Saturday, January 03, 2009

Oscar Alemán (1909 - 2009)

Este año será memorable para todos los fanáticos de la música de Oscar Alemán porque el 20 de febrero de 2009 se cumplirán 100 años del nacimiento del maestro. Quisiera invitarlo a que me envíe sus historias, fotos, recuerdos o cualquier otra cosa escrita en su propia lengua: Español, Portugués o Inglés, acerca de este gran guitarrista argentino para publicarlas como contribución suya en el blog de Oscar Alemán y compartirlas con otros fanáticos por el mundo. Quisiera también publicar una lista online con todos los actos, eventos que conmemoren tal acontecimiento en Argentina o en otros países. Contácteme aquí:

OSCAR ALEMÁN (1909-2009)
On the 20th of February 2009 we'll commemorate the fact that Oscar Alemán, el Rey de la Guitarra Swing, as he is a labelled on one of the latest reissues, was born 100 years ago. This fact will be celebrated in Argentina, where he is still an icon of the Argentine jazz. In June 2008 the Legislatura de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, the local government of the city of Buenos Aires, placed a plaque in the entrance-hall of the apartment at Maipu no. 359 in Buenos Aires, where the great Maestro lived during the last decades of his live. During this ceremony his granddaughter Jorgelina and several colleagues played his music. I wrote about that event at the contribution Recognition for Oscar Aleman
The plaque at Maipu 349
Oscar Aleman was born on the 20th of February 1909 as the son of a Toba Indian from the El Chaco district and an Argentine father Jorge Aléman Moreira, and as a small boy he had to earn money, together with his father and brothers and sisters (Carlos, Jorgelina and Juana) for his family with the Moreira Sextet, a vaudeville group that toured in Argentina and Brasil. Little Oscar was dancing, being labelled as El compeón del malambo (= The King of the Malambo). When he was twelve years old his father committed suicide, his mother died in Buenos Aires and the kids had to earn a living on the streets of Santos (Brasil). Oscar danced, became a prize fighter and could even save some money to buy himself a cavaquinho. He taught himself to play this instrument and, as he has said, the first tune he learned to play was titled O.A. 1926. Returned in Buenos Aires he became part of a duo with Gaston Bueno Lobo, who played the Dobro and Hawaiian guitar. They were rather successful with their duo Les Loups, or Los Lobos.

Sheet music of their composition: Hawayanita.
They even made several recordings and were selected to join the Harry Fleming revue as the Hawaiian Guitarist on tour. The tour brought the duo in Europe, but in 1929, due to financial problems, the group of Harry Fleming was dismantled and Gaston and Oscar had to earn a living in the cafés in Madrid. Josephine Baker, the well known revue star, asked Oscar to come and play with her Baker Boys. The Les Loups duo was broken and Gaston Bueno Lobo left Europe depressed and played suicide. Oscar Aleman becomes an essential element in Josephine Baker's Baker Boys and, although no Josephine Baker discography mentions Oscar Aleman he became a close friend, an intimate. Josephine Baker played in theatres in Paris for weeks and with her revues made tours for some months; most of the time Oscar joined her. He played the guitar in The Baker Boys; he even became the leader of it in the late 1930s, and played solo performances during the show. He also accompanied others, like Jean, Jack et Jo - a vaudeville group which featured Han Driessen, a Dutch violist, Jean Irace, a French guitar player and Enrique Juvet at the piano, originally from Switzerland. When Josephine Baker was not in the theatre or touring, Oscar played in clubs and accompanied Musette musicians like Louis Ferrari, a French accordion player, vocalist like Lina d' Acosta and swing-accordionist Gus Viseur, but also American musicians, who visited Paris.
Josephine Baker with, at her richt hand, Oscar Alemán. The men in black are two members of Jean, Jac et Jo.
He was friends with Django Reinhardt - they performed during the same festivals, but, as far as I know, they never were playing together on stage. It is said that Oscar sometimes replaced Django when he couldn't perform and there are some stories about Oscar and Django, who can't be verified anymore. In 1938 he visited Copenhagen with the Josephine Baker revue and some members of the Baker Boys like Bibi Miranda, who was the drummer. The other musicians for the band were selected in Denmark; members of the Svend Asmussen Quartet - a promising young group in the Copenhagen jazz scene. When the show was over, Josephine left for Stockholm, the next stop of the tour, but Oscar en Bibi stayed in Copenhagen for some days and joined Svend, who invited them to be present at a recording session on the 5th of December 1938. Both Oscar and Bibi joined the band during the recordings in a jam session which was later released on Danish HMV as a
Danish Jam Session. Oscar played two solo tunes, he also performed on stage: Nobody's Sweetheart and Whispering. Both tunes were also part of a concert at the 7th Jazzwereld Feest in Scheveningen (near The Hague) in the Netherlands a half year later. Oscar played during these concerts with members of the Swing Papas.
Promo photo of Oscar dedicated to Raul Casanova, violin player
When the Second World War suffered Europe and other parts of the world, Oscar moved to Argentina and started his Quinteto de Swing, with Hernán Oliva, who was an expert on his violin. They made several recordings and they became a popular band, to play on the radio or in the numerous dance halls in Buenos Aires. Although most of these first Quinteto de Swing recordings are reissued in Argentina, I was surprised to learn that Saga Jazz released the album Oscar Alemán - Ritmo Loco - el Rey de la Guitarra Swing. This selection brings its first recording, Dulca Georgia Brown (= Sweet Georgia Brown). In 1944, due to personality clashes, Hernán Oliva leaves the band and Oscar continues his Quintet de Swing on radio and theatre and Oscar even takes part of some films, like Buenos Aires Canta and El Idolo del Tango.

