Autumn Leaves (Les feuilles mortes)


This page was originally published on 5 October, 2010, but has been periodically revised and often edited since then. Latest edit: 22 November 2021.

(below, left) Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prévert, (right) Joseph Kosma

(below) Prévert in Paris, 1945

Les feuilles mortes (m. Joseph Kosma, w. Jacques Prévert)

In his article “History and Analysis of ‘Autumn Leaves’,”* Philippe Baudoin says:

“Les feuilles mortes” (literally ‘The Dead Leaves’) was originally a melody composed by Joseph Kosma [2] as a pas de deux (choreographed duo) for the ballet Le Rendez-vous, with a plot by Jacques Prévert. [3] It was introduced by Roland Petit in 1945, without words. The copyright is dated February 27, 1946 and it was first published by Enoch (Paris, France) in 1947.

The complete original lyric, not easily found in online searches, is available at the site Hommage à Jacques Prévert, here: Prévert en musique.** The site’s author indicates that the poems (presumably meaning lyrics as well) included on the website are all extracted from a 1945 collection titled Paroles. See Menu principal for additional lyrics and poems, arranged by category.


Autumn Leaves, an English-language version with words by Johnny Mercer, was evidently first recorded by Jo Stafford in 1950, although it’s unclear when the lyric was written.

Disagreement on the date of the Johnny Mercer lyric:

  • 1947 — Wikipedia says, “The American songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics in 1947 and Jo Stafford was among the first to perform this version.”
  • says, “In 1949 Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics for the tune changing the original French title to Autumn Leaves.” JazzStandards also indicates that Jo Stafford was the first to record the song with the Mercer lyric.
  • 1950 — In “History and Analysis of ‘Autumn Leaves’,” Philippe Baudoin says that Mercer wrote the “Autumn Leaves” lyric in 1950, at the request of the head of Capitol’s music publishing department, Michael Goldsen. The story told by Goldsen as quoted in Baudoin’s article suggests the lyric was written in a matter of minutes while Mercer was waiting for a ride to the train station.


Yves Montand sings “Les feuilles mortes” in the film Les Portes de la nuit (1946)

I presume the first verse, which mentions les feuilles mortes (dead leaves), may have been cut by the video editor of the following clip. Neither Autumn nor leaves are mentioned or referred to in the chorus, or refrain, sung by Montand here, the only metaphor being the tide erasing the footsteps in the sand made by lovers, after they are broken apart. Montand recorded the first verse elsewhere. Most of the recordings of the song up to the early 1960s that I’ve heard incorporate the first verse, including those by Lucille Dumont, c.1950; Juliette Gréco,1951; and Jean-Claude Pascal, 1962. The second verse of the poem (fourth of five sections) is used in no versions of the song that I’m aware of.


(below)  Jean Vilar, as le clochard “Le Destin” (the tramp named Destiny), plays the tune on harmonica for Yves Montand (Diego).


Selected recordings of Les feuilles mortes

Les Feuilles Mortes-French interpretersCora Vauraire 2

Cora Vaucaire

From Philippe Baudoin’s webpage “History and Analysis of ‘Autumn Leaves’“:

The premier recording of “Les feuilles mortes” was by French singer Cora Vaucaire (January 1948, Chant-du-Monde) or perhaps by Jacques Douai in 1947…

In his book Jacques Prévert: From Film and Theater to Poetry, Art and Song (2002), Michael Bishop says, on p. 137:

The beautiful voice of Cora Vaucaire is the first, however, to record Les Feuilles mortes, in 1948. It is, of course, a finely arranged composition by Kosma, but Cora Vaucaire’s pacing and range of power, her exquisite articulation, the vibrant intimacy she generates with such naturalness guarantee the magnificent response audiences gave her in live concert performance.

A recording by Vaucaire was one of the earliest, if not the first, to be released. It was issued in (January?) 1948 on the 78 rpm single Le Chant du Monde 1536, b/w “Deux escargots vont à l’enterrement.” The following video claims to contain the “version originale” by Vaucaire, but the date is questionable since, according to (see previous link), the 1948 side was 3:00 in length while the length of the recording in this audio file seems to be about 2:20.


