Sunday, August 31, 2008

Flesh and Blood

This is the 100th blog published on this Oscar Aleman web log, dedicated to the great Argentine guitar player Oscar Aleman, born February 1909, who passed away October 1980.

Next year we'll celebrate the fact, that he was born 100 years ago.

This times I love to refer to a contribution I posted almost two years ago. I shared the following story: A few years ago I got a message from a lady who lived in Groningen ( a city in the northern part of the Netherlands) who asked me where she could buy an Oscar Aleman recording. She told me, she bought a book to relax, each year, for her holidays period. Her favorite author was Jonathan Kellerman. Jonathan Kellerman writes detective / thriler like books and he always introduces the readers to certain musicians. In one of his books, she had forgotten wich ones, he had talked about Oscar Aleman and, as she had form a habit to obtain the music Kellerman suggested, she wanted to know where she could obtain a CD of Oscar Aleman.
It was a pity the lady couldn't give me more info ......

Then, October 2006 I received a message from David L.
Hi Hans. Found a reference to Oscar Aleman in the following novel: Jonathan Kellerman "Flesh and blood", Ballantine Books, 2002, p.326 (Chapter 29). This is a paperback edition, so the page well might be different in the hard cover edition.
"I ran the tape deck as I slumped in the front seat. Old recording of Oscar Aleman riffing on a shiny silver National guitar in some thirties Buenos Aires nightclub. Aleman and the band peeling off a ha-ha rendition of 'Besame Mucho' that would have done Spike Jones proud, but no mistaking the artistry." (Quotes from the contribution:
Jonathan Kellerman)

Oscar Aleman playing his metal guitar in the Baker Boys ( Paris - early 1930s)

What happened yesterday? In a village nearby, Kapelle, in the south west region of The Netherlands, Zeeland, last weekend, its yearly fair - De Kapelse Dag, was scedulded, which includes festivities with horses ( Ringsteken - a local game ( = Tilt at the Ring)) and a market, wich included this time some tables with used books. At one of the stalls I found ..... Flesh and Blood - The Stunning New International Bestseller by Jonathan Kellerman ( Headline Book Publishing London ( 2001) 566 p.). Although I wasn't sure for the fully 100 percent this was THE book ( and a quick glance into the book didn't bring me the name of Oscar Aleman) I bought it, took it home and opened the Jonathan Kellerman contribution I refered to. Page 326 didn't work, but chapter twenty-nine did. Finally I found the book and the quotation.

Page 408 - chapter twenty-nine. ( negative)

I love to share with you some critial notes around this quotation: It seems as if Jonathan Kellerman didn't had the correct information (or a vivid imagination) when he wrote: Old recording of Oscar Aleman riffing on a shiny silver National guitar in some thirties Buenos Aires nightclub. Oscar Aleman played on a silver National guitar, a dobro, when he was living in Europe, in France. You can see him as part of The Baker Boys on the picture above. The picture on the right is one from 1937 when he played in the band of Frank Big Boy Goudy. When Oscar left Europe in 1940, because the German had occupied France and other parts of Europe, he was stopped at the borders and the German soldier took his metal National guitar, the story tells, because they needed the metal for weapons. So, when Oscar arrived in Argentine he didn't had this instrument any longer. Of course he could have bought himself a new one later in Argentina, but I don't know if he ever recorded again with that instrumewnt. Well up to now, it seems all okay, but during the 1930s Oscar Aleman didn't visit Argentina - he lived, almost the complete decade, in France. So - he could never have played that instrument in some thirties Buenos Aires nightclub. If Jonathan Kellerman has a cassette tape with the song Besame Mucho he refers to the only known recording by Oscar, September 1943 in Buenos Aires, which he recorded with his Quinteto de Swing. Oscar plays on that record an ordinary wooden guitar ( View the picture of the 1940s Quinteto de Swing). So, Jonathan Kellerman suggests things that seem to be inconsistent with what I said before.

Well, it learns ....... never believe a novel writer - he has the freedom to change the truth ..... Although ... I guess I read the book this winter ........ it looks great !! Label of Odeon 45885 with Besame Mucho.

This contribution will also be posted at the Keep Swinging web log as Flesh and Blood and in Dutch as Vlees en Bloed later.

Keep swinging

Hans Koert

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Josephine Baker in Ghent: an unexpected meeting

A week ago we visited the city of Ghent in the north- western part of Belgium, just across the Dutch - Belgian borders. We visited the historical centre with the St. Bavo's Cathedral of course, and made a city tour by feet like real tourists. Near the so-called Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts, we found a small restaurant, named The House of Eliott. We were surprised by the display window which contained photos and objects from the 1920s. The object that tracked all attention was a doll with a banana costume. Banana-clad Josephine Baker dolls were sold by the thousands in the streets and the Bois de Boulogne during the 1920s in Paris. Most of the photo's an objects were dedicated to Josephine Baker.

Josephine Baker, born in St. Louis Missouri (USA) June 1906, passed away April 1975 after a turbulent life. She was a dancer and entertainer, night club star and after the Second World War she became known for her 12 adopted children of various nationalities. But above all - she was the symbol for the 1920s Roaring Twenties in Paris ....For me, Josephine Baker, was one of the close friends of Oscar Alemán, who played in her revue orchestra, The Baker Boys during the 1930s in Paris.
Josephine Baker, who needed early 1930s a guitar player for her band had heard Oscar Aleman playing in Les Loups, a Hawaiian guitar duo with Gaston Bueno Lobo and Oscar Alemán, both Argentine born musicians, who formed a duo which became part of the Harry Fleming revue that travelled through Europe. Oscar Alemán became part of the Baker Boys and went on tour across Europe during the 1930s. When famous band leaders, like Duke Ellington wanted to have Oscar in their bands, Josephine must have answered: Where do I find a guy that sings in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian; that can dance, is black and touch guitar, cavaquinho, pandeiro, bass, drums and that besides: he is a good person and now you want to take it from me? It is said that Josephine liked Oscar, because she could speak Spanish to him, and, although Oscar couldn't read any music, he even became, late 1930s, the leader of the Baker's Boys.

It is strange, that in most biographies about Josephine Baker's life ( and there are a lot of publication about her), there is but few information about Oscar Aleman. Naked at the Feast by Lynn Haney has no entry at all ..... and in The Josephine Baker Story by Ean Wood it has only one entry of 5 lines. When I once asked Ean Wood why he had only one entry he said; Well that's all I have ... mind you're the expert !!
Oscar Aleman in Josephine Baker's revue. Oscar is the man next to Josephine with the guitar.
Isn't it great to walk along the historical inner city of Ghent, searching for interesting shops with secondhand books or records ( I didn't find one last week !!) and find this very nice restaurant? On Wednesday the restaurant was closed, but the design inside looks great, according to its informative website. And the food must be great too if you have such a good taste in music - I suppose !!
Hans Koert -

This contribution is also posted at the Keep Swinging blog as Josephine Baker in Ghent: an unexpected meeting.

Keep swinging

Hans Koert