Friday, March 25, 2011

Oscar Alemán in concert: A review of the Jazzwereldfeest (1939)

On the 15th of July, 1939 the 7th Jazzwereldfeest was scheduled at the Kurhaus in Scheveningen, the beach-resort of The Hague. Oscar Alemán was invited to play and billed as de uitzonderlijke negerguitarist.( = The exceptional "negro" guitar player).The Vaderland reported the next day that two performances of the concert, due to its qualities and character, didn't fit into the program ... welke zich door hun kwaliteit en karakter buiten het kader van het geheel geplaatst zagen: the concert by the Swing Papa's directed by Iwan Poustochkine and .... Oscar Alemán. The former created, Will G. Gilbert, jazz critic stated, a kind of jazz that was almost at the same level as one can expect from a band with black people only, who have the right roots - .a kind of level white people never will reach ...... Oscar Alemán was the other outsider of the evening ...... Oscar Alemán is een groot gitarist, ......... (= Oscar Aleman is a great guitar player), Gilbert continued, but ...zijn werk (kunnen we) niet geheel en al rangschikken onder datgene, wat wij hier als jazzmuziek verstaan. (= but his playing can't be labeled as, what we call Jazzmusic here in our country). His music can be best labelled as a South-American variety with "negro" influences, which can be heard unmistakable in the poly-rhythmical aspects ( = Er zijn invloeden te bespeuren, welke echter eveneens negersch zijn, ook al is hier een Zuid-Amerikaanse variëteit aan het woord; onmiskenbaar is het polyrhythmische aspect.).

De Jazzwereld no. 8 ( August 1939) (photo courtesy: Hans Koert)

Gilbert is fascinated by his finger picking techniques of Oscar's right hand and compares him to Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), a classical Spanish guitar player, who is considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement by most modern scholars ( quote: ). ( = Technisch is vooral zijn rechterhand ontwikkeld: de onafhankelijkheid der vingers is zoo ten top gevoerd, dat wij meermalen moesten denken aan de vaardigheid van een Segovia, dit zonder overdrijving. )

Head of De Jazzwereld no. 8 (Aug. 1939) ( source: Dutch Jazz Archive)

In De Jazzwereld of August 1939 the major article was entitled Het Zevende Jazzwereldfeest dat de meeste vroegere Jazzwereld-Kurhausavonden overtrof! ( = The Seventh Jazzwereldfeest, that surpassed all previous Jazzwereld-Kurhaus nights!). The author, probably again Will G. Gilbert, who was one of the editors of the magazine ( others were Bob Schrijver who was the producer of the Jazzwereldfeest and Mr. C.(= Constantin) Poustochkine, the elder brother of the leader of the Swing Papa's: Iwan Poustochkine - one of the bands of the festival and reviewed in the article). Fact is that the article has the same rhetorical language so typically for Gilbert. In inimitable long sentences he sings around Oscar's praises, pointing again to the fact that his music might not be labeled as Jazz, although it has zuivere jazzmuzikale elementen ...., daarnaast nog Spaanse- en Zuid-Amerikaanse elementen. ( = pure jazz elements and, beside that, also Spanish- and South American phrases.). Oscar Aleman is praised for the fact that he loved to make musical jokes, but never wanted to be funny or to use gimmicks for the effects ....
Kurhaus (jaren dertig)

Gilbert points to the fact that Oscar's music seems to be more related to the music of Segovia then to the gypsy music of Django Reinhardt ( = ... dat Aleman's guitarspel meer aanknopingspunten heeft met den gevleugelden stijl van Segovia dan met den Zigeunersch-sentimenteelen en zwaarderen speeltrant van een Reinhardt.) Oscar played tunes like Men of Mine (sic) (= Hombre Mio), which would become his signature tune, Whispering, Nobody's Sweetheart and Black Dreams. In the latter, Black Dreams, one of his own compositions, Aleman tapped with his fingers on the wooden resonating body of his guitar as if it was a rhythm instrument ( = .. het suggestieve begeleidende rhythme, met de vingers tegen het houten instrument geslagen!).