Lucienne Delyle 11949 Les Feuilles mortes, Lucienne Delyle, Columbia (Fr) BF 286-c1

Lucienne DelyleColumbia (France) BF 286, issued in 1949, b/w “Si tu viens danser dans mon village”

  • arranged byMario Bua
  • conductorAimé Barelli
  • chorus – les Chœurs R. Saint-Paul


Dany Dauberson — released in 1949, according to the website “The Originals,” by Arnold Rypens


Lucille Dumont — RCA Victor (Canada) 78 rpm single “Les feuilles mortes” b/w “C’est pas banal” (56-5201, 57-0080), released in 1950



Edith Piaf

radio transcription from The Big Show, 24 December 1950

Wikipedia says,

On December 24, 1950, French singer Edith Piaf rendered both French and English versions of this song on the radio program The Big Show, hosted by Tallulah Bankhead.[2]

In the following excerpt from a broadcast transcription, we hear, prior to and after the song, scripted dialogue involving Tallulah Bankhead, Margaret O’Brien & Ed Wynn which may or may not be performed live. The vocal by Piaf might have been performed live, as it sounds slightly different than the undated studio recording in the second video below, but I don’t believe it was because the orchestra behind her and the choral introduction sound like studio product. Alternatively, the dialogue and the song might have each been recorded for the radio program separately and combined later. Compare the first video (with dialogue) to the second (without). Each has choruses sung in two languages, first in English then in French, and finally back to English again.

(below) studio recording, date unknown


Juliette Gréco 1951 recording and selected live performances

1951, avec André Popp et son orchestre


live performance — 24 mars 1966 ( vidéo)


Berlin — live, 1967


live, 28 March 1968


16 February 1972 — live at Bobino, Paris (YouTube)


Jacqueline François avec Paul Durand et son orchestre — 1953(?)


Cora Vaucaire 1

Cora Vaucaire — date unknown


Lisa Ono — from her 2003 CD Dans Mon Île


Selected recordings of “Autumn Leaves” (lyric by Johnny Mercer)

Jo Stafford with orchestra conducted by Harold Mooney  — recorded on 13 July 1950, according to Second Hand Songs; issued as the A-side of Capitol F1248, b/w “Autumn in New York” (Note: Multiple videos on YouTube presently identify the same recording as that by Jo Stafford with Art Van Damme for the 1957 Columbia album Once Over Lightly. Art Van Damme was an accordionist, and the arrangement of the song for that album was quite different than that of this 1950 recording.


Stan Getz Quintet — one of two takes recorded on 19 December 1952 — musicians: Stan Getz (tenor sax), Duke Jordan (piano), Jimmy Raney (guitar), Bill Crow (bass), Frank Isola (drums)

Getz had participated in his first recording session (in Wichita Falls, TX) at age 16 in 1943 with the Jack Teagarden Orchestra. He led his first session, according to, on 31 July 1946 when the Stan Getz Quartet recorded four songs, including And the Angels Swing, and Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me.

Wikipedia notes his growing status over the next few years:

After playing for Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman, Getz was a soloist with Woody Herman from 1947 to 1949 in ‘The Second Herd’, and he first gained wide attention as one of the band’s saxophonists, who were known collectively as ‘The Four Brothers’, the others being Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward. With Herman, he had a hit with “Early Autumn” and after Getz left ‘The Second Herd’ he was able to launch his solo career. He would be the leader on almost all of his recording sessions after 1950.


Roger Williams 1955 says:

Initially the public showed little interest in “Autumn Leaves.” In 1955 that changed, however, as pianist Roger Williamsrecorded a million-seller, number-one hit rendition of the song that stayed on the charts for 6 months. Williams’ success opened the door… [read more]

Wikipedia says:

In 1955 Williams recorded “Autumn Leaves”, the only piano instrumental to reach #1 on Billboard’s popular music chart.[1] While many other recordings have been made of this song, Williams’ version is easily the best known and most played. It sold over two million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[4]


Nat King Cole – recorded 23 August 1955 and used in the Joan Crawford feature film Autumn Leaves, released in 1956


Cannonball Adderley – recorded 9 March 1958 at Van Gelder Studios, Hackensack NJ, released on Somethin’ Else, 1958

Wikipedia extract:

Somethin’ Else is a 1958 album by jazz musician Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, regarded as a landmark album in the hard bop and cool styles. This critically-acclaimed [sic] album is notable for the presence and prominent contributions of Miles Davis, in one of his few recording dates for Blue Note Records. Many critics and jazz fans consider Somethin’ Else to be among the greatest jazz albums of all time.

