Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Oscar Alemán in a 1970s "Rock" Magazine

Oscar Alemán 1978 in Pelo magazine
In the late 1950s and during the 1960s Oscar Alemán experienced a decrease in the public success  he had benefited from during almost two decades in Argentina. New music styles like rock'n'roll displaced the public interest from jazz and swing, a young generation of musicians was taking over the scene in show business leaving older musicians little chance to have a steady work as performers or recording artists.The impact of these factors was in Alemán's case that he gradually chose to retire from the public scene when his contract with Odeon ended in 1958. He spent the 1960s in semi-retirement and had fewer public appearances than previously, although he from time to time was a featured guest performer in radio and TV shows. - But how was Alemán's attitude to the changing musical taste of the public? In a 1978 interview published in an Argentine music magazine for young people, he expressed his candid opinion about rock music and  rock musicians. Below we have the pleasure and honor of publishing Luis "Tito" Liber's record of the contents of that interview, which he kindly forwarded to share with our readers. The original article interview was in the Spanish language, of course, but Luis's version is in English.
Frontpage, Pelo magazine #99, July 1978
Oscar Alemán in a 1970s "Rock" Magazine
by Luis "Tito" Liber
In many radio, newspapers and magazines interviews along Aleman`s career, the topic was Oscar incredible Ellington-Reinhardt-Baker anecdotes, but not music. This article from argentine Pelo ("Hair") magazine (#99, July 1978) is most about music... and it`s in a yougster`s rock magazine, not a jazz one!!! Notice that the same number includes an article about Gato Barbieri, and previously had included an interview with jazz pianist Mono Villegas.
In Argentina, in the late 1950s-early 1960s, with the arrival of television, came the "new wave": kids that sang rock and roll tunes in spanish. Along with the military regime prohibition of night-meetings (it was the end of the massive danceballs called "milongas"), the old stars of tango and jazz lost their jobs. But the 1970s were the days of fusion, and Oscar didn`t seem to like that union of styles. We know that jazzmen and rockers have never fit very well. And Oscar hasn`t been the exception. The old jazzman felt that the new young musicians were stealing his place in showbusiness (that is to say, they are leaving him without his job). Though he didn`t understand the incipient rock movement (the kids were essentially troubadors, not musicians), he thought that rockers weren`t skilled musicians at all.
"Rock is a rhythm that doesn`t satisfy me, as boogie doesn`t satisfy me too. Boogie is four phrases invented by Mr. Fats Waller for the left hand, and you have to improvise on that. And what improvisation is? It´s jazz. If you want to improvise on rock, what are you going to improvise? You are not going to improvise tango or rancheras, but jazz." Now a great sentence:
 "Rock musicians eat the food with their hands. The dish is ready but they have to be educated, to learn to use forks and knives. Jazz is good education. To evolve, rock has to go to jazz. It`s the basis."
Oscar critizises Bill Hailey`s performance during his show in Buenos Aires ("the man of the curly"), saying that the only good player in his band was a black guitarist; the others only did the clown.
"Rock musicians are too much noisy, they play very loud. They use to lose the sense of accompaniment for the solos; they all want to highlight increasing the volume; then, you can`t distinguish anything."
Alemán says that once he had a rock musician as a pupil: Claudio Gabis, a blues guitarist, member of the group Manal. "He said that he was leaving to USA because the public from here didn`t understand him" (Claudio went to study at Berkley, and he returned to Argentina in 1980s democracy times to give seminars of improvisation at the Centro Cultural San Martín; a very recommendable player!).

Oscar didn`t play rock'n'roll very well. If you listen to his version of "Bailando el Rock" (Rock Around the Clock -Freeman/De Knight-), you can appreciate he didn`t know the classical yeites and runs (Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore and Chuck Berry for instance). He does a correct performance, but using "boogie" phrases. That`s because, he wasn`t influenced by R&B or country and western music.
"In one occasion I made a rock. I used to say it was a rock, but it wasn`t. I improvised on some boogie chords played faster. Rock chords are the same of blues and boogie." He`s talking about his own theme "Improvisaciones sobre Boogie Woogie", where he plays a much better performance, with a great scat. During the rock-era, he played this theme live, announcing to the public that it was a rock...but it wasn't.

