History of Early Autumn

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In 1946, the classically inclined arranger Ralph Burns brought an Impressionist three-part suite to bandleader Woody Herman called Summer Sequence. As Gary Giddens notes in Visions of Jazz, Herman recorded the three parts in September '46, when saxophonist Flip Phillips was the band's chief saxophone soloist. But in the 78 era, three parts of anything were ill-fated. You needed four parts to fill four sides of two records. So Columbia, Herman's label at the time, shelved the masters.

In late December of '47, Herman overhauled his band, commissioning arrangements that emphasized the saxophone section. Herman's newly revamped reed section featured Sam Marowitz (as), Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward (ts) and baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. Burns was commissioned to write Part IV of Summer Sequence, which the band recorded on December 27th, just days before the start of the second American Federation of Musicians' recording ban in 1948. My guess is that with a recording ban bearing down on the music industry, Columbia needed everything it had in the vaults, including Summer Sequence, which now had its fourth part.

The big surprise in Part IV came two minutes into the recording, when Getz (above) took a beautiful, yearning eight-bar solo that was considered revolutionary at the time. The reed writing by Burns that followed Getz's solo sketched the outlines of a new song waiting to be crafted.

By the time the recording ban ended in the fall of 1948, Herman had left Columbia for Capitol. Struck by Part IV of Summer Sequence, he had Burns re-arrange it as a new reed-centric song called Early Autumn, focusing the entire song on that last sax passage from a year earlier. Getz would be the featured soloist. On Early Autumn, Herman took a co-writing credit. In 1952, Herman asked Johnny Mercer to write a lyric. Jo Stafford was first to record the song on June 24, with Ella Fitzgerald coming next two days later and Herman following in July. Early Autumn quickly became a jazz standard.

Here are nine of my favorite versions:

Here's Summer Sequence Part IV from 1947, with Ralph Burns on piano and solos by trombonist Earl Swope, alto saxophonist Woody Herman and tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (dig Getz's solo and the reed writing that follows)...



Here's the fully formed Early Autumn in 1948...



Here's Herman's vocal in July 1952...



Here's Les Brown in January 1959...



Here's Sun-Ra in July 1960...



Here's Les Double Six de Paris in January 1962...



Here's Carol Sloane on The Real Thing in May 1990...



Here's Ella Fitzgerald in June 1952...



And here's Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers in November 1966...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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