|Oscar Alemán 1978 in Pelo magazine|
In the late 1950s and during the 1960s Oscar Alemán experienced a decrease
in the public success he had benefited from during almost two decades in Argentina. New music styles like
rock'n'roll displaced the public interest from jazz and swing, a young generation of musicians was taking over the
scene in show business leaving older musicians little chance to have a steady work as performers or recording
artists.The impact of these factors was in Alemán's case that he gradually chose to retire from the public scene
when his contract with Odeon ended in 1958. He spent the 1960s in semi-retirement and had fewer public appearances
than previously, although he from time to time was a featured guest performer in radio and TV shows. - But how was
Alemán's attitude to the changing musical taste of the public? In a 1978 interview published in an Argentine music
magazine for young people, he expressed his candid opinion about rock music and rock musicians. Below we have
the pleasure and honor of publishing Luis "Tito" Liber's record of the
contents of that interview, which he kindly forwarded to share with our readers. The original article interview was
in the Spanish language, of course, but Luis's version is in English.
|Frontpage, Pelo magazine #99, July 1978|
Oscar Alemán in a 1970s "Rock" Magazine
In many radio, newspapers and magazines interviews along Aleman`s career, the topic was Oscar incredible
Ellington-Reinhardt-Baker anecdotes, but not music. This article from argentine Pelo ("Hair") magazine (#99, July 1978) is most about music... and it`s in a yougster`s rock
magazine, not a jazz one!!! Notice that the same number includes an article about Gato Barbieri, and previously had included an interview with jazz pianist Mono Villegas.
In Argentina, in the late 1950s-early 1960s, with the arrival of television, came the "new wave": kids that sang
rock and roll tunes in spanish. Along with the military regime prohibition of night-meetings (it was the end of the
massive danceballs called "milongas"), the old stars of tango and jazz lost their jobs. But the 1970s were the days
of fusion, and Oscar didn`t seem to like that union of styles. We know that jazzmen and rockers have never fit very
well. And Oscar hasn`t been the exception. The old jazzman felt that the new young musicians were stealing his
place in showbusiness (that is to say, they are leaving him without his job). Though he didn`t understand the
incipient rock movement (the kids were essentially troubadors, not musicians), he thought that rockers weren`t
skilled musicians at all.
"Rock is a rhythm that doesn`t satisfy me, as boogie doesn`t satisfy me too. Boogie is four phrases invented by
Mr. Fats Waller for the left hand, and you have to improvise on that. And what improvisation is? It´s jazz. If you
want to improvise on rock, what are you going to improvise? You are not going to improvise tango or rancheras, but
jazz." Now a great sentence:
"Rock musicians eat the food with their hands. The dish is ready but they have to
be educated, to learn to use forks and knives. Jazz is good education. To evolve, rock has to go to
jazz. It`s the basis."
Oscar critizises Bill Hailey`s performance during his show in
Buenos Aires ("the man of the curly"), saying that the only good player in his band was a black guitarist; the
others only did the clown.
"Rock musicians are too much noisy, they play very loud. They use to lose the sense of accompaniment for the
solos; they all want to highlight increasing the volume; then, you can`t distinguish anything."
Alemán says that once he had a rock musician as a pupil: Claudio
Gabis, a blues guitarist, member of the group Manal. "He said that he was leaving to USA because
the public from here didn`t understand him" (Claudio went to study at Berkley, and he returned to Argentina in
1980s democracy times to give seminars of improvisation at the Centro Cultural San Martín; a very recommendable
Oscar didn`t play rock'n'roll very well. If you listen to his version of "Bailando el Rock" (Rock Around the
Clock -Freeman/De Knight-), you can appreciate he didn`t know the classical yeites and runs (Chet Atkins, Scotty
Moore and Chuck Berry for instance). He does a correct performance, but using "boogie" phrases. That`s because, he
wasn`t influenced by R&B or country and western music.
"In one occasion I made a rock. I used to say it was a rock, but it wasn`t. I improvised on some boogie chords
played faster. Rock chords are the same of blues and boogie." He`s talking about his own theme
"Improvisaciones sobre Boogie Woogie", where he plays a much better performance, with a great scat. During
the rock-era, he played this theme live, announcing to the public that it was a rock...but it wasn't.
Oscar even was a skilled blues player. Of course that he had black roots (Afro-American-Brazilian rhythms), but all
in a jazz venue, not bluesy at all (listen to "Saint Louis Blues", "Oscar Blues Nº 1" and "Nº 3" i.e.).
This interesting interview also includes an almost poetical description of his triumphant come back to the bench of
the park in Guarujá in 1946 (where he had slept in his childhood): "At that time I returned to sit on that bench
with a whisky and a brilliant in my hand. To sit and cry. I was no longer below it, but sat ON that
Oscar flatters bandoneonist/composer Astor Piazzolla and
pianist/composer Horacio Salgan for playing tango arrangements
with a jazz tendency, in a time when almost nobody had that opinion in Argentina (the conservative narrow-minded
|Oscar Alemán 1978 in Pelo magazine|
By the time of this interview, in January 1978, Oscar was proud of receiving a letter from France notifying him
that his biography was to be included in an upcoming guitarplayers encyclopedia (I think it was 'Histoire de la
guitare dans le Jazz' by Norman Mongan; published in 1986 by EPI Editions Filipacchi,
Alemán, knowing that he was a genius, was a very proud man, almost selfish (sorry Oscar). He was the leader and
nobody could be over him (this led him to separate from Hernán Oliva). This attitude wasn`t
excessive, because during two decades (1940s-1950s) he was the best South-American jazz player, and no-one had his
international background (later would appear Lalo Schiffrin and Barbieri). Opposite to
his public sense of humour, in his last years he became an angry and sad man, rensentful and frustrated for
considering that his genius deserved more acknowledgement.