• Dr. G.

The Choo'n Gum Song


So, I went into a bit of a rabbit hole to trace the true origin of the little quote in An American in Paris at #11 (go to 1m30s on the video below to hear what I mean):

An American in Paris was written and premiered in 1928. So, where did the "Choo'n Gum" quote really come from? Let's go backwards in time:

1950

The version of the song I mentioned in rehearsal ("My mom gave me a nickel to buy a pickle, I didn't buy a pickle, I bought some choo'n gum") is actually from 1950. This is the version that became very popular in the U.S., and it even hit #17 on the Billboard Chart in May of that year, recorded by Teresa Brewer with Jimmy Lytell & the Dixieland All Stars:

A little more digging around turned up other recordings by different artists, also from 1950. It looks like this song went "viral," if such a thing can be said of anything in the mid-20th century. A couple more:

Kitty Kallen with Harry Geller & His Orchestra, also from 1950:

Also from 1950, a version by Dean Martin, recorded on March 28 of that year:

After 1950, the song became somewhat of a nursery rhyme for children growing up in those years.

Paris in the 1920s

Now, how did a tiny quotation from this song end up in Gershwin's An American in Paris?

In a version of the program for his music, Gershwin wrote: "At this point our hero passes a cafe where, if the trombones are to be believed, 'La Maxixe' is still popular."

What is "La Maxixe"?

1906

A recording of the tune with the title "La Sorella" was released on March 16, 1906 by the American Victor label. The track lists Louis Gallini as the composer, and the music is performed by the Victor Orchestra, conducted by Walter B. Rogers. One of the alternate titles listed is "La Mattchiche."

Here's a link to the Library of Congress page for the recording.

1905

One year earlier, French composer Charles Borel-Clerc published (1879-1959) is said to have composed La Sorella "from melodies developed by Ramón Estellés from the notes of a score by Carlos Gomes, with the melody of the pasodoble 'La Giralda' by Eduardo López Juarranz that he heard when he was in Spain in 1905*"

(*see notes at https://youtu.be/5sifoItrI1Y, along with a 1972 recording by the Boston Pops and Arthur Fiedler)

So, it seems clear that La Sorella (which means The Sister) and "La Mattchiche" or "La Maxixe" are the same tune, only with composition claims by different people.

Who is the real composer? Clerc? Gallini? Lopez Juarranz in Spain? Let's go back even further.

1895

The earliest mention of the tune that I could find, is from the zarzuela (Spanish operetta) “Los Inocentes,” from 1895, with music by Ramón Estellés Adrián. Here, the song is referred to as "Machicha de Los Inocentes."

A "machicha," "maxixe," or "mattchiche," it turns out, is actually a type of dance, like say, for example, tango or samba. And it happens to come from, of all places, Brazil!!

From this Wikipedia article:

The maxixe (Portuguese pronunciation: [maˈʃiʃi]), occasionally known as the Brazilian tango, is a dance, with its accompanying music (often played as a subgenre of choro), that originated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro in 1868, at about the same time as the tango was developing in neighbouring Argentina and Uruguay. It is a dance developed from Afro-Brazilian dances (mainly the lundu) and from European dances (mainly the polka).

Like the tango, the maxixe travelled to Europe and the United States in the early years of the 20th century.

The music was influenced by various other forms including the Spanish tango, lundu, polka and habanera, and is danced to a rapid 2/4 time.

Here's a modern version of what's probably the original Spanish song from the comedy film "Abuelita Charleston" ("Charleston Granny"):

Conclusion

(...and before my "conclusion," a disclaimer: this is not a scholarly article in any way. It's just me sharing this rabbit hole I fell into...)

"La Sorella," "The Maxixe," "Choo'n Gum," etc, etc, etc... are all the result of a very catchy tune from a Spanish operetta from the 1890's that went "viral" over several countries, languages and decades in the early 20th century, and then again in the 1950's.

Comments? Please!

R.G.