Whispering - Oscar Aleman - recorded in Copenhagen, 5th of December, 1938 ( Leif Bjerborg collection)
We are lucky that the two solo tunes Whispering (= Susurrando) and Nobody's Sweetheart where recorded half a year earlier during a Danish His Master Voice sessions, organized by Svend Asmussen, in Copenhagen December 1938. Charles Delaunay compared these tunes with some of the Eddie Lang solos from the 1920s and 1930s: ... though they are quite different in style. "Jazzy" rather than "Jazz", they are showcases for Oscar Aleman's finger-picking, with no improvisation but ornamentation around the melodic line..... Both songs are full of Latin American guitar licks such as false harmonics and tremolos, not usual at all in jazz ( quote: Tomas Mooney "Oscar Aleman Swing guitarist ( Jazz Journal vol 35-4 (Apr. 1982). Both tunes were part of the 1938 Josephine Baker revue and performed by Oscar at an intermezzo during the show.
Part of the review by (prob.) Will G. Gilbert in De Jazzwereld.( source: De Jazzwereld no. 8 (Aug 1939)( thanks to the Dutch Jazz Archive) (negative image) (click on the photo to enlarge)

Part of the review by (prob.) Will G. Gilbert in De Jazzwereld. ( source: De Jazzwereld no. 8 (Aug 1939)( thanks to the Dutch Jazz Archive) (negative image) ( click on the photo to enlarge)
The final act of the evening was a jam session, which was a great success. Het alleruitbundigste applaus van dezen avond mocht de Jam-session oogsten ( = The Jam-Session was honoured with an exuberant applaus). The most important musicians, who joined this jam were, of course, guitar player Oscar Alemán, trumpet player Johnny Claes, vocalist Annie Xhofleer, piano player Jaap Feijten, drummer Jaap Cune and the members of the Swing Papa's. Both Annie Xhofleer and Oscar Alemán were the stars, but the audience was especially impressed by the fact that the music played during the jam session was fully improvised, with dozens of solo ( sommige vrij geslaagd, andere maar matig) (= some great, but some moderate ones).
The only picture of the Jazzewreldfeest jam-session which remained: f.l.t.r.: Annie Xhofleer - Joop Stoutjesdijk - Joost van Os - J(aap). de Veen - Jaap Feijten - Oscar Aleman - (Theo) A. Tremio - T. Versteeg and Johnny Claes. (photo De Jazzwereld) ( thanks to the Duttch Jazz Archive) (click on the photo to enlarge)

When the concerts at The Kurhaus ended, the musicians moved to the Paviljoen at The Pier, one of the attractions in the North Sea just opposite the Kurhaus. In the Paviljoen the Jazzwereldfeest was closed with a ball, which featured Paul Kluger's Pintonians and the Swing Papa's and was scheduled up to three o'clock in the morning. During some more informal jams both Oscar Aleman and drummer Maurits (= Maurice) van Kleef impressed. Maurice Van Kleef was the best drummers of the decade, who played in the Coleman Hawkins - Freddy Johnson Trio. Another member of the jam session noted was Johnny Fresco, who had a regular job during the summer season of 1939 playing at the Palais de Danse, next to the Kurhaus. Although Gilbert, neatly commends, that not all solo's impressed, the audience liked it .........

Part of the review of the Jam Session at the Paviljoen ( source: De Jazwereld no. 8 ) ( negative image) ( Thanks to the Dutch Jazz Archive)

In Oscar Aleman en andere jazzmuziek in Het Vaderland, Gilbert comes with the conclussion that it was ... een wonderlijk muzikaal genot, met één feilen: het was te kort! ( = a great musical pleasure with one err: It was all too short! (

Please enjoy the complete article as published in The Jazzwereld no. 5 of August 1939, entitled Het Zevende Jazzwereldfeest dat de meeste vroegere jazzwereld-Kurhausavonden overtrof!! (Thanks to the Dutch Jazz Archive)

The first part of this article is entitled Oscar Alemán: The Start of the 7de Jazzwereldfeest in Scheveningen (1939).

Het voorgaande artikel: Oscar Alemán: De Ster van het 7de Jazzwereldfeest in Scheveningen (1939) kun je, samen met deze recensie vindt u in het Nederlands op de Keep Swinging blog.

Hans Koert
author of the
(online) Oscar Aleman Discography

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oscar Alemán: star of the 7de Jazzwereldfeest in Scheveningen (1939)

One of the first major jazz festivals in The Netherlands, must have been the Jazzwereldfeest, a one-night festival organized by the first Dutch Jazz magazine De Jazzwereld. In 1933 the Jazzwereld organized a concourse which featured the Lumirex Mike Serenaders ( directed by J.A. Dienske ) and the Rhythm Harmonists directed by André Eschauzier ( they played the St. Louis Blues), who both received the first prizes.
The Jazzwereld ( 1931 - 1940) - a Dutch Jazz Magazine
In July 1939 Het Zevende Jazzwereldfeest, the " 7th Jazzwereld party", was scheduled at The Kurhaus in Scheveningen, the beach-resort of The Hague. One of the guests invited was Oscar Alemán, then playing with his band at the Chantilly-dancing in Paris. Oscar Alemán, the Argentine guitar player was born in Argentina and moved to Europe as part of the Les Loups duo. During the 1930s he was active in Europe, or better said, in Paris as guitarist and later leader of Josephine Baker's Baker Boys. With her revues he toured along Europe and northern Africa and between the shows he performed in Paris clubs and venues, like the Chantilly-dancing. You can learn more about this part of his career in
Oscar Alemán - His European career
Fragment of the article: Medewerkenden aan het 7e Jazzwereldfeest ( 15 juli in het Kurhaus) ( Het Vaderland 11th of July 1939 Avondblad C) (negative image)
Oscar told later that he was surprised to be asked as one of the major stars of the Zevende Jazzwereldfeest. First the festivities were planned on Friday evening, the 14th of July, 1939, but as this day happens to be a French national

