Obscure but Worthy: Looking at Revivable Songs, “Early Autumn”

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

Introduction
For the third entry in this “Obscure but Worthy” song series I present “Early Autumn” which is, thanks to the Stan Getz memorable recording, perhaps not too obscure among jazz fans. But, although the song with Johnny Mercer lyrics is noted abroad, it is comparatively little known in the United Sates. Mercer’s imagery is lovely – even poetic – and the song deserves more attention.
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Background/Discussion
The prolific and brilliant composer-arranger Ralph Burns joined the Woody Herman band in 1944 and in 1946  He presented Herman with a 3-part suite titled “Summer Sequence” which the Herman band recorded in early September. Burns’ suite has classical overtones and shows distinct influences of Strayhorn and Ellington. The alternately pensive and rollicking moods are movingly interpreted by guitarist Chuck Wayne, trombonist Bill Harris and Woody’s dramatic Johnny-Hodges-influenced work on alto saxophone.
Based on the success of the initial 3-part suite, Herman asked Burns to write a fourth segment so that the entire work could be put on one side of the then-new ten-inch LPs. During Christmas week 1948 a new edition of the Herman band with a sax section that boasted Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward and Serge Chaloff recorded “Summer Sequence, Part 4.” This fourth movement, with an ethereal 9-bar Getz solo, added over three minutes to the suite and instantly established Getz as a new major voice in jazz. Herman dubbed this addition “Early Autumn.” In 1952 Johnny Mercer added his exquisite lyrics, which marry so well to Burns melody.

There’s a dance pavilion
In the rain
All shuttered down.
A winding country lane
All russet brown,
A frosty window-pane
Shows me a town grown lonely.

A Few Sample Recordings

VOCALS

The 1952 rendition by Jo Stafford is one of the better versions of “Early Autumn.” She has a perfect voice and approach for this moody, cool song.

Mel Torme is in fine form on his 1990 Night at the Concord Pavilion CD. He is backed by a trio of John Campbell, piano, Bob Maize, bass and drummer Donny Osborne.

Anita O’Day is very sensitive to Mercer’s exceptional lyrics. This is from her 1958 Anita O’Day Sings the Winners recording She is backed by Marty Paich and his orchestra.

INSTRUMENTALS

Woody Herman with Stan Getz, a classic 1948 recording on many compilations including Keeper of the Flame –the Complete Capitol Recordings (of Woody Herman).

2) Urbie Green, His Trombone and Orchestra – this excellent 1959 effort was one of his best.

OTHER RECORDINGS OF “EARLY AUTUMN”

Vocals
Johnny Mathis, Nicki Parrott, Ella Fitzgerald, Joanie Sommers, Carol Sloane, Marlene VerPlanck, The Four Freshman, Joe Williams, Sylvia Syms

Instrumentals
Stan Getz with Strings, Joe Harnell (Piano and Orchestra), Jan Lundgren Trio, Harry Allen-John Pizzarelli Trio, Joe Lovano-Hank Jones, Chet Baker, George Shearing, Stan Kenton.

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