Sunday, November 15, 2009

Oscar Alemán in Jazz on Record

Oscar Alemán, Argentine guitar player, vocalist and entertainer, has been a mystery figure for a long time. His European career in the 1930s was known here in this part of the world, but what happened with him after he left for Argentina early 1940s? That period was unknown and in a lot of biographies this part became underexposed. But few encyclopedia of jazz listed him. His records are now listed in the one and only online Oscar Alemán discography, compiled by Hans Koert and is free available for everone who wants to know what records Oscar made during his lenghtly career - not only in Europe but also the hundreds made in Argentina. You can find it at a new address - easier to remember: The well known jazz historian and writer Scott Yanow wrote and excellent book, titled Jazz on Record, subtitled The First Sixty Years and a few weeks ago I could obtain a copy of it. The book isn't just an encyclopedia of Jazz like so many other reference books. It contains, according to the cover: The complete story of all of jazz's significant artists and their recordings through six decades of music. - Explores thousands of artists and their recordings, year by year - plus the birth and growth of jazz in the pre-recorded era 1894 - 1916. It is interesting to learn what Yanow writes about Oscar Alemán and his recordings:
Cartoon "Le Roi Invisible: Gani Jakupi ©
In chapter four: 1933-1938: Swing's the Thing ( p. 171-172) he lists Oscar Alemán together with Alix Combelle and Svend Asmussen.

Oscar Aleman was in the unfortunate position of being a soundalike to Django Reinhardt, although he always claimed that Django was not an influence on his guitar playing. Aleman was born in Argentina, moved to Europe in 1929 where he played in a show featuring tap dancer Harry Fleming and settled in Paris around 1932, leading Josephine Baker's band on and off during the decade. Aleman recorded with Freddy Taylor, Danny Polo and Bill Coleman. However, when he was offered a job with Duke Ellington's Orchestra in 1933 ( during Ellington's European tour), Josephine Baker persuaded him to turn it down. Aleman did have an opportunity to lead his own band in Paris, but was overshadowed by his good friend Django Reinhardt. Aleman recorded four numbers in December 1938 ( which are included in the two-set Swing Guitar Masterpieces, covered in the next chapter), including unaccompanied solo versions of Nobodoy's Sweetheart and Whispering. Perhaps if he had taken the job with Ellington, Aleman would have escaped his eventual obscurity. Cartoon "Le Roi Invisible - Gani Jakupi ©
Yanow compares Svend Asmussen with Oscar, saying: While Django Reinhardt's existence made it difficult for Oscar Aleman, Svend Asmussen never received the fame give Stephane Grappelli. Asmussen has been one of jazz's top violinists since the early 1930s. And, by the way, he still is: this year he released a new album: Makin' Whoopee .... and Music

Cartoon "Le Roi Invisible" Gani Jakupi ©
In chapter five: 1939- 1944: The war years ( p. 230) he lists Oscar again with Svend Asmusssen and the Svenska Hotkvintetten. Yanow writes about this period: Argentinean guitarist Oscar Alemán who worked in Paris during the 1930s, recorded four titles as a leader in 1939. He left France in 1940 as world War II intensified. Rather than immigrate to the United States where he might have gained some worldwide fame, Aleman chose to move back to Argentina and was not heard from again in Europe ( other than a 1959 tour) or the United States. However, he did work and record regularly in Argentina for decades, sticking to the swing music that he loved, recording as late as 1974. Then Yanow introduces the Swing Guitar Masterpiece ( Acoustic Disc-29) 2CD with music from his European and Argentine period. Although in later years he showed more individuality, Aleman always sounded fairly close to the style and sound of Django Reinhardt.
Well, you could disagree about these final conclusion, but fact is that Yanow wrote a rather complete short biography about an artist that seems to be almost forgotten by other biographers and jazz critics.
Thanks Yanow.
The cartoons are from the drawn biography Le Roi Invisible - Un portrait d' Oscar Aleman by Gani Jakupi.
This contribution will be posted in Dutch later at the Keep Swinging blog.

Hans Koert

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