Monday, October 22, 2007

Oscar Aleman remembered

( Traduzca este texto al español)

This time a personal remembrance to Oscar Aleman by guest contributor Fernando Gelbard from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was February 1949, I was 9 years old and was spending my summer vacations at my grandparent's home in Tucuman, Argentina.
My uncle Enrique Haskel was a member of the board at the Atletico Tucuman football club. They were powerful and like many other institutions and organized Bailes de Carnaval (Carnival -gigantic- Dance Events).

It has been a custom in Argentina for the football clubs to organize Carnaval dance events in which at least one "orquesta tipica" (tango group) and a "jazz" (a jazz band or non-tango group) where hired to perform every night for the people to dance while having lots of beers, wine and some snacks. Usually people were standing and there may be chairs for the ladies and their chaperons (usually their mothers). One would approach a lady and ask her: Shall we dance?
For those Carnavales in Tucuman, 1948, the Club Atletico Tucuman hired the hottest jazz group in Argentina...Oscar Aleman y su Conjunto de Swing. They signed an 80,000 pesos deal with Oscar Aleman, which was a big sum of money for the time; you could literally buy a house with that sum. My uncle took me to the bailes (dance parties). Being a nice quiet boy, I watched the people dance while sipping an orange Crush or a Bidu (an imitation of Coca Cola) and listened and watched this little dark man playing wonders with his guitar, even with the guitar in his back and still playing notes.

I remember a violin player (without doubts Hernan Oliva) and two more guitars, bass and drums. I didn't know what jazz was at the time, but I was a very musical kid, so I enjoyed every minute of it. My uncle Enrique, who didn't drink alcohol, took me every night to the club and back home in a taxi. The dance area and the stage were big, probably thousands of people. In later years as a musician I did work the carnavales and was able to have a sense of the size of the clubs (in Buenos Aires) and their audiences although jazz had already disappeared almost completely.

I do remember one night at the Club Bomberos de Etchenagucia (Etchenagucia Fireman’s Club) in which I played with some lousy band and opposite us performed The Georgians band, a who's who in the hot jazz scene at the time (1957) with musicians like Roberto “El Gordo”, “Fats” Fernandez, Nestor Astarita and others. In later years, I owned Estudios ION (ION Recording Studios) and I met again Oscar Aleman, who recorded several albums for the Redondel Label. Oscar didn't want to use headphones or record on playback, but those inconveniences where overcame and several superb albums saw the light. ION recorded many historical figures, among them Astor Piazzola, Enrique Villegas, Chivo Borraro and others. Oscar Aleman will be always in my mind and heart as a pure creator, a generator of swing and a true super star.

Fernando Gelbard (Buenos Aires - October 2007)

This contribution has also been posted in English, Dutch and Spanish at the Oscar Aleman web log.
Thanks, Fernando, for this great contribution !!
If you have a subject that should be discussed here and you love to share it with the visitors of this blog please conctact me ( ). Maybe you're the next guest contributor.

Español ( To the English translation )

En febrero de 1949, yo tenia 9 anos y estaba pasando mis vacaciones veraniegas en la casa de mis abuelos en Tucuman.
Mi tío Enrique Haskel era miembro de la comisión directiva del Club Atlético Tucuman.
Era un club poderoso y como otras instituciones similares, organizaba bailes de Carnaval.
Era una tradición argentina que los clubes de fútbol y otros clubes deportivos y sociales organizen bailes de Carnaval en los cuales por lo menos una orquesta típica y una “jazz” (así llamadas todas las orquestas o conjuntos que no sean típicos, o sea de tango).

En esos bailes las orquestas actuaban (por ahí un termino mas adecuado que “tocaban”) para que la gente escuche y baile, mientras consumían mucha cerveza, vino, whisky y snacks.
Usualmente, los concurrentes estaban parados y en muchos bailes había sillas para las damas y sus chaperones, en general las madres. Uno se acercaba a una dama y le preguntaba “bailamos”?

