I am inherently biased towards sounds archived in a city that I call home. The canon of jazz has been largely sketched by the virtuosic tendencies of Pittsburgh’s native sons. This is a historical narrative that I will surely examine in great lengths at some other time. For now, I enjoy the moment at hand.
It’s a sunny autumn day in the Midwest. There is a façade that could have been painted by Sanford Gifford. I, instead, liken it to a collage conjured from the vibrant imagination of Romare Bearden. That seems to be a bit more fitting, I think. We are surrounded by a spectrum of different hues. The sky is blue. The grass is green. And the leaves interpolate nature’s palette with an uncertainty found only in October. It’s the beginning of change.
And with that, I am resolved to auditory pleasures that engage both the cerebral guise of autumn’s expansive lull and the summer’s desperate push to stay out just a little longer. But soon the streetlights will come on and it will be time to go.
What I hear is what I see. This is “Autumn Leaves.”
With Vince Guaraldi, I imagine November. The mood is melancholic, at best. Too cold to snow, a seasonal downpour exaggerates the premature darkness. The transition from Fall to Winter is hauntingly beautiful and this is what it sounds like.
With Miles and Cannonball, there is no sadness, at least not yet. Instead, we get the sounds of children “rearranging” freshly raked piles of leaves. At that age, afternoons are reserved for play. As neighborhood youth chase the sun, dusk begins to close the gap. But for now, the sun shines on a brisk autumn day. All is well.
With Nat King Cole, there is something familiar, but slightly divergent in its tone. It engages the trajectory of Garner’s understanding of the piece, but takes a detour through the park—hand intertwined with another. It’s romantic in every sense. Colored with the warmth of a gentle embrace, autumn, too, is for lovers. And this is their ballad.
Somehow, it’s different for Garner. The season’s enchantment is captured at the onset with a sound that is both romantic and forlorn. I wouldn’t call it erratic, but definitely conflicted. Change. It’s the word best describing a warm day in October. This is what it sounds like.
Erroll Garner worked in an entirely different space. What he was able to do can’t be imitated just as much as it can’t be readily defined. It was just him. This was never more understood than in his interpretation of “Autumn Leaves.” As I take in my surroundings, I do so knowing the soundtrack’s composer has done the same. From that, I, too, find inspiration.
Written By: Paul Pennington