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Oscar Aleman

Oscar Aleman

Oscar Marcelo Alemán (February 20, 1909 – October 14, 1980) was an Argentine jazz guitarist.He was a singer, dancer, entertainer, and guitarist. Aleman was born in Machagai, Chaco Province in Northern Argentina on February 20, 1909.He was the fourth child of seven born to pianist Malcela Pereira (a native Argentine of the Toba people), and Jorge Alemán Moreira, who played guitar in a folk quartet, with his own children, Carlos, Jorgelina and Juan.Early yearsAt the age of six, he joined the family ensemble, by then the "Moreira Sextet", and played the cavaquinho, a Brazilian instrument before taking up the guitar.They travelled to Buenos Aires and had gigs at the Parque Japonés, Nuevo Theater and at the Luna Park. Later they travelled to Brazil.Orphaned by the age of ten, after his mother had died and his father had committed suicide (1919), Alemán found himself working sporadically as a dancer and musician on the streets of Santos, Brazil. When he saved enough money, he bought a guitar and started to play professionally in party venues, forming the "Los Lobos" duo with his friend, Brazilian guitarist Gastón Bueno Lobo, with whom he would return to Buenos Aires in 1925 to work under contract for the comedian Pablo Palitos.In Buenos Aires, they formed a trio with violinist Elvino Vardaro. They added tango to their repertoire, and recorded with Agustín Magaldi and later played with Carlos Gardel and Enrique Santos Discépolo.In EuropeIn 1929 Los Lobos and dancer Harry Fleming travelled to Europe, and after the tour, Alemán stayed in Madrid and later moved to Paris to play guitar as a soloist.In the 1930s, having discovered American jazz via Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, Alemán moved to Paris where he was hired by Josephine Baker to lead her band, the Baker Boys at the Cafe de Paris. This provided him an opportunity to play regularly with American musicians who would come to see Baker and sit in with her band.He made the acquaintance of Django Reinhardt while in Paris, and would sometimes substitute for the notoriously unreliable gypsy, but never recorded with him.Again as a solo act, Alemán toured Europe, playing with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington.Alemán later formed his own nine-piece band, which would play nightly at the Le Chantilly in Paris.Return to ArgentinaThe Nazi invasion of France during World War II forced him to return to Argentina. He continued playing there with his hit "Rosa madreselva", and continued to record and perform with both a swing quintet, as well as with a nine-piece orchestra.From his relationship with the actress Carmen Vallejo he had a daughter, Selva Alemán.In 1972 at the age of 63, Alemán recorded a new album, which helped re-launch his career with the reissue of many of his previous recordings, along with concert dates and television appearances.He continued to teach and perform in his native country until his death in 1980 at 71 years of age.Style, technique and equipmentAlemán generally played with thumb pick and fingers. He compares his style and technique to Django Reinhardt's:"I knew Django Reinhardt well. He used to say jazz was gipsy - we often argued over that. I agree with many Americans I met in France who said he played very well but with too many gipsy tricks. He had very good technique for both hands, or rather one hand and a pick, because he always played with a pick. Not me, I play with my fingers. There are things you can't do with a pick - you can't strike the treble with two fingers and play something else on the bass string. - But I admired him and he was my friend. He was my greatest friend in France. We played together many times, just for ourselves. I used to go to his wagon, where he lived. I've slept and eaten there - and also played! He had three or four guitars. Django never asked anyone to go to his wagon, but he made an exception with me. I appreciated him, and I believe the feeling was mutual".According to Jorge Larsen, "Although he kept playing Latin music up to the end, he never jazzed it, but was always very careful to maintain each genre's authenticity."Critic Leonard Feather wrote: "Alemán has more swing than any other guitarist on the continent", and "His tone