Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ellington, Baker, Alemán - 1933

Duke Ellington at the piano, c. 1933
Duke Ellington, who toured Europe to escape the Great Depression as it harassed the US, visited France in 1933. Oscar Alemán makes a profound impression on Duke, who offers him a place as a guitar player in his orchestra for a tour through the US. But Ellington had to ask Md. Joesphine Baker before it could be arranged.

Josephine Baker, 1933
The comment of Josephine Baker was clear: Where in the world will I find another man who is able to sing in Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian, who can dance, play the guitar, who is black and a great companion?

Oscar and Josephine on stage
Case closed: Md. Baker declined to let Oscar go, as a consolation he had a signed photo of the Ellington band with autographs by all members on the reverse, which he kept for all his life.

Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club orchestra,  1933
The autographs on the reverse of a similar promotion photo is shown below by courtesy of Luis 'Tito' Liber, who kindly forwarded a copy of this essential keepsake from Alemán's own collection

Autographs of Ellington Orch. members, Paris 1933 (click to enlarge)

What would have happened, if Oscar had joined the Ellington orchestra in 1933? This is a question that has preoccupied many jazz lovers, however, fact is that we'll never know, we just have to dream about the missed possibilities. 

- To end this, I'll insert a short film made by the Ellington orchestra 1933, 'A Bundle of Blues'- enjoy!


Friday, February 20, 2015

Joe Louis Stomp

Joe Louis, The Brown Bomber
Joe Louis (1914–1981), known as the Brown Bomber, was the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1937 to 1949 holding the title longer than anyone else in boxing history. A career profile is available here

Bill Coleman (1904-1981)
Trumpeter Bill Coleman composed and recorded a swing tune as a homage to the rising boxing star in January 1936, Joe Louis Stomp. At that time Bill Coleman resided in Paris, France, where he had been engaged by Freddy Taylor late 1935 as a member of Taylor's orchestra, but already in 1933 Coleman had been in France as a member of Lucky Millinder's orchestra, and this time he would stay in Paris as his residence until 1940. During this period Bill Coleman also had his own orchestra in Paris that had regular performances at a venue called Villa d'Este, members were  Bill Coleman (tp, ldr), Eugène d' Ellemmes (b), Edgar "Spider" Courance (ts, cl), Oscar Alemán (g) and William Diemer (dm) as shown at the picture below (l to r)
Bill Coleman Et Son Orchestre De La Villa D'Este, c.1936
On January 31th, 1936 Bill Coleman and his Orchestra recorded 'Joe Louis Stomp' in Paris, it was issued on a 78 rpm disc at the French Gramophone label, a devsion of HMV, as the A-side (mx. OLA-851-1, Gramophone (HMV) K-7705), while the B-side had a recording of the tune 'Coquette' (mx. OLA-852-1, Gramophone (HMV) K-7705).
Gramophone (HMV) K-7705
The Coleman quintet is extended to a sextet in this recording, John (Jean) Ferrier is added as the piano player - remaining personnel as mentioned above. 'Joe Louis Stomp' is a great swing tune, both Coleman and Edgar Courance have great solo spots, but here we should also focus on Oscar Alemán's 16 bar guitar solo. This is in fact the first swing/jazz solo recorded by Alemán. It is documenting an already mature and personal style that distinguishes him from other guitarists at the time. Enjoy the tune as recorded on January 31th, 1936 in the inserted video below.

Oscar Alemán recorded and released a version of 'Joe Louis Stomp' in Buenos Aires much later, but not during his contract with Odeon from 1941 to 1957. However, during the 1960s, when he had semi-retired from the scene as a performer and recording artist after dissolving his orchestra in 1959, he was from time to time a featured guest performer in radio and TV programs accompanied by a quintet named Cinco Caballeros consisting of cl or vln, p, rh g, b and dm.
Oscar Alemán & Cinco Caballeros, 1960s
With the Cinco Caballeros Alemán performed his own arrangement of 'Joe Louis Stomp' at several live appearances in radio programs during the 1960s as documented in unissued recordings saved by keen collectors. One of the hottest versions I have heard was performed in a program at Radio el Mundo on September 2nd, 1965, inserted in the audio-video below

Note that the speaker of the program mentions Duke Ellington as the composer of the tune, although it rightly should have been Bill Coleman. However, the studio audience probably would not have cared anyway, as Bill Coleman's name and output probably was rather unknown in Argentina at the time. On the other hand, Alemán's version of the tune gets a deserved enthusiastic applause and points to the fact that 'Joe Louis Stomp' had become a part of his standard repertoire at the time. 