  • Cannonball Adderley – alto saxophone, Leader
  • Miles Davis – trumpet
  • Hank Jones – piano
  • Sam Jones – bass
  • Art Blakey – drums


Benny Golson – from Gone with Golson, 1959


Bill Evans Trio – recorded 28 December 1959, NYC – released on Portrait in Jazz


Bill Evans Trio — recorded live 28  October 1966 in Oslo, Norway — Bill Evans: piano, Eddie Gomez: bass, Alex Riel: drums

In June 2006, while introducing himself at an forum thread [link defunct as of 10/6/2021], Alex Riel said:

I had the huge pleasure to play with Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez back in 1966 when we toured Scandinavia. As I’ve explained in the Evans-thread it was of course a very memorable experience for me – and something that has meant a great deal for my carreer [sic] and for me personally. 


Chet Baker – from the album She Was Too Good to Me, recorded at Van Gelder Studios, NYC 17 July 1974

Trumpet – Chet Baker, Alto Saxophone – Paul Desmond, Bass – Ron Carter, Drums – Steve Gadd, Electric Piano – Bob James


Barney Kessel Trio — Switzerland, 1979 — Barney Kessel: guitar, Jim Richardson: bass, Tony Mann: drums

from the same session (, except ‘Sunshine’):


On Eva Cassidy’s version of Autumn Leaves:

Eva Cassidy created a sensitive and unique interpretation of Autumn Leaves, a compelling mixture of classical and blues influences. Her version has been influential, if one can judge by the number of covers in video libraries specifically citing or obviously using it as a model. These may either follow her arrangement (or a part of it), adopt a similar style, or both. A classical-sounding note pattern fingerpicked on guitar, a much slower than normal but perfectly natural tempo, powerful blues vocalizations, and a melody which due to elongation and elaboration only faintly resembles the original are among the factors which combine to make Cassidy’s version strikingly different.

At the Autumn Leaves Page of, guitarist Keith Grimes (former lead guitarist of the Eva Cassidy Band) comments on Cassidy’s interpretation, suggesting that one of the reasons for the significant variance of her version is that she didn’t know her way around at least one of the chords played in most covers of the song.

I really like the fact that she doesn’t use the normal chords to ‘Autumn Leaves.’  There’s a set of chords that 99% of the population is out there playing, and Eva does something that’s just slightly different.  It’s refreshing.  I know it’s because the minor seven flat five that’s in there, that most people play, is a chord that she didn’t know.

Also on the Autumn Leaves Page at are quotes referring to the well-known recorded performance by Cassidy at Blues Alley (in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.) in January 1996. During a solo acoustic set, she is supported on this song by a piano break played by Lenny Williams, but it may have been the first time the two had performed the song together.

The way Chris Biondo [Cassidy recording engineer] remembers it, Lenny’s piano solo was a very spur-of-the-moment addition. “Lenny told me that when she did it live at Blues Alley, he’d never rehearsed it with her before. Eva asked him to come up and play it that night. He’d done the song a million times, but not with Eva. He took a little bit of a guess on the key. Lenny’s got perfect pitch, but it’s a little scary to just go up and come in the middle of the song on a piano solo, and not have discussed the key or the chords changes ahead of time.”

After all this time, Lenny isn’t sure if that’s the way it happened or not. “I do remember it was in a weird key, and that I was petrified that I would get the key wrong and come in wrong. It was in five flats. I didn’t know whether I should play from the beginning or not. Eva looked at me, but I was listening to what she was doing with the song and I didn’t play, but then right before the break Eva gave me another look, like, ‘You’d better come in now and play something because I don’t have a solo prepared,’ so I did. It’s a nice little part, I was going for something that was a little bit classical-sounding.”

That Eva had been suffering from unexplained health issues at the time of the performance and was diagnosed with terminal cancer several months later, that she had less than a year left to live, and that the LP Live at Blues Alley on which the recording appears was the last Eva Cassidy album released prior to her death, make the performance the more poignant.

