Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just A Little Swing

In a historic perspective, but with a contemporary understanding, it may seem strange and truly unjust that Oscar Alemán only had the opportunity to record under his own name one single time while living in Paris, France throughout the 1930s. We could have expected that his position as a featured artist with Josephine Baker and director of her famous live-orchestra, the Baker Boys, would have given him the chance to sign a contract with a major record company like Columbia that in fact issued the recordings of Mdm Baker. Moreover, he had contributed with great guitarplaying on records recorded by expatriate American musicians like Freddy Taylor and Bill Coleman, and he had showed off that his skills as a musician also included mastering of popular genres like the French musette as a member of accordionist Gus Viseur's l'Orchestra Victor. Outside Paris he had participated in a Danish Jam Session recording with violinist Svend Asmussen and at the same session cut two guitar solos, four 78 rpm sides in all that forever will stand out as a highlight of recorded string swing jazz in Europe of the 1930s. However, still reflecting the historic view, we must not forget that Paris in the 1930s was the scene for another guitar genius, Django Reinhardt, who was heavily promoted as the star of string swing with the QHCF and frequently recorded by Charles Delaunay's Swing-label. Thus, Django may have been the only guitar star to be noticed by record company deputies as well as the general public thanks to the promotion provided by Charles Delaunay, while other guitarists like Oscar Alemán were left outside the spotlight. However, a historic view must not forget the fact that it also was Charles Delaunay's Swing-label that finally offered Alemán the opportunity to record under his own name in 1939.

On April 5, 1939 Alemán went into the studio of the Swing label in Paris and recorded 4 sides in a trio setting; the session was issued on two 78 rpms, Swing 59 and Swing 213, and included recordings of three standards: "Russian Lullaby" (OSW-68, iss. Swing 59), "Dear Old Southland" (OSW-70, iss. Swing 213), "Jeepers Creepers" (OSW-71, iss. Swing 59) and one original tune by Alemán, the above shown "Just A Little Swing" (OSW-69, iss. Swing 213). The trio consisted of Alemán on lead guitar, Wilson Myers bass and vocal, John Mitchell on rhythm guitar. Alemán's sidemen in the trio were both members of reedplayer and director Willie Lewis' orchestra that hosted several expatriate American jazz musicians during the 1930s and had success in Paris and on tours all over Europe and North Africa.

Wilson Myers had arrived to Europe with Lucky Millinder's Orchestra and settled in Paris where he joined Willie Lewis. Myers began his career as a drummer with Bessie Smith mid-1920s, then joined King Oliver as a string bass player; he also played banjo and guitar professionally and was a member of the highly popular string/jive ensemble Spirits of Rhythm early 1930s contributing with vocal and string bass on recordings by the group. - John Mitchell's professional career began early 1920s in New York City where he strummed banjo accompaniments in a band led by Johnny Dunn accompanying singer Edith Wilson, then he joined Sam Wooding's orchestra and went with the band for a stay in Europe from 1925. In Paris he switched to Willie Lewis' band in the early 1930s as a member of the rhythm section holding the band's rhythm guitar chair.

The four sides cut by Oscar Alemán Trio may sign Alemán as the leader, but Wilson Myers almost steals the show on the three standards adding great vocal and string bass playing to the arrangements, however, the lead guitar contributions by Alemán are inspired and well executed as well, strongly supported with great accompaniment by Mitchell's rhythm guitar. The highlights of the session are "Russian Lullaby" and Alemán's own "Just A Little Swing", which on the record label also is attributed to a second composer, J. Rancon, whom I have not been able to locate - maybe some of the readers of the blog can help and provide info? - Both "Russian Lullaby" and "Just A Little Swing" have great solo contributions by Alemán, who seems to have swithced his commonly used steel body resonator guitar in favour of a more conventional wooden box for this session. Both tunes were later recorded again by Alemán, "Just A Little Swing" had a new arrangement with his Orchesta de Jazz in 1953 and was recorded on the Odeon 78 rpm shown below, while "Russian Lullaby" was recorded in a slower version without vocal on the Redodel album "Alemán '72".

The 1939 trio session by Alemán belongs to the memorable swing recordings of this almost invisible guitar great from his stay in Europe, all four sides have been re-issued on the 'Swing Guitar Masterpieces' double-cd by Acoustic Disc (ACD-29).