As mentioned, he recorded the tune much later, now in a slower and more subdued version, but still with great guitar work showing off his excellence even in his late career. The tune was recorded in September 1974 on the last LP album for the Redondel label titled 'En Todos Los Ritmos' (L-809). Alemán is accompanied by Juan José Gonzalez (cl), Dario “Johnny” Quaglia (rh g), Norberto Villa (b) and Mario Raffaelli (dm). This version has been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted in the video below - a worthy contribution to mark the 106th anniversary of Oscar Alemán and a great swing jazz tune, enjoy!


Saturday, January 17, 2015


Oscar Alemán on stage
During his career in Argentina in the 1940s and 1950s Oscar Alemán composed some swing tunes like OSCARINADAS, REZEZE, SCARTUNAS, COMO TE LLAMAS?, SWING EN LA as part of his setlist, two of them (OSCARINADAS and SCARTUNAS) were recorded by both the Quintet and the Orchestra. Here I shall concentrate on SCARTUNAS, which is documented in three recordings, two for the Odeon label and one live shot from Radio Belgrano that has been saved on acetate.
Odeon 45973 B
SCARTUNAS was recorded by OA y su Quinteto de Swing on June 27th, 1944 and was released on the shown Odeon 45973 as the B side, the A side had a rendition of the Brazilian batuque by Laura Maia, EU VI UM LEÃO, sung in Portuguese by Alemán. SCARTUNAS is a simple swing tune, a short riff theme with extended space for improvisation, and this version has great solo contributions by Alemán's guitar as well as by violinist Manuel Gavinovich and piano player Ceferino Alburquerque. The tune is played in medium fast tempo and is a great example of both the excellent interplay and support by the ensemble and Alemán's skills as a guitarist and improviser. The audio has been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted below.

SCARTUNAS  was also recorded by Alemán and his orquestra for Odeon on May 16th 1952, although the label of the issued 78 rpm disc (Odeon 55399) wrongly lists the recording as by OSCAR ALEMÁN y su Quinteto de swing.
Odeon 55399 B
This version of SCARTUNAS is played at a faster tempo than the previous rendition by the quintet, the riff theme is in focus and is played in unison by the guitar and the three part violin section during the longest sequence of the recording, which takes off as a call-and-response between the guitar and the violins. The violins as accompaniement in this recording add an almost Middle Eastern flavour to the music in the sequence without Alemán's guitar as lead voice, a feature marked by the fast tempo and the glissandi by the violins playing in unison. This version has also been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted here

Palmolive ad
During one of Alemán's 'Ritmos brillantes de Palmolive' programs at Radio Belgrano from September 28th 1952, SCARTUNAS was presented live by Alemán and his orchestra, Luckily, this on-the-air performance has been saved on acetate and since re-issued on CD (REDONDEL CD 45025). The version performed here is played at the same fast tempo as the released studio recording for Odeon on May 16th 1952, however, the live-shot is particularily longer than the Odeon take and leaves more space for Alemán's soloing. His solo here is different from the quintet recording of the tune at the June 27th 1944 take for Odeon and the live-shot of SCARTUNAS is a remarkable document of Alemán's skills as an improviser during his heyday as a most requested entertainer and popular musician at the Argentinian scene.

