Jul 12, 2016

"My Little Suede Shoes," "Pedro Gomez," and "Le Petit Cireur Noir"

In his liner notes for the newly-released Charlie Parker collection "Unheard Bird," Phil Schaap discusses the origin of "My Little Suede Shoes." Apparently Parker created the tune by combining two French pop songs, "Le Petit Cireur Noir" and "Pedro Gomez." The "Suede Shoes" title comes from the story that is told in the lyrics of "Le Petit Cireur Noir."

Check it out for yourself. "Pedro Gomez" contributes the A section of Parker's tune; "Le Petit Cireur Noir" contributes the bridge. The two Giraud songs were flip sides of the same 78 rpm single:

The music to "Pedro Gomez" was composed by Hubert Giraud, with lyrics by Roger Lucchesi. The music to "Le Petit Cireur Noir" was composed by Giraud and Lucchesi, lyrics by Annie Rouvre. Both songs were published in 1950.

The French lyrics to "Pedro Gomez" are here. This song tells the story of Pedro, who is taking a boat from Bahia and going to Paris. He packs up his cuica and other samba instruments. The song lists the instruments ("one needs at least 10 instruments like that" for a good samba). When the boat arrives it takes Pedro 2 1/2 hours to get through customs, because the officers suspect contraband, and "at least four taxis" to take his belongings into Paris. "With a well payed gig at Lido he replaces 22 gauchos...By himself he creates so much rhythm that all women go nuts." He spends his money, and two months later is broke. He starts to sell his instruments, "starting with the pandeiro... tamborim, small bongos...soon was the turn of the conga, his bells, tam-tam, etc....finally his parrot...so he can buy a ticket back." Pedro returns to Bahia by himself "with his small cuica." Note the vocal cuica imitation in the recording. (Thanks to my friend Carlos for the translation.)

The French lyrics to "Le Petit Cireur Noir" are here. This song is about a shoeshiner, who complains that the fashion for suede shoes is putting him out of work. It's in dialect (Carlos thinks Caribbean). "But one day I found in a cafe terrace a well stuffed wallet...nobody claimed it. With it I bought a shoe store. I now sell pretty shoes...and since then I now like the suede shoes..." But he doesn't forget his old job: "...and when I go to the cafe I put on my old shoes... leather shoes, well worn out...so I can have them polished and give big tip...This little story has a moral, that a little black shoeshiner can very well make it in life...and to make it, all he needs is to find at the cafe terrace a well stuffed wallet."

Hence, the title to Parker's tune.

According to Phil Schaap's notes, Parker was in Paris in November 1950, where he heard an artist/entertainer named Lobo Nocho sing "Le Petit Cireur Noir" (check Wikipedia's very interesting biography of Nocho). Bird tracked down a copy of the Trio Do-Re-Mi recording (the Youtube videos above), and combined the songs into "My Little Suede Shoes."

In his blog, Doug Ramsey expresses the opinion that Parker borrowed the chords and structure for "My Little Suede Shoes" from "Jeepers Creepers." I agree that the chord progressions for the A sections of the two songs match, but the evidence for Parker using the two Giraud songs as his source is kind of overwhelming. The chord progression is basic. The melody of "Shoes" matches Giraud's songs closely, and "Jeepers" not at all. There's a comment from a reader at the end of Ramsey's blog post quoting Annie Ross as saying that she had owned the record of the Giraud tunes, and Parker had heard it at Kenny Clarke's house. The poster does not say if this was in Paris or not. According to Wikipedia, Clarke did not move permanently to Paris until 1956.

Brian Priestley, in his book Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker, states that "My Little Suede Shoes" is "actually a song from the French Caribbean that Charlie picked up in Paris entitled 'My Little Suede Shoes' or 'Mes Souliers de Daim.'" This would appear to be incorrect information.

I'd always felt that "Shoes" was stylistically unlike anything else Parker ever wrote. I guess this explains it.

As a side note, "Pedro Gomez" is obviously intended rhythmically as a samba, and comes off in the Trio Do-Re-Mi recording as a sort of 1950 French pop samba. Parker's recording has more of a Cuban flavor. When Americans play Latin nowadays, you are more likely to hear a bossa nova rhythm. I guess it all works here.

The "Unheard Bird" CD is all great stuff. It includes three alternate takes of "My Little Suede Shoes," plus the originally released master, as well as over 50 more previously unreleased studio takes from various other recording sessions. More on that in a future post.