Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oscar Alemán100: Live and Private Recordings

OSCAR ALEMÁN100: Live and Private Recordings
Jørgen Larsen

Preparing the Centennial of Oscar Alemán (1909-1980) the compiler of the most extensive Oscar Alemán discography available, Hans Koert, has upgraded the online version of this magnificent work that has been free accessible on the internet since 2005. The discography is a part of the El Redescubrimiento de Oscar Alemán (The Rediscovery Of Oscar Alemán) project that was launched with the aim of collecting available information regarding the life and career of Oscar Alemán and make this material free accessible on the internet to the benefit of other researchers of Oscar Alemán as well as the keen collector of his recordings. I am proud to have the opportunity to point the readers of this article to the upgraded website dedicated to the El Redescubrimiento de Oscar Alemán (The Rediscovery Of Oscar Alemán) project.
The online Oscar Alemán discography is an indispensable tool when researching the recordings featuring Oscar Alemán, no other previously published discographical research on Oscar Alemán has been as extensive and accurate as the work published by Hans Koert. You will find all available discographical details by year from 1927 up till 1980 regarding the issued recordings featuring Oscar Alemán including inserted scans of the original (78 rpm) record ( when available), evertything made accessible in an user-friendly design completed with rare photos from the career of Oscar Alemán. Further, the extensive discography also contains information on contemporary issues of Oscar Alemán on LP, Cassette and CD, and the discography moreover has available information on selections of unissued material, including live-recordings from radio, TV and private sessions collected by keen collectors. Part of this unissued material is the subject of this article.
Live recordings from the 1950s.

The recording career of Oscar Alemán had its heyday in Argentina during the 1940s and 1950s after his returning from Europe in 1940. He signed a contract with Odeon in 1941 that lasted up till 1957. By then 108 sides had been issued by Odeon, 48 featuring Oscar Alemán y su Quinteto de Swing (1941-43 featuring the first formation of the quintet, 1943-1947 featuring the second formation of what actually was a sextet in most instances) and from 1951 60 sides by Oscar Alemán y su Orquesta de Jazz (- from time to time also labeled Oscar Alemán y su Conjunto or Oscar Alemán y su Orquesta de Swing).

Oscar Alemán's scrap books ( photo courtesy: Theo Van De Graaff)

These issued 108 sides remain the core of Oscar Alemán's recorded output and luckily most of this material has been re-issued and now made available on CD today. Contemporary listeners of this material may seem to forget that records from this period were issued as 78 rpm shellac-discs with only two pieces of music at approximately 3:00 minutes each - records were meant as promotion of the artist, composers and music publishers, a marketing tool aiming as a commercial for the entertainment business of the day, most often radio broadcasts and live events.

Given these facts Oscar Alemán's Odeon recordings represent a remarkable consistent output as almost everything is splendid and inspired, well arranged and recorded with amazing solos by Alemán and solid accompaniment by his fellow musicians, enough material to build a reputation and promote an extraordinary musician devoting his talents to swing as well as other popular genres of the time. - But how did the music actually sound when performed live? This question may have come to mind of many collectors of Oscar Alemán recordings, especially those who hadn't the fortune to experience him in a live performance. Unfortunately, only few recordings of live-performance featuring Oscar Alemán from the Odeon period have been saved, but they are definitely worth mentioning to complete the picture of Alemán in business.
Photo from one of Oscar's films.
During the early fifties Oscar Alemán was a featured artist on Radio Belgrano in Buenos Aires, he had his own program promoted by the Palmolive company and was a great success with the public. Fragments of a live-broadcast from September 1952 have been saved on acetates, and a couple of these acetates have since been reissued on CD by the Redondel label on the second volume of 'El Inolvidable Oscar Alemán' (CD-45025). The re-issued two titles are live-performances of Tengo Ritmo ( = I Got Rhythm) and a version of Scartunas, tunes that Alemán also recorded for Odeon at about the same time with his Orquesta de Jazz. The live-recording of Tengo Ritmo from this
September 28th, 1952 session at Radio Belgrano is especially worth mentioning compared to the Odeon recording of the arrangement from the following day (mx 18614, Odeon 55489). The solo-work by Alemán on the acetate is extended and reveals licks and tricks not available on the Odeon recording of the tune - a great example to get an impression of Alemán's skills as an improviser adding new ideas to a tune that was a part of his repertoire book throughout his career. The remaining acetates from this September 28th, 1952 broadcast contain short fragments featuring Alemán solo demonstrating various examples of los Ritmos Brasileños and two more recordings with his regular orchestra playing Cabeza Hinchada and a version of Minuet En Arreglo de Jazz. Especially the solo demonstration of the various Brasilian rhythms is a crucial document of Alemán's knowledge of and involvement with the Brasilian popular music tradition of the time.