Bandleader, trumpeter and film actor Harry James (1916-1983)
The saved acetates from this Radio Belgrano program further are an important historic document, as the in-between-music speach has a conversation between Alemán and visiting guests, at this occasion two Americans were in the studio - famous bandleader Harry James and film actor Tony Martin. This short meeting between Alemán and Harry James maybe later caused the anecdote that James had offered Alemán a tour of the USA with James' Music Makers, which he (Alemán) refused for the sake of his popularity at the Argentinian scene. If some of the readers can confirm the anecdote and perhaps add further details, I should like to hear from you. Anyway, for now, here's the saved audio from the live-performance of SCARTUNAS at the Radio Belgrano program uploaded at YouTube


Monday, December 29, 2014

"I Don't Have Paper - I have a Heart Instead"

Theo van de Graaff and Oscar Alemán, Dec. 1979
35 years ago, December 1979, one of the initial contributors to Hans Koert's El Redescubrimiento de Oscar Alemán/The Rediscovery of Oscar Alemán project , Theo van de Graaff, visited Alemán in his apartment in Buenos Aires and had the opportunity to interview the Master, shoot some photos of Oscar's notebooks and also to listen to some of the music that Oscar had taped on his reel-to-reel recorder. Theo had brought a cassette recorder with him and was allowed to copy some of Alemán's recorded material from his reel tape collection including home-recordings, radio airshots and live-performance, and the cassette recorder was also used during a conversation where Alemán demonstrated some of his musical ideas and talked about his innate musical skills. Luckily, Hans Koert and I were kindly allowed to have a copy of Theo's recorded material to have it registered in the Oscar Alemán discography, you can find a list of the music here , and the taped interview with Alemán is listed here. 
Some time ago I went back and listened to the taped interview with Alemán and decided to have it translated into English from the original in Spanish, as the interview adds interesting information to our knowledge of Oscar's attitude to music. With the kind help and assistance of Luis 'Tito' Liber the interview has now been transcribed, and below I'll publish part of this transcript both in English and Spanish.
During the first part of the taped conversation Alemán demonstrates some of his ideas on chords, harmony and tempo, playing examples on his guitar and using the tune 'Como te llamas' to illustrate. He points out that he does not read or write music: 
"... The fact is that it reaches me here (he beats his chest). It wouldn`t have to reach me, but it does! Though I am the author... I can`t hear another person singing this. No. Because, if I don`t write it nobody can sing it. If I write the music, another person can play it, but no-one plays it because I can`t write."
(in Spanish: "Es que a mí me llega aquí (se golpea el pecho). ¡A mí! Yo soy el autor... No debería llegarme, pero me llega. Yo no puedo escuchar a otra persona cantar eso. No. Porque si yo no lo escribo nadie lo puede cantar. Si yo lo escribo, otra persona lo puede tocar, si yo escribo la música. Nadie la toca porque yo no la escribo.")
Oscar has complained all his life for not knowing musical notation. The only thing the listener can do is to memorize, to keep the tune in his ear, because the author cannot write it on a score. However, having seen the notebooks of Oscar`s pupils, it is obvious that Alemán knew how to write chords, what he didn`t know was to write notes on a music sheet.

