Monday, September 27, 2010

Autumn in New York

It’s supposed to be autumn in New York, but signs of it, if evident, are few. Days drift from sultry to balmy to lamely breezy at best, rendering evenings occasionally cool only by comparison. As seasons go, it’s no season at all. It’s too early for nature’s best show: that shocking change of indescribable colors that slips into town for a limited engagement, but too-hastily doffs its fiery bonnet and unceremoniously skips out with let’s-blow-this-town indifference.

Soon, it will be too cold for the lone street-corner sax player—whose thin, labored musical strains I hear every day well before I emerge through the arch of my building— to occupy the wee circle of prime sidewalk real estate he lays squatter’s rights to, to play, tirelessly, (tiresomely for me), the only song he apparently knows, “As Time Goes By.”

A block south of me, a man lives on the street with his dog, his cell phone, and his journals, which he has been observed to pour through, under one of those open-air phone booths mounted on a post. The wife of one well-known New Yorker routinely stops with her dog, crouches down and lingers to chat at length with him. He doesn’t lack guests to his blanketed oasis—yesterday, he was host to a young woman who stroked his disinterested dog as the two parties softly discussed... what? Assured that New Yorkers are not as indifferent as they are perceived to be, not by a long shot, I’m hoping to catch sight of whom among them will offer the man and his dog, inseparable, shelter for the winter. It has to be the best reality show going.

Nothing against man and dog, but truer to character, my heart goes out to the lonely man with a horn. In my mind, I offer him solace. But only on condition of his learning to play a new song. And, if it’s “Autumn in New York,” I readily foot the bills for every lesson for as long as it takes.

Fall is a foolish name to call a season so glorious, and, as the song says, “so inviting.” It’s autumn—in New York or anywhere else. Wikipedia says the word comes from the Old French autompne,
automne in modern French, but doesn’t state what it meant or came to mean in old or new French. That may explain why autumn gained disproportionate popularity as fall. Wikipedia also tells us, “Since 1997, Autumn has been one of the top 100 names for girls in the United States.” But I’ve never met a girl named Autumn. Or Fall. So much for Wikipedia this season.

Autumns in New York may no longer spell “the thrill of first-nighting.” Not when substantially discounted preview tickets are available. But reliably, on every Halloween every autumn, every brownstone on West 69th Street in the two-block stretch between Central Park West and Broadway becomes a story-book haunted house full of thrills and treats for children of all ages. And for the 84th Thanksgiving morning, Central Park West and 7th Avenue (in lieu of Broadway) will become the Main Streets of Anytown for the locals, who gather hours earlier to view and to cheer on the footsloggers and float-squatters of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Autumn is the season for The New York Film Festival and The New York City Ballet; for this season, the overdue arrival of the longed-for Upper West Side Trader Joe’s and, painfully, the imminent departure of the community-prized Lincoln Square Barnes and Noble; the Yankees’ post-season and Christopher Columbus’ Day; plus so much more that is distinctly New York. The season and occasion for a love song to New York that sings to all. All the more poignant, then, to know that “Autumn in New York” was the inspiration of a Russian-born composer, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dukelsky, who became, in New York, the great American songwriter, Vernon Duke.

Autumn in New York,
It's good to live it again.

Listen to what Ella and Satch do with it.


  1. That Ella and Satch recording is easily one of my favorite recordings of a song, ever... It makes me feel instantly happy and in love with my city... Beautiful piece...!

  2. Ray, Have you heard of FOOTBALL 'in the fall'?

  3. New Yorkers will forever own the season of autumn, and it makes me so happy to know that I still have friends in the city to appreciate it as affectionately and eloquently as you do.

  4. Thanks for keeping me connected to New York Ray. It is a beautiful season and you describe it perfectly.

  5. Ella and Satch easily the best vocal version! Try Charlie Parker's version on an album called Round Mindnight for the best instrumental. It will also ease the pain of the street saxist. By the way, if you can get him to play "As Time Goes By" exactly every four minutes ( Dooley Wilsons was just about 4 minutes) he could serve as a quarter hour reminder for people.
    Elsie Du Musique Marveilleuse

  6. Wonderful evocative writing as ever Ray! You prompted curiousity about the origin of the word autumn and one online site said it means "Time of Harvest" from an English word. A baby naming site said, "It's one of the four seasons between Summer and Fall." Yes it really says that, making me wonder whether Winter or Spring disappeared. I think I will go listen to Vivaldi's Four Season now. Thanks again for tastes of NY!