Oscar's radio years in one of his scrap books (photo courtesy: Theo Van De Graaff)
There exist a couple more fragments from another
Radio Belgrano broadcast late 1953 featuring performance by Alemán and his Orquesta de Jazz playing versions of the tunes Ninguem me ama and Tonterías, these were test recordings and the arrangements are similar to the versions recorded on Odeon. From about the same time or a little later collectors also have saved fragments of a live-broadcast recorded on acetate, labeled as Ritmos de Juventud featuring Alemán playing the cavaquinho in an amazing version of his own O.A. 1926, later recorded in a slower version for Redondel on the Alemán '72 album.
Odeon released a 10 inch LP disc (Odeon LDS 201) containing part of a live concert recorded June 7, 1954 at Teatro La Mascara, Buenos Aires. featuring Oscar Alemán and violinist Hernán Oliva backed by a pick-up ensemble, the group is labeled as Quinteto de Cuerdas del Hot Club de Buenos Aires . Three recorded tunes by the group were issued: Limehouse Blues, Confessin' and Sweet Georgia Brown, and they contain extended solo work by both Alemán and Oliva. These three recordings are outstanding in more than one sense as they re-unite Alemán and Oliva on stage and record after their break-up in 1943 and moreover offer intense interplay and great solo-work by both. It is a pity and somewhat strange that these great takes haven't been re-issued on CD.- At the same concert Alemán was featured with an All Star group that also recorded three tunes, but the recordings were rejected by Odeon.
Radio and TV work from the 1960s and 1970s

After disbanding his Orquesta de Jazz in 1959 Alemán gradually left the public scene for a period, no new recordings were released and he lived retired from entertainment business concentrating on recovering from overwork and giving private lessons as a guitar teacher to devoted students. From time to time he was a featured guest artist in various radio programs performing with available musicians, most often in a quintet setting and thus announced as Oscar Alemán y sus Cinco Caballeros. Parts of these radio features have been taped by Argentine collectors and available info has been listed and inserted in the online Oscar Alemán discography. Hans Koert and I have had the opportunity to listen to a selection of this material, and judging from the saved audio tracks many of these radio recordings are rather bland from a musical point of view, mainly thanks to a somewhat mechanical accompaniment not up to Alemán's standard. However, the leader shines as always and delivers examples of his guitar artistry, moments unfortunately often harassed by distortion and generally bad recording conditions. The same story can be told regarding the saved tape recordings of audio from TV programs featuring Alemán in live performance during the 1970s. Info on a selection of these performances is also available in the online discography.

Oscar Alemán at home ….
If many of the saved live performance recordings from radio and TV are disappointing, things are different regarding the private recordings of Oscar Alemán at home from the 1960s and 1970s. We were introduced to some of this material through the cassette copies by Theo van de Graaff, made during his visits at Alemán in December 1979/January 1980. Theo van de Graaff had the opportunity to copy from Alemán's own tape collection, and among the copied tracks were examples of Alemán playing solo at home in a relaxed atmosphere showing off brillant moments of his guitar artistry to the benefit of the music and for his own enjoyment. You could label such examples as rehearsal of tunes, which in some instances also were recorded later in studio and issued by the Redondel label.

In the TV-studios in Buenos Aires - January 1980 (photo courtesy Theo Van De Graaff)

However, the cassette copies saved by Theo Van De Graaff are not the only material featuring Alemán at home and in a relaxed atmosphere. Theo Van De Graaff and Oscar Alemán (January 1980) (photo courtesy: Theo Van De Graaff)

The online discography lists several private recordings made at Alemán's apartement or at private gatherings, material that should be made available in a proper issue by a record company like the small selection already released at the above mentioned CD from Redondel (CD-45025).

Joergen Larsen -

This contribution has always been published at the Oscar Aleman Web Log.

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