Eva Cassidy January 1996 —  The video was evidently reportedly [citation needed] shot with a camcorder by a friend on either the 2nd or 3rd of January 1996 as she was being recorded for Live at Blues Alley.



* According to Baudoin, the melody was displaced for the second printing, making the first three notes the anacrusis, and eliminating the awkward need for an extra half bar appended to the chorus before the final four-bar section. However, if I understand correctly, the aforementioned progression would have been merely shifted on the sheet music, but otherwise unaffected by the modification.

** The lyric begins with the refrain which is repeated twice, each time after a longer verse. I found several small changes in the repetitions of the refrain as compared to the first instance (a word changed, a word removed, two commas deleted, two commas added, and a line division). A comma and the word “les” are removed from line 3 (“Et nous vivions tous, les deux ensemble”) in the repetitions. The deleted word seldom appears in lyrics for the song found in Google searches, despite the fact that it is normally sung.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Georges Levy
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 11:59:16

    Merci pour ces merveilleuses interpretations



  2. Karl W. Lohninger
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 22:42:42

    This is just fantastic. Thank you so much for your wonderful compilation and collection of knowledge about ‘Les feuilles mortes’. Merci beaucoup!



    • doc
      Aug 14, 2012 @ 23:36:35

      Thanks, Karl

      I haven’t looked at this page for quite awhile. Looks like January was the last time I was there. Hope it hasn’t got too many disabled videos, yet. The feature was originally created in October 2010, then greatly expanded last Autumn.



  3. Jonathan Avidan
    Aug 11, 2016 @ 01:51:21

    In regards to “Question of originality”, while perhaps not so common in jazz, this piece merely uses the “sequence of falling fifths” which was found in the renaissance era (“Bella pedrina”, extremely common in the Baroque era (you already mention Handel’s Passacaglia but Handel was merely using the conventional formula for this sequence; see numerous works by Vivaldi, e.g. “Sposa son disprezzata”, “Alma oppressa”, “Gelido in ogni vena”, “Se lento ancor il fulmine” and numerous others; also most concertos, i.e. concerto for 2 violins in A minor [which Bach transcribed for organ]) and of course the romantic era. It is absurd to suppose that Kosma borrowed this sequence specifically from Tchaikovsky or Mozart since he would have been highly familiar with it without knowing those two pieces.



    • doc
      Aug 11, 2016 @ 10:29:13

      Jonathan Avidan,

      Hi. Thank you for contributing this illuminating information. The supposition that Kosma might have borrowed the progression in question specifically from certain pieces by well-known composers, when he would have certainly been very familiar with it due to its being a conventional formula in classical music with roots going back at least to the Renaissance, may appear absurd to you, but it might not seem so to one less familiar with such formulas, including a particular sequence that may have been ubiquitous in the Baroque era. While it would not be an exaggeration to describe my unfamiliarity with classical music as profound, I can easily hear, in the sequence of the “Bella pedrina” which you’ve linked to, similarity to the cited Tchaikovsky sequence and to the progression in question in “Les feuilles mortes.” In response, I’ve moved the small section regarding the question of originality previously included in the page content to a comment, and am considering removing it from the page entirely. In the meantime I plan to listen to some of the Vivaldi pieces you’ve mentioned. Thanks again.




  4. doc
    Aug 11, 2016 @ 09:52:13

    Questions of originality:

    In the “Talk” section of the Wikipedia article, one commenter argues that “the theme” of Autumn Leaves is in debt to a small section of a work by Tchaikovsky, saying,

    Please compare the theme of ‘Autumn Leaves’ with 56 seconds from the ouverture “Hamlet” Op. 67 composed in 1888 by Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky; my version of this opus is 21’42” long and the single minute of music to which I refer is placed between the times 7’50” and 8’36” [That’s 46 seconds.] counting from the beginning of the ouverture.

    In “History and Analysis of ‘Autumn Leaves’,” Phillippe Baudoin suggests the following two precedents for the chord progression found in the first four-bar section of the first printing* of sheet music for “Les feuilles mortes”:

    • exactly the same progression in Händel’s Passacaille [Passacaglia] in G minor, originally the last movement from his Harpsichord Suite in G minor (HMW 432), published in 1720
    • a similar progression…in the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in F (K 332), published in 1784



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