Autumn Leaves in all 12 Keys

The Jazz Standard ‘Autumn Leaves’ was composed by Hungarian composer Joseph Kosma in 1946.

Kosma was a native of Hungary who was introduced to Prévert in Paris. They collaborated on the song Les Feuilles mortes (“The Dead Leaves”) for the 1946 film Les Portes de la nuit (Gates of the Night) where it was sung by Irène Joachim.[1]  The song was recorded steadily throughout the 1950s by leading pop vocalists including Bing Crosby (1950), Nat King Cole (1955), Doris Day (1956), and Frank Sinatra (1957). It was also quickly adopted by instrumental jazz artists including Artie Shaw (1950), Stan Getz (1952), Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal (separately in 1955), Duke Ellington (1957), and Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis (together in 1958). In 2012, jazz historian Philippe Baudoin called the song “the most important non-American standard” and noted that “it has been recorded about 1400 times by mainstream and modern jazz musicians alone and is the eighth most-recorded tune by jazzmen.”[5] The Les Feuilles Mortes performance by Yves Montand video was officially uploaded to YouTube in 2010; it has over 10 million views as of December 2020.

Why are we learning it in all 12 keys?

Autumn Leaves features two simple harmonic progressions

ii  V  I IV in the major key (Cm |F7 | Bb | Eb)

& ii V7(b9) I in the minor key (Am7b5 | D7b9 | Gmin)

This chord sequence is found in 1000’s of different songs and any jazz improviser worth their salt will be continually working on them.  In fact, the late great Michael Brecker once said that if he could only practice one thing, it would be ‘working on my ii V I’s!

What are we covering in this course?

  1. Learning the melody in all 12 keys – the melody is one of the best, let’s take what we can learn from it and use it our solos and compositions!
  2. How to build killer ii V I lines in both the major and minor keys
  3. How the Diminished scale works over both progressions
  4. Which Scales and Arpeggios we need to work our own lines.
  5. Training our ear to ‘hear’ these progressions – so we don’t need to see them written down!



Autumn Leaves in all 12 Keys – Lesson One

In this lesson we are going to be looking at playing the melody in just two different keys – G minor and F minor (concert) so A minor & G minor on tenor, D minor and C minor on Alto. Remember that Autumn Leaves starts with a MAJOR ii V I progression, so sometimes people can wrongly think that it is a ‘major’ tune – it resolves to the minor so it’s said to be in a minor key!

Autumn Leaves in all 12 Keys – Lesson Two

In lesson two on our ‘Autumn Leaves in all 12 keys’ course we are moving the melody into two other keys and solidifying our work from lesson one by playing the melody over the backing tracks. 

Autumn Leaves in all 12 keys – Lesson Four

In this lesson I take you through a ‘visualisation’ approach to the opening section of the melody.  We look at how the melodic line is constructed and some mnemonics to help you move this into the more tricky keys that we will look at in the next lesson…

Autumn Leaves in all 12 keys – Lesson Five

In this lesson we are going to work on outlining the harmony, first in ‘root’ position then exploring the chords. As I mention in the video, this should be the starting point of your exploration. You then need to move this into different keys – don’t reach for the backing tracks too soon!

Autumn Leaves in all 12 Keys – Lesson Nine

In today’s lesson, I will give you a new ii V I lick in the minor key, (lick 3 from our ‘Ten licks in ten weeks course’) I then want you to send me a recording of you playing Autumn Leaves in any other key BUT G minor concert so we can show each other what we’ve learnt from this course.


Dan Forshaw

I'm passionate about creating inspirational experiences through music and other arts. A life changing experience under the influence of the music of John Coltrane lead to study in New York and London. My thesis was on the Theology of John Coltrane as expressed through A Love Supreme. I perform across Europe with various jazz groups and teach through my innovative website, I'm a total Apple Geek, Cricket, Rugby, F1 and Football fan and I'm learning to listen opinions before giving my own!