Yes, this is the same Steve Allen (1921-2000) who was also a comedian, author, TV show host, and who knows what else. Allen actually had an accomplished music career, playing in the jazz/ bebop genres on piano. His typical style was what we would today consider "cocktail lounge music." This was his only charting hit.
"Autumn Leaves" is an old jazz standard, starting with a French song with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert, called "Les feuilles mortes." It was adapted with English lyrics in 1947 by American songwriter Johnny Mercer. French singer Edith Piaf did a broadcast version in both English and French in 1950, on the radio program The Big Show, hosted by Tallulah Bankhead. Yes, that Tallulah Bankhead hosted a radio show. From there, we get Steve Allen recording a version in conjunction with launching The Steve Allen Show, with George Cates and his Orchestra and Chorus.
Oh, and the film of the same name used this song: Autumn Leaves was a 1956 film starring Joan ("No wire hangers!") Crawford, using the version done by Nat King Cole.
Steve Allen was an entertainment polymath. Among his accomplishments:
First host of The Tonight Show
Played the title role of The Benny Goodman Story
Hosted his own show from 1956 to 1980.
Oh, and married actress Jayne Meadows in 1954. And he had this hit single.
While we're on the subject of The Steve Allen Show
, don't miss this clip of a very young Frank Zappa playing the bicycle on the show
The French version is referenced in Ian Fleming's 1956 novel Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond #4):
As Bond neared the end of the corridor, he could hear a piano swinging a rather sad tune. At the door of 350 he knew the music came from behind it. He recognized the tune. It was 'Feuilles mortes.' He knocked.
Capitol Records paid $600 for the US rights to the song. Johnny Mercer, founder and then-president of the label, was given four months to come up with the English lyrics or else the deal would be terminated. According to Mark Steyn's A Song for the Season, Capitol's publishing exec, Mickey Goldsen, was getting antsy as the deadline was fast approaching without a scrap of a lyric from Mercer. Mercer promised he would work on the lyrics during a train trip from Los Angeles to New York if Goldsen would give him a lift to the station. Goldsen was late and found Mercer on his porch. Mercer told him: "Well, you know, I didn't know if something had happened, so while I was waiting, I wrote the lyric. Here it is."
Goldsen told biographer Gene Lees: "We got into the car and he read me the lyric. Tears came to my eyes. Everybody I played that song for flipped out."
Bob Dylan recorded this for his 2015 album of Frank Sinatra covers, Shadows in the Night. Sinatra recorded the song for his 1956 album, Where Are You?
Jo Stafford was the first artist to record Mercer's version. In 1950, just before leaving Capitol for Columbia Records, she released it backed with "Autumn in New York."
Pianist Roger Williams had a #1 hit with his instrumental version in 1955. Just after signing with Kapp Records, label president Dave Kapp called Williams on a Friday and asked if he'd like to record "Autumn Leaves" that Monday. Williams told the Los Angeles Times: "I said, 'You mean 'Falling Leaves'? I didn't even know the title. I stayed up Friday and then Saturday night working on an arrangement."
"The first thing that came to mind was to play all those runs down the keyboard," he said in another Times interview. "I tried to make it sound like falling leaves."