A little later in the conversation Oscar recalls his meeting with the French musicologist Julien Falk (1902-1987) in the 1930s. He was a professor of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, and the author of many works on musical theory and technique. It is known that two members of Alemán`s orchestra, who were pupils of Falk, arranged a meeting between Oscar and the musicologist.
" ... A great French musician, doctor in music -- considered by all the critics and European masters and musicians --, once told me: "You are a doctor in music too, because you know about melody, harmony and counterpoint." (-) And the doctor wants to listen to me. But I don`t want to do that. I am afraid because he knows so much. I went to his house during a month and a half, because everybody had told me: "Let`s go!", and I had said: "No, I am shit compared to him." He told me: "I must know you", because a man like Oscar Alemán, who doesn`t know music, he can`t know so much... he cannot know harmony. How can a man that hasn`t studied music know melody so well, sing, dance, jump, do anything, and also sing so well with such a feeling? Piano, guitar, harmony, these are more than singing with only one note. So, he wants to hear me. And I play this (he plays a chord of a song). He has a very good ear, he knew a lot of music. And I played this (he marks the beat with the foot and plays a slow melody note by note). He said: "What is it? Now I am going to put the harmonies. I think that, of all the music I know, I cannot recognize what you are playing. And I cannot put harmonies on that music." But I did. (He plays the same melodic line harmonized with chords)
(in Spanish: " ... Un músico grande, francés, doctor en música él, me dijo -- todos los críticos, todos los músicos, grandes maestros europeos, lo consideraron a él --: "Usted es doctor en música, porque sabe melodía, armonía y contrapunto." (-) Doctor en música, toda Europa lo dijo. Y él me escucha. Él quiere escucharme. Yo tengo miedo, no quiero porque él sabe mucho. Un mes y medio fui para eso a casa de él. Todo el mundo me decía: "Vamos!", Yo decía: "No, soy una mierda al lado de él." "Tenía que conocerte." Porque él dice que un hombre que no sabe música, como Oscar Alemán, no puede saber tanto... saber armonía. ¡Cómo un hombre que no sabe música puede saber melodía muy bien, cantar, bailar, saltar, hacer cualquier cosa! Y cantar muy bien, con sentimiento, todo. El piano, la guitarra, armonía, es otra cosa que cantar con una sola nota. Entonces, él quiere escucharme. Y yo le hago esto (toca un acorde). Él tiene mucho oído, sabe mucho de música. Y yo le hago (marca el compás con el pie y toca una melodía pausadamente nota por nota). "¿Qué es eso? Ahora yo voy a poner la armonía. Yo estoy pensando, que de toda la música que yo conozco, yo no sé lo que usted está tocando. No puedo poner armonía en esa música." Y yo la puse".- Toca la misma línea melódica armonizada con acordes)

The musicians thought that, as a band director/leader, Alemán had to know harmony and counterpoint (to deal with polyphony). But, if he had confessed that he had never studied music... how could he know that? That`s why his musicians began to question his indications... until the moment Oscar was legitimated by doctor Falk.
"... This man, he says: "I don`t have a hat, but if I had one, I would take it off and make a bow. Because they call me doctor in music... You write these notes (he plays the same melodic line), but nobody thinks about the harmonies that can fit there. If you give it to ten different persons, good musicians and arrangers, no one of them would put the harmonies you have put." That way, he demonstrated to me that I knew something. It happened forty years ago. These (the story and the song) are forty years old, 1939!! He made me realize that I am not a donkey, that I know many things. And when the musicians of my orchestra knew that doctor Falk had said that Oscar Alemán was an intuitive, but he knew so much and must be respected, they changed. When I said A, it was A. It hadn`t happened before, ..., I said F... and nobody listened to me because, it`s clear, F doesn`t fit with A. The pianist knew a lot of music, harmony and everything..., the trumpeter had also studied when he was a child..., but after the master had said that about me... when I said: F... F everybody! And the orchestra sounded nice with what I had inside here (he touches his head). I had the harmonies inside here! They, instead, had the harmony learned in their studies, the harmony of those who they admired from the books they had studied. I don`t have paper... I have a heart instead."
(in Spanish: "... Este hombre dice: "Yo no tengo sombrero. Si lo tuviera me lo saco. Porque a mí me dicen doctor en música... Usted escribe estas notas (toca la línea melódica anterior), y nadie piensa en las armonías que pueden ir ahí. Usted se lo da a diez personas diferentes, músicos buenos, arregladores, y nadie pone las armonías que usted puso." Entonces, él me hizo creer que yo sabía algo. En esa época, hace cuarenta años. Esto (la historia y la canción) tiene cuarenta años, 1939!! El me hizo pensar que entonces yo no soy un burro, sé algunas cosas. Y los músicos de mi orquesta, -- cuando supieron que el doctor Falk había dicho que Oscar Alemán era un intuitivo, pero que sabía mucho, y que había que respetarlo mucho --, mi orquesta cambió. Yo decía A y era A. Yo decía Fa... Antes no, ¿eh?..., nadie te escucha porque, claro, Fa no va con el La. El pianista sabía mucha música, armonía y todo, el trompetista también había estudiado de chico..., pero cuando el maestro dijo eso... ¡Fa! Y Fa todo el mundo. Y la orquesta salía linda con lo que yo tenía acá (se toca la cabeza). ¡Yo tenía la armonía acá adentro! Y ellos tenían la armonía de estudio. De mucho estudiar, tenían la armonía de lo que admiraban. Y yo no tengo papel... Yo tengo corazón.")

