25 January 2014


Charlie Parker died young, in 1955. He was one of the early developers of bebop - a complicated, challenging form of jazz that has never appealed as much to me personally as early New Orleans (traditional) jazz.

But I came across his tune My Little Suede Shoes recently. And I must tell you that, having worked it out, I am having lots of fun with it.

I have never heard this tune played by a traditional jazz band, but I think some of us should try it.

For a start, and surprisingly, it follows a very simple and conventional 32-bar structure:

A [eight bars]
A [same eight bars repeated]
B [the bridge or 'middle eight']
A [first eight bars repeated again].

Structurally and rhythmically, it reminds me a little of Isle of Capri (which traditional jazz bands frequently play).

But, unlike Isle of Capri, it throws in the novelty of notes deliberately written 'off beat'. There are 5 of them in each Section A; and 5 in Section B, making 20 'off-beats' or deliberate syncopations in all. Here's an example. I have underlined the off-beats in red:

This adds a lot of fun to the tune and gives it a hint of a Latin flavour.

It's easy to learn and play on any standard instrument. And here's more good news: you do not have to be a bebop specialist to improvise on it.

In the course of the 32 bars, the progression (with the tune in Eb)  Fm - Bb7 - Eb (familiar to all jazz musicians as 2m - 5 - 1) occurs ten times (you can see three of them in the example above). That sequence occurs in thousands of popular tunes and is therefore easy to improvise on.

Add to that the simplicity of the Middle Eight:

Ab - Gm - Fm - Eb, etc., which you can think of as simply climbing down the stairs; and you should be able to improvise at the first attempt.

Yes, it's a tune with great potential. At present, I seem to be humming it all day.