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A Leaf Falls On Loneliness (For E.E. Cummings)

Ola Dusegård

Every autumn, life's rich pageant of foliage peaks in the eastern deciduous forest. After the stunning array of color begins to fall, all that's left is the slow march to winter. It may be nature's intelligent design, but there's still something inherently melancholy about watching the leaves drop. Look around and pity each solitary and dignified descent before young soles trample them underfoot. Let these five confessionals prepare you for a season of the high lonesome — a time before a chilly mood meets the rake's progress.

For more entries in NPR Music's weekly Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler series, click here.

A Leaf Falls On Loneliness (For E.E. Cummings)

Frank Sinatra

"Gone With the Wind"

From 'Only the Lonely'

This 1958 recording was Frank Sinatra's personal favorite. Nelson Riddle's arrangements waft around "The Voice" like smoke rings. Sinatra serves pathos with an experienced voice, so much so that he called this ballad album a collection of "suicide songs." Sinatra's marriage to actress Ava Gardner had failed a year earlier, leaving a worldly celebrity to the gut-wrenching art of being alone. Everyone loves the swagger of a Sinatra swinger, but his command of ballad singing sets a standard. "Gone with the Wind" is achingly beautiful enough to leave listeners agonizing at the end of each phrase.

Abbey Lincoln

"Left Alone"

From 'Straight Ahead'

Pianist Mal Waldron was Billie Holiday's regular accompanist from 1957 until her death in 1959, and he wrote this song to accompany Lady Day's self-reflexive lyric. There are few statements of loneliness quite as profound as Abbey Lincoln, inheritor of the Holiday torch, singing "Left Alone." Waldron plays piano in the recording, while Coleman Hawkins pours the gin and tonic into his saxophone solo.

Betty Carter

"Lonely House"

From 'I'm Yours, You're Mine'

"Lonely House" comes from Street Scene, one of composer Kurt Weill's "American operas"; it won the first Tony Award for Best Original Score. Poet Langston Hughes provided an earthy blues libretto of city life with lines like, "Funny, you can be so lonely with all these folks around." Betty Carter's version feels creepy and haunting before it swings Hughes' vernacular lyric.

John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman

"Lush Life"

From 'John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman [Bonus Tracks/SACD]'

Billy Strayhorn wrote this crushing portrait of solitude as a teenager. The first draft was called "Life Is Lonely," while the finished product took the composer years to complete. In this recording, Johnny Hartman's heavy baritone ruminates on an unfulfilled life in jazz. This was John Coltrane's second recorded version of "Lush Life," but the only time he shared the spotlight with a singer for an entire album. This is not a singer record with saxophone solos; it's a true duet.

Tony Bennett/Bill Evans

"You Must Believe in Spring"

From 'Together Again [Concord]'

Anyone looking for loneliness on pianist Bill Evans' second duet recording with singer Tony Bennett wouldn't have to look far to find songs like "Two Lonely People" or "Lonely Girl." The tender optimism of "You Must Believe in Spring" suited the lyrical and introverted Evans best. Michel LeGrand's original music provides the romantic cushion for Alan and Marilyn Bergman's lyric. Bennett delivers the promise of renewal with a tinge of frailty when he sings, "Just as a tree is sure its leaves will reappear / It knows its emptiness is just the time of year." For anyone who needs assurance this autumn, here's a lifeline.

Copyright 2008 WBGO

Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for programming and content at WRTI.