Standards to Love: The Autumn of the Year
As of yesterday, we are now officially in the autumn of the year. I wish I could say that the weather in Tennessee has cooperated with the traditional weather September should bring, but alas, it’s been an Indian summer here complete with blistering temperatures and unrelenting sun. However, the forecast promises more seasonal weather on the forefront for us, so I’m prepping myself for the autumnal temperatures with some appropriate music from the Great American Songbook.
Autumn is a time when things begin to turn into themselves. The blooms are gone and the leaves are falling. The days are getting shorter and shorter. The weather is getting colder and colder. And there’s a soundtrack for that.
Composed by Vernon Duke, nee Vladimir Dukelsky, Autumn in New York offers a rather unique look at the fall of the year. I enjoy this song because it offers a look at autumn as a time of enchantment. To attach that word to a season when so much is dying- the leaves are browning, falling, and crunching beneath our feet, the trees are standing bare to the chilling elements, and all the blooms, aside from those fabulous mums, are definitely off the roses- seems an odd juxtaposition. One would think spring is more a time of enchantment than autumn. However, there’s something very special about the light at this time of year. Our days are shrinking, but when the sun is sinking below the horizon, there’s this wonderful golden hour where the world is gilded and glorious. It appears that Vernon Duke would agree with me on this because this song celebrates that hour enchantment when even the slums outdo the most beautiful castles in Spain. And since I’m a Pollyanna sort, I think Autumn in New York is just the right note to start off with in a post celebrating this change in the season. My favorite version of this song is the duet sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
It’s rather infrequent to hear a person lament the coming of Spring. Ordinarily, we’ve had our fill of winter and want to experience the rebirth of the earth the comes with Spring. However, Harry Warren and Al Dubin offer a wonderful perspective of Fall in their song, September in the Rain. This is a love song about someone remembering a wonderful blooming of love that came at the autumn of the year. In fact, Spring, according to the lyric, is here, but in her heart, it’s still September because the memories of the love that grew when raindrops fell and chilly temperatures encouraged those lovers to cuddle a little closer. This version sung by Dinah Washington captures the joy of this song, and will invite you to slip on your old soft shoes and tread the boards with your lover.
Now, for something on the complete other end of the spectrum, I give you Jacques Prévert, Johnny Mercer, and Joseph Kosma haunting song, Autumn Leaves. The summer held a great love affair, but as with so many things in the fall, that love has ended. As the autumn leaves fall, the colors change, the nights lengthen, and the days grow cold, the singer laments the loss of her lover. And, yet, the composers are so adroit in crafting the utmost beauty into the tragic lyrics. For such a seemingly jovial fellow, Johnny Mercer was no stranger to writing such reflective songs. Case in point, The Days of Wine and Roses (see post here). Autumn Leaves is very much in a similar vein. My favorite version is sung by Eva Cassidy.
This is a rather unique song to include. More often than not, the songs showcased in the Great American Songbook are love songs. However, this song is not such a song. Rather, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s composition is a bit introspective. My favorite version is sung by Frank Sinatra. Here he’s an older man which fits this song perfectly as it’s a lyric that speaks about an older person reflecting on the autumn of his life. He understands the seasons of his life and fully embraces this new autumn. So, rather than regretting the passing of years, he’s committed to enjoy where he is at this time in his life. In a world where we tend to harp on the things we are dissatisfied with in our lives, this song is a beautifully poetic reminder to be present in the moment and celebrate it for what it is.
You’ve all heard the saying Make hay while the sun shines. Well, while hay is made in the summer months, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s September Song embraces the spirit of that phrase. We all of us walk around as though we have an abundance of time, but this song reminds us that the days do start to grow short, and we must embrace the things of the utmost importance in our lives and pursue them before it is too late. It’s another reminder that comes with the Autumn of the year. More than things, this song exhorts us to spend the precious days of our lives with those we love. These precious days I’ll spend with you. It’s a fitting nudge for all of us. That’s why I chose it for the concluding song on today’s playlist. So, please, embrace each moment, suck the marrow out of life, and remember to always tell those whom you love of their importance in your life. Oh, and take a listen to this superb rendition of this song sung by one of my personal all time favorites, Johnny Hartman.