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


Blogger Jo said...

Thank you, Hans, for posting this detailed review, great to learn how exact Mr.Gilbert was regarding the style and playing technique of OA - very few contemporary critics did bother about these details, unfortunately, - instead focusing on a comparison with Django, which isn't too obvious. Anyway, the quouted Dutch review reveals another 'story', great!

8:49 AM  

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