Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Oscar Alemán

Argentine-born guitarist, singer, and entertainer Oscar Alemán was an important part of the Paris jazz scene in the 1930s. A friend and rival of Django Reinhardt, Alemán often played a metal-bodied National guitar. He had a nine-piece band at the Chantilly Club, and recorded with Josephine Baker, Bill Coleman, and Svend Asmussen. The French critic Charles Delaunay wrote, "his mere presence in a group was immediately felt through the vitality and swing he gave to the rhythm section."

In 1940 the Nazis moved in and Alemán moved out, by way of Spain, but not before German border guards confiscated his two National guitars. He returned to Argentina, where he formed a Hot Club-style quintet during the war. The side playable below was recorded in Buenos Aires in 1944. The Grappelli violin role is assumed by one Manuel Gavinovich (about whom any information would be welcome). I don't know what kind of guitar Alemán is playing on this record, but what a sound!

The critic Leonard Feather once opined that Alemán's "tone, phrasing, swing, and attack are so grand that if anyone ever mentions Django Reinhardt to me again, I shall stare coldly." No sensible person wants to get a cold stare from Leonard Feather, even a posthumous one, so let's stifle all Django references and just enjoy Oscar.

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