of this going on that is a great step 1 to get pushed off in that direction so that is helpful Lets hear you play this tune eyes open for a lot of what we talked about but if you would like to go to a solo we would love to hear that as well, good yeah, I like this tune.

I’m sorry can you try to play the beginning real slow and then work into the jazz. that’s a nice idea I’ll start down here low You are playing a little melody in your left hand well why not. I’ll play it in both hands Here’s where I will set up the Jazz feel. how lucky am I, I get to set up close and watch this all day long this excerpt from the public television program the piano guy has been brought to you by the National piano foundation serving people who love music since 1966 whether you’re young or just young at heart there’s never been a better time to learn to play piano

 

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