Para esos Carnavales en 1949, el Club Atlético Tucuman contrato a la “orquesta” de jazz mas famosa del momento: “Oscar Alemán y su Conjunto de Swing”. Firmaron un contrato por 80,000 pesos con Oscar Alemán. En ese momento era una gran suma de dinero, que alcanzaba para comprar una casa!.
Mi tío me llevo a los bailes y yo que era un chico obediente, miraba bailar a la gente mientras tomaba una naranja Crush o una Bidu (una imitación de Coca Cola de esa época). Escuchaba y observaba a ese hombrecito oscuro tocando maravillas con su guitarra, inclusive con la guitarra alto en su espalda haciendo notas.
Me acuerdo del violinista de la orquesta (sin dudas Hernan Oliva), dos guitarristas mas, bajo y batería. Yo no sabia lo que era “jazz” en esa época pero era un chico muy musical y disfrute cada minuto. Mi tío Enrique, quien no bebía alcohol, me llevo cada noche al club y de vuelta a la casa en un taxi.
La pista de baile y el escenario eran grandes y cabían probablemente miles de personas.
En anos sucesivos como músico yo trabaje durante los Carnavales y tuve la oportunidad de darme cuenta del tamaño de los clubes (en Buenos Aires) y de sus audiencias aunque para esa época el jazz ya había desaparecido casi del todo en esos eventos.

Me acuerdo de una noche en 1957 en los Carnavales eb el Club Bomberos de Etchenagucia en los alrededores de Buenos Aires, en la cual yo toque con un conjunto de pelagatos. La otra orquesta eran Los Georgians, la sensacional banda de hot jazz en la cual tocaban un “quien es quien” del hot jazz argentino en 1957, entre ellos Roberto “El Gordo” “Fats” Fernandez, Nestor Astarita y otros.
En años sucesivos, fui propietario de Estudios (de grabación) ION en Buenos Aires.
Me reencontré con Oscar Alemán, quien grabo varios LP para el sello Redondel. Oscar no quería usar audifonos o grabar en playback, pero esos inconvenientes fueron superados y varios discos (LP) sensacionales vieron la luz. En ION grabaron muchas figuras históricas entre ellos, Astor Piazzola, Enrique Villegas, Chivo Borraro y otros. Oscar Alemán estará siempre en mi recuerdo como un creador puro y un generador de swing, un verdadero súper star.

Fernando Gelbard (Buenos Aires - October 2007)

Fernando, por esta gran contribución.

Keep swinging

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Some Of These Days ...

Dear Friends,

I'm writing you this small message from my exile, the Dusty Groves Departement of Jazz Guitar Heaven. I have now waited 27 years to communicate directly with your side of God's universe, because I knew only few would be listening to my message. Most people, who knew me and cared, when I was alive and visible in your dimension, have left and come over, I meet some of them from time to time when walking the clouds to get new strings for my new custom built guitar (- light as a feather to wear and heavenly to play!).

The reason I am writing you this is that I am concerned about my legacy to the world - not that it meant to be big business when I was still alive in your dimension. However, the recordings I did are worth remembering and preserving for historic reasons - I was a part of the story of jazz outside the US during the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. From time to time critics have mentioned me and a few recordings made in Europe during the 1930s in a footnote while praising my great friend in Paris, the immortal Django. That's ok, Django was a great guitarist and a marvellous friend - always willing to share his ideas, stories and meals. When I left Europe early 1940, Django was one of the friends I made over there I missed the most. Another friend I made in 1938 was Svend Asmussen, the great Danish violin player - I still have his humour, great sense of rhythm and arrangements in mind, and I remember while leaving Europe behind aboard the ship that brought me back to Argentina a decision to make a band featuring musicians that would be able to maintain and actually perform the ideas first presented to me by Django and Svend. I had success with my two quintets in the 40s, mainly because I followed these ideas by my great European friends, I still think. Most of the 48 recordings I made with the quintets are still available, preserved on CD and issued by both American and Argentine companies, great!

The 50s were years of success with my Orquesta de Jazz, both at Radio Belgrano and in live-performances fronting an enthusiastic audience in dance halls here and there. Most of the 60 recordings made with this combination for Odeon are preserved on CDs too, and document the ideas I had developed after listening to records by great American bands like Jimmie Lunceford - and outside jazz, the Spade Cooley Western Swing congregation (- Spade probably gave me the idea of having three violins playing in unison while backing my solos). I was also deeply inspired by Brazilian music during this period, which had a certain impact on the recorded repertoire and the ideas I tried to demonstrate in my guitar playing. However, this part of my recorded output seems to be overlooked by most critics who have commented on my music, a pity. I also made a live-recording together with Hérnan Oliva in 1954 during a concert at the famous Hot Club de Buenos Aires - the only time after our break in 1943 when our tempers didn't interfere and made a riot. It's a shame that the preserved three recorded tunes from this event haven't been re-issued on a cd, another historic document that ought to be available for a new generation interested in my legacy.