Many critics have noticed that Alemán had his best in the harmonization, something very difficult to master for any interpreter. Oscar had considered that it was an innate sense that became part of what he called "musicality". Of course knowledge of theory and musical notation would have been very useful to him, but without that innate "musicality" it would be fruitless. It is something very different to the technical mastering of the instrument: the idea of how to play a piece and the possibility of doing it. Without the previous idea... there is nothing, only a proper score reader. Any music including good jazz can be played without scores. 
Thanks to Luis 'Tito' Liber for providing the transcript, translation and the added explanatory information, and of course thanks to Theo van de Graaff for preserving the conversation with Oscar on tape.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hot Club de Boedo Honors Oscar Alemán And The Work of Hans Koert (1951-2014)

I had the following message from Hot Club de Boedo ,  which I quote directly and then below add a translation in English. Featured program and photos are forwarded from Hot Club de Boedo with exception of the closing pic of Hans Koert.

 (Viernes 24 de octubre) Hot Club de Boedo rindio Homenaje a Oscar Alemán y recordó al experto Hans Koert en el Salón José Pallares de la Asociación de Fomento y Biblioteca Popular General Alvear del barrio de Caballito de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires.

En primer término dirigió la palabra el presidente de la misma Sr. Arnaldo Goenaga refiriendose a las actividades que se alli se realizan y agradeciendo al público asistente y a Hot Club de Boedo, que, comenzó el concierto con los temas clásicos del repertorio de Oscar Alemán, luego tomo la palabra el guitarrista Waldo Fonseca quien hizo una reseña acerca de Hans Koert su ciclópeo trabajo y la gratitud para con el y con Jo Larsen que sigue su labor, mas tarde dió paso al investigador Román Romano quien cautivó al publico contando anécdotas imperdibles del guitarrista chaqueño, con gran entusiasmo del auditorio continuó la musica a la que se sumaron Osvaldo y Celia bailando al compás del Jazz cerrando una noche inolvidable.

(English translation):

(Friday 24 October) Hot Club de Boedo honored and remembered Oscar Alemán expert Hans Koert at the Hall of José Pallares, Development Association and Popular Library of General Alvear Caballito (Buenos Aires aera).

First the president of the company, Mr. Arnaldo Goenaga spoke to the audience referring to the activities performed at the hall and thanking the audience and Hot Club de Boedo, which began the concert with the classics of the repertoire of Oscar Aleman. Then took the floor guitarist Waldo Fonseca, who made a review of Hans Koert's tremendous work expressing gratitude to him and Jo Larsen, who continues his work. Afterwards, the researcher Román Romano took over and captivated the public recollecting anecdotes about the Chaco guitarist. The audience engaged enthusiastically in the event, in particular when the concert continued and Osvaldo and Celia joined Hot Club de Boedo dancing to the music and closing a memorable evening.

Hans Koert (1951-2014)
Thanks a lot to Waldo Fonseca and Hot Club de Boedo for sharing this event with readers of the Oscar Alemán blog.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Jean, Jac & Jo - Featuring Oscar Alemán

