Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Goldsmiths, University of London 's online course, Learn Jazz Piano: II. Improvising on Jazz Standards. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds “Autumn Leaves” is an important tune in the library of standards of modern jazz and, because of that, I’ve gone to the trouble of writing you out a version in root position. I mean, ultimately I’d prefer you to work out your own version, but we haven’t covered playing in root position yet, so that’s not a fair thing to ask. But the point I’d like to try and make is that probably every time I play it I play it slightly differently. So writing it down on a piece of paper kind of fossilises it in a way that doesn’t accord with its role in a jazz pianist’s playing.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds It turns out that this transcription of mine is already different from the lead sheet in note one, because on the lead sheet it goes … so the first note of the pickup, the G of the pickup, is on the second beat of the bar, whereas in mine it comes on the and of the second beat …

Skip to 1 minute and 21 seconds Moreover, the other phrase - those 3 crotchets - all get squeezed up into 3 quavers.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 seconds The way I’ve written it out is the standard way that people play “Autumn Leaves”, namely as question and answer. So the question is … and the answer is those 2 chords. The next question .. this time 3 chords … and so on.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 seconds Question and answer - a very important device in jazz. Let me have a go at playing it for you and then I’ll just discuss a couple of things about it. I’m not guaranteeing that I will play exactly what I’ve written here because, as I say, it probably isn’t what I would play if I were to just play it freely, but I’ll give you enough of an idea so that you can work on it on your own. I’ll play what’s written - hopefully. 1,2,3,4,1.

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds I’d get about 7 out of 10 for playing that. If I played it again I’d make some mistakes in other places. Anyway, a few things about playing it. First of all, there is this difficult thing in bar 19, where you really need to get down to a 5 or a 4 so that you can play the chords that I’ve written for you afterwards. I don’t know a nice fingering that will do it, other than jumping. At least its staccato - those notes before.

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds Another thing - it’s quite hard playing that … descending … and then when we get to 4 bars from the end, you probably need to roll that chord - the E flat major chord - because certainly my hand is not big enough

Skip to 4 minutes and 9 seconds Playing “Autumn Leaves” in root position on your own - or, is it necessarily on your own?

Playing "Autumn Leaves" in root position

We look at a transcription I have provided of playing “Autumn Leaves” as a solo piece in root position.

You can download the “Autumn Leaves (Root Position)” chart in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Learn Jazz Piano: II. Improvising on Jazz Standards

Goldsmiths, University of London