The 60s brought only few issued recordings mainly due to the fact that I had retired from the music scene and didn't have a contract with a record company, The reason for my retirement was a decision to slow down a tiresome career as an entertaining artist having to be on top of things day after day, during long night performances at a club or touring in and out of town. Moreover, my health was suffering from overwork, so I had to find a new way of earning my bread. I took in students of guitar to share my conception of guitarplaying, earned only little, but survived by giving guest performances at radio and in concert from time to time together with available musicians. I most often played in a quintet setting, named Cinco Caballeros for the occasion - some of the recordings we did for radio and in studio have been issued on vinyl and cd, but most of the live-performances we did never were released on records. Collectors of my recorded legacy, however, have preserved a great part of my live-performances at radio on tapes. Also this part of my story ought to be documented on cd by a company who would take care of these recordings in collaboration with the true collectors of my recorded legacy.

I was 're-discovered' by the public in the 70s and back on stage, recording and making appearances at various club dates in and out of town. The reason for my 're-discovery' may be the fact that I met again with Duke Ellington in 1968 during his tour of South America. When arriving by plane to Buenos Aires, first thing the Duke would ask was: "Where is Oscar? Bring me Oscar!". Luckily, his Argentine manager of the tour knew me and had me re-united with my old friend from Paris. We were both invited as guests at the American embassy and had a great time together with his bandmates, remenising old days and jamming till late hours. This event was headlined in some tabloids and suddenly my name was on everyone's tongue in music business. Until this meeting with the Duke I had been out of vogue for a decade, music taste had changed in the general public - rock'n'roll was the big thing and a business for sound investment. I didn't like rock'n'roll, but I payed my due to this music by recording a version of "Rock Around the Clock" late 50s. Anyway, as mentioned, the 70s meant my come-back in the spotlight. I loved it and enjoyed recording and performing again. The recordings made for Redondel in '72, '73 and '74 luckily are preserved on cd by now, and so are the trio-recordings I made for another company in '75. However, also from this period careful collectors of my legacy have preserved live-recordings on tape that ought to be issued in a proper way by a record company.

Silence is golden, they say, so now I'll keep quiet. An angel is waiting for me to contribute a solo stament of an old favorite of mine - "Some Of These Days" by Shelton Brooks.

Yours sincerely,


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hot Club de Boedo

One of the most active groups in playing the music of Oscar Aleman in Buenos Aires and surroundings seems to be the Hot Club de Boedo. These four active musicians are Waldo Fonseca at the solo guitar, Martin Lopez Goitia on the rhythm guitar, Heldo Fonseca clarinet and Julian Pierangeli at the bass.
They play in the style of the Hot Club de France, in Argentina represented by the legendary group of Oscar Alemán y su Quinteto de Swing, that featured Oscar Aleman on the guitar, Hernan Oliva on the violin, Dario Quaglia rhythm guitar, Andres Alvarez bass and Ramon M. Caravaca drums. This famous group played in the Hot Club style and made 5 records for Odeon Argentina in 1941 and 1942 before Hernan Oliva left the band. These two men: Oscar Aleman and Hernan Oliva were a great couple in music, but had strong ambivalent characters which caused a break off.

This band wants to play tribute to the three legendary Argentine musicians Oscar Aleman, Hernan Oliva and Eduardo Ravera. On Thursday the 14th of October 2007 they will give a concert at the Salón de la Unión Vecinal Liniers Sud, in Buenos Aires to remember the day that Oscar Aleman passed away 27 years ago. Special guest will be Guillermo Lancelotti Izquierdo, a trumpet player.

This summer the band gave some concerts in honor of Hernan Oliva and I found some fragments from a double concert they gave with the Ensamble Typhoon de la Escuela de Oficios Musicales which is directed by Heldo Fonseca, the clarinet player of The Hot Club de Boedo. I love to share with you two fragments by the Hot Club de Boedo, playing some tunes:

Rosa Madreselva ( Honeysuckle Rose)

Diga Diga Doo

The Typhoon Ensemble of the School of Music plays a very basic version of Ritmo Loco ( Crazy Rhythm ) and it is good to learn that these young people are enjoying playing this great music.

Please visit the Hot Club de Boedo web log.
This contribution will also be posted at the Oscar Aleman Web Log

Keep swinging

Hans Koert