We know that Oscar Alemán accompanied the vocal trio JEAN, JAC & JO in the 1930s and also participated in several recordings by the trio made during his stay in Paris. The trio was originally composed of Henry/Harry ( = Han) Driessen (vocal, violin), Jean Irace (vocal, guitar) and  Henri ( Enrique) Juvet (vocal, piano), like Alemán staff members of Josephine Baker's orchestra/revue in Paris and on tour. Later Marcell Herman (vocal, guitar) replaced Driessen in the trio set-up, but this probably happened after the co-work with Alemán, which lasted from 1934 to 1938.
Baker revue, late 1931-1932, Han Driessen (l), Alemán, JB, unknown sax player and Jean Irace (r)
Around the summer of 1934, after a half year tour through Europe Oscar Alemán and Jean, Jac & Jo left the Josephine Baker revue. The vocal trio performed in famous Paris cabarets like L' Européen, L' Allambra and the Casino de Paris. Twelve  records from the vocal trio acc. by Oscar Alemán on guitar and various percussion were made during the next four years starting in November 1934. You can look them up in the online Alemán discography following this link and further have access to the scarce info and documentation available on the Jean, Jac & Jo trio, here. 

Unfortunately, very few of the recorded sides by Jean, Jac & Jo featuring Alemán have been re-issued and the original 78 rpm discs are hard to find. However, I found a couple of YouTube videos that have the audio of two sides, which feature Oscar Alemán as a sideman according available discographical info. The shown 'Isabelita' was recorded for Pathé in the first listed session featuring Alemán on November 23th, 1934. There is a small error in the online disco, as the matrix number of 'Isabelita' according the shown label is CPT 1636 (- not CPT 1637 as listed in the discography), however, the disc number PÅ 435 is correct. 'Isabelita' is a rumba, music composed by Enrique Juvet and lyrics in French by Max Erlange, the arrangement is presented on the label as "Fantaisistes vocaux avec accomp. de Guitare et Piano, chantée par JEAN, JAC et JO". Personnel according the discography are: Harry ( = Han) Driessen (voc, v), Oscar Alemán  (g, maraccas), Jean Irace (g, voc), Henri ( Enrique) Juvet (voc, p). - Listening to the audio it is not easy to determine, if Alemán is the guitar player - the few measures of audible guitar sound like a tenor guitar and may be played by Jean Irace, however, you can hear the percussive marracas as handled by Alemán accompanying the vocal contributions by the trio and the piano played by Juvet.

The close harmony, male vocal contributions by Jean, Jac & Jo were highly in vogue in Europe during the 1930s, other popular ensembles like the German Comedian Harmonists a.o. presented vocal arrangements in the same style that was popular in caberets and with an audience prefering music drawn from an European light classical repertoire. Nevertheless, Alemán's maraccas in the recording of 'Isabelita' add the necessary, 'exsotic' atmosphere to this French version of a rumba.

The shown disc features the tune 'There's a Small Hotel' (Hart-Rodgers) as performed by Jean, Jac & Jo recorded in February 1937 for Pathé in Paris (CPT 3146-1, Pathé PA-1136). The line-up of the trio is the same as above according the discographical online info with Alemán added on guitar, but the label only states "JEAN, JAC ET JO s'accompagnant eux-mêmes". The lyrics are in French and the sheet music that was published also has the title in French as 'C'est un nid charmant'
Like the performance of 'Isabelita' the close harmony vocals of the trio are in focus here, but the accompaniement of piano and violin also gets some spots and the supposed guitar of Alemán once again sounds like a tenor model. However, I'll point you to the uploaded audio from YouTube to let you get an impression more of Jean, Jac & Jo in performance on one of the few available 78 rpm discs still accessible and here in a well known American standard in the trio's own arrangement. The uploaded video at YouTube of the audio cannot be inserted, but here is the link.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Announcement - A Concert by Hot Club de Boedo Reminiscing Oscar Alemán and Hans Koert

Today, Friday October 24th, 2014, the excellent string swing ensemble Hot Club de Boedo is performing in a concert at  Asociación de Fomento y Biblioteca Popular General Alvear. Avellaneda 542. memory of Oscar Alemán's passing away 34 years ago on October 14th, 1980. At the concert Hot Club de Boedo also will pay tribute to Hans Koert and the work he has done to save the legacy of Oscar Alemán. The program, as presented in the official flyer, is inserted here.

click to enlarge

Thank you so much to Waldo Fonseca and the members of Hot Club de Boedo for this initiative. I wish that I had the opportunity to attended the concert to express my gratitude personally!