Sunday, April 15, 2007

Masters of the Jazz Guitar

When you find a book in a book shop about a subject you are interested in, you have have some reference points in the index to check if the book is suitable for you. Some times ago I found the book Masters of Jazz Guitar by Charles Alexander at Donner's bookshop in Rotterdam and checked my reference point: Oscar Aleman. His name was on two pages. Of course I bought it.
From all the books about jazz in general and jazz guitar in particular (except my Oscar Aleman discography of course !!) this great book of Charles Alexander ( it has a bonus CD too - I'll discuss that item later) has the most lines dedicated to Oscar Aleman - 15. The information is to the point, but not complete. Alexander writes: He ( too ) did his share of backing work. for instance in live performances by American star Josephine Baker and in recording sessions, but his excellent jazz work was overshadowed by the reputation of Reinhardt, though Aleman allegedly considered himself the better player. Alexander refers to the fact that his first properly featured discs were made in Copenhagen with Svend Asmussen and solo and he mentions the recordings with his trio a year later too. The next info is about Aleman's career in Argentina and it seems as if Alexander only had limited access to original sources. Maybe he has heard the great Swing Guitar Masterpieces 2CD of Acoustic Disc, which only covers the years 1938 - 1957 as he doesn't refer to Oscar's later work. He concludes that Oscar made easy listening music in Argentina and recorded some standards with his Quinteto de Swing in the 1940s. I guess he never heard about Oscar's musical leagacy from the 1970s and 80s.

Charles Alexander has some more knowledge or more interest in Django Reinhardt. This great guitar player gets a complete chapter ( ca. 275 lines to compare with Oscar Aleman). He tells in a lot of words about his youth, about the terrible accident that caused the damage to his fingers and about the Quintet of the Hot Club du France. I was surprised to read about the relation between Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, who where on bad terms, although musically they seemed a harmonic duo. Alexanders gives a lot of information about Django Reinhardt during the German occupation and the years after that, when jazz music changed from swing to bebop. It was interested to learn how Django handled that period.
Later this week I hope to attend a lecture about Django Reinhardt from George Lankester, the Dutch authority on Django. I hope to learn more about this great French guitarist.
To be clear: Django was a great guitar player too, like Oscar Aleman, but the two are incomparable. The problem I have with Django Reinhardt and Oscar Aleman is that the balance in information between these two great guitar players is gone: We, the Alemaniacs, try to repair this lack of information so that jazz historians and guitar freaks can make up their minds.
For your entertainment: I posted three film fragments: two ( I found a small fragment Oscar playing the cavaquinho that wasn't posted before in our blogs) with Oscar Aleman in one of his films and the third fragment is the famous film with Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in duet (in color this time !!). Enjoy both fragments.

This contribution has also been posted at my Keep Swinging web log

Keep swinging

Hans Koert


Blogger Jo said...

Thanks a lot, Hans, for your extensive info about yet another item in the 'coffee table' genre on a subject that still is a matter of discussion and unrevealed myths among the general public interested in jazz guitar and jazzguitar players. The same old stories about Django and Oscar seem to be carried on by authors and 'authorities' with tight connection to various media, which in turn don't give a damn about facts as long as the published work pays off in cool cash. - I haven't read the book you refer to, but from your info on the contents regarding Django and Oscar I already know that I don't need to read this one or have it laying around at my 'coffee table'.


10:08 AM  
Blogger MondoBajo said...

Muchas gracias por este blog, desde argentina un saludo de un fanatico mas de Oscar.

In my poor english:
Thx alot for this blog, from Argentina a greeting of a fanatic but of Oscar Aleman.

5:43 AM  

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