Oscar even was a skilled blues player. Of course that he had black roots (Afro-American-Brazilian rhythms), but all in a jazz venue, not bluesy at all (listen to "Saint Louis Blues", "Oscar Blues Nº 1" and "Nº 3" i.e.).

This interesting interview also includes an almost poetical description of his triumphant come back to the bench of the park in Guarujá in 1946 (where he had slept in his childhood): "At that time I returned to sit on that bench with a whisky and a brilliant in my hand. To sit and cry. I was no longer below it, but sat ON that bench."
Oscar flatters bandoneonist/composer Astor Piazzolla and pianist/composer Horacio Salgan for playing tango arrangements with a jazz tendency, in a time when almost nobody had that opinion in Argentina (the conservative narrow-minded "tangueros").

Oscar Alemán 1978 in Pelo magazine
By the time of this interview, in January 1978, Oscar was proud of receiving a letter from France notifying him that his biography was to be included in an upcoming guitarplayers encyclopedia (I think it was 'Histoire de la guitare dans le Jazz' by Norman Mongan; published in 1986 by EPI Editions Filipacchi, France).
Alemán, knowing that he was a genius, was a very proud man, almost selfish (sorry Oscar). He was the leader and nobody could be over him (this led him to separate from Hernán Oliva). This attitude wasn`t excessive, because during two decades (1940s-1950s) he was the best South-American jazz player, and no-one had his international background (later would appear Lalo Schiffrin and Barbieri). Opposite to his public sense of humour, in his last years he became an angry and sad man, rensentful and frustrated for considering that his genius deserved more acknowledgement.

Posted by Jo


Anonymous Waldo Fonseca - Hot Club de Boedo said...

Felicitaciones, muy buen post y muy buenas fotos, Jo. Saludos amigos. Waldo

5:38 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

Many thanks for this interview
I´m Argentinian guitar player. I started as a rock player, then moved to flamenco, and listen to a lot of jazz.
“Pelo” was the rock bible during the 70`s, kind of Argentinean Rolling Stone.
In the 70s, rock fans were usually more open minded to styles outside of rock. They loved everything that could be labeled as “counter-culture”, and that included jazz and other styles. They knew Paco de lucia´s name, at least for the Friday Night in San Francisco album...they all bought the Koln Concert of Keith Jarret, the Bitches Brew Davis album...very few records, but something ´s worth more than nothing.
It`s hard to say, but i`ve to reckon that Aleman is right. Many rock players just doesn´t have dynamics…everything is played to the limit, and where there´s no hard-soft change, everything starts sounding the same. I used to get angry in my youth with comments like this, that rock guitarists payed no attention the quality tone that jazzers searched…but in most cases, it´s true. And while I enjoy many positive things about Jimi Hendrix, his showmanship antics opened a nasty door of noise-making to the people that came later (feedback, wild whammy bar noises)
There are obvious exceptions. Eddie Van Halen comes to mind. While the young boys frenzied about his speed and the double hand tapping, respected players recognized him as a rock guitarist who put out a lovely tone (the famous “brown” sound) Les Paul and even Joe Pass praised him. Michael Schenker is another rock guitarist praised by musicians outside the rock-circle, unfortunately he´s very underrated
I´m glad to hear that Oscar was a Piazzolla fan. It´s important to say that Astor was not a “ total jazz” fan, he was a strictly admirer of the 50s “cool” movement. He played with Gerry Mulligan, Gary Burton, etc, but it´s obvious that he wasn´t very keen on the old swing style. So it´s surprising to see a master of swing like Oscar praising Astor
If my mind serves me correctly, the guitarplayers enciclopedia in French you mention was the only printed biography of Oscar until very recently
It´s strange to hear that Oscar was so resentful in his final years. After all, his career has reborned at that point, he was playing good gigs, his music was being recorded and released…It would have made more sense to feel like that in the 60s, when it´s true that has been forgotten, at that point. But it´s true that this very little circle of monsters players usually feels not recognized. Something very similar happened with the amazing Danny Gatton, he took his own life in 1994, and many sources coincide that he was very depressed for his under recognition

5:20 PM  

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