holiday ( Bastille Day or simple Quatorze Juillet) he had to perform at the club - when the Dutch moved the event to Saturday night the 15th of July, Alemán could except the invitation. In Het Vaderland, a Dutch evening paper, Oscar Alemán was introduced as an all-round musician: De guitarist Oscar Alemán, dien men als solist en als deelnemer aan de internationale jamsession zal hooren, is een all-round musician ( = Guitar player Oscar Alemán, who will perform as a soloist and as a member of the international jamsession, is an all-round musician). The fact that Oscar couldn't read music, was pointed out: Hoewel hij behoort tot diegenen, die alles "op het gehoor" spelen, is hij toch zoo veelzijdig dat hij bv. het geheele klassieke repertoire van den beroemden guitarist Andres Segovia kan naspelen (= Although he is one of those musicians that plays "by ear", he is so versatile that he can play the complete classical repertoire of the famous guitar player Andres Segovia by heart).
( quote: Medewerkenden aan het 7e Jazzwereldfeest ( 15 juli in het Kurhaus) ( Het Vaderland 11th of July 1939 Avondblad C).
The Scheveningen Kurhaus (1939)

As the announcements learn Oscar was soloing during the evening program which started at 8.00 pm at The Kurhaus in Scheveningen. Oscar was scheduled after the opening performance by the Belgian band of Jacques Kluger en zijn Pintonians, a "new" orchestra directed by Jacques Kluger, featuring the English-born trumpet player Johnny Claes, piano player Gun Finlay and reed player Maurice Pinto. After a short intermission act by tap-dancer Marco Palmer accompanied by Jaap Feijten at the piano, Oscar Aleman was scheduled to play some solo guitar pieces. After the break, the well know Dutch Swing Papa's were scheduled. The finale was announced as a jam session.
Oscar Alemán ( 1909 - 1980)

This part of the concert was unique, as it was the first time that a "jam-session" was organized at the Jazzwereldfeest. In an article entitled Wat Is een "Jam-session"? (= What is a jam-session?), subtitled Het 7e Jazzwereldfeest in het Kurhaus zal het ons leeren.( = The 7th Jazzwereldfeest in the Kurhaus will teach it to us) the author explains this unknown phenomenon. For those people who wonder: Wat is het nou precies? (= What is it actually?) the article explains that original Jazz or Jazz-related music is based on improvisation ............. In an extensive lecture the magazine wants to prepare the audience to what they can expect. Oscar Alemán is already nominated as the "sensation" of the jam session. Deze neger(!)guitarist wordt door kenners en meester op zijn instrument geacht te zijn, terwijl hij als eenige neger (!) bovendien het authentieke element in deze voorstelling zal brengen. ( = This black ( negro) (!) guitar player is a master on his instrument connoisseurs can tell you and he will bring the authentic element, being the only black man at the Jazzwereldfeest).
Advertisement ( Het Vaderland 12th of July, 1939) ( negative image) ( click on the picture to enlare)

The author of this article, Will G. Gilbert, born as Willem van Steensel van der Aa, is known for
his often dubious publications, is here way off the truth. Oscar might have had a rather darkish skin, but he was born in Argentina with Indian roots. For the people who are a layman in this field, Gilbert explains, that a jam-session is not a "sticky" event. You won't have to dress your sons and daughters in "overalls" instead of their best clothes. It remembers me to a cartoon I once found by Frits Müller entitled "Het zogenaamde "jammen" ( = The so-called "Jamming") in which three musicians are fighting with jam jars in their hands.

Fragment of: Wat is een "Jam-Session"? ( Het Vaderland - 5 July, 1939) ( negative image) ( click on the picture to enlarge)

Next time I hope to continue with a review of the 7th Jazzwereldfeest in The Kurhaus, especially about the concert of Oscar Alemán on that 15th of July, 1939.

Dit artikel zal ook geplaatst worden in het Nederlands in de Keep Swinging blog

Hans Koert

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