On the Saga Jazz CD nine tracks are dedicated to this Quinteto de Swing with one of his hits Improvisaciones Sobre Boogie Woogie, Apanhei-te, Cavaquinho and Limehouse Blues, he recorded before in 1938 as one of the Danish Jam session tunes.
Oscar Alemán in a radio studio LR4

As his Quinteto de Swing had a Hot Club du France line-up he asked Manuel Gavinovich on the violin and Luis Gavinovich on the bass. Guillermo Barbieri, the rhythm guitar player, and Ramón Caravaca continued playing in the "new" Quinteto de Swing. Oscar had developed into a well known artist thanks to his programs on the LR3 Radio Belgrano and Antena programs. He became a sought after soloist at dance parties. Hundreds of young Argentines loved to dance in the giant exclusive dance halls where Oscar performed. He was a pop star and his Quinteto de Swing had made space for a large orchestra that accompanied him. He recorded dozens of sides with this Orquesta de Jazz or Conjunto de Jazz (Conjunto means Ensemble). On the Saga Jazz record are 14 sides, with a great Ritmo Loco, the title song of this compilation, which is in English Crazy Rhythm, Gershwin's Tengo Ritmo ( I Got Rhythm) and the St. Louis Blues. But, new music styles, the Rock and Roll hype, didn't pass Argentina and the youth got new idols, new rhythms, new dances, new music .... and Oscar Alemán couldn't fulfil the needs of the youth anymore. Of course he tried to bring some Rock and Roll into his repertoire, like Bailando el Rock, Mortitat (= Mack The Knife) or Rock around The Clock. The Saga Jazz El Rey de la Guitarra Swing ends with the last side Oscar recorded for Odeón with his Orquesta de Jazz in the 1950s: Oscarinadas. (Buenos Aires 17th of June 1957).

Drawing of Oscar from a 1960s LP.
The next decade Oscar Aleman lived like a retired musician, earning a living as a teacher, teaching guitar players to play like the great maestro, and the people of Argentina forgot his successes. In the mid 1960s he's back, playing in some venues for his dedicated fans of the 1940s and 50s, who didn't forgot him. His band is named Los Cinco Caballeros with Mario Felic on clarinet; Albertao Barbera at the piano who also participated in his orchestra during the 1950s. In the 1970s Oscar makes a great album titled Aleman'72 and some more LPs on the Redondel label. In the fall of 1980 dies in a hospital in Argentina.

Oscar Alemán with (prob.) Gonzalito on clarinet and Raúl Casanova on the violin.
During the last decades of the XXth century Oscar Alemán and his musical legacy seemed to be almost forgotten. But thanks to his granddaughter Jorgelina Alemán, vocalist, who follows in her grand father's footsteps, the music is available again in shows and on stage. Also de Hot Club de Boedo with leader Waldo Fonseca on the guitar, Heldo Fonseca on the clarinet, Martín López Goitía on the rhythm guitar and Julián Pierángeli on bass, started a little Oscar Alemán music revival and play his music all around Argentina. Around the 20th of February 2009, there will be concerts and gatherings to commemorate the fact that Oscar Alemán was born 100 years ago. The documentary Oscar Aleman - La Vida con Swing made by Hernan Gaffet was released a few years ago and gives a unique view on Oscar's career. It would be great if it was released in Europe and the States too. And maybe the long expected book of Guillermo Iacona about Oscar Aleman will be published. We'll keep in touch with all those festivities in the Oscar-Aleman blogspot
Oscar Alemán ( January 1980)
In Argentina most, if not all, Oscar Alemán records, made in Argentina on the Odeon label have been reissued. In Europe and the States his Argentine period has been an undeveloped period, but thanks to the online Oscar Alemán discography, you can see his list of recordings. The Oscar Alemán compilation on Saga Jazz titled Oscar Alemán - Ritmo Loco - El Rey de la Guitarra Swing is a great low budget addition.....

Hans Koert
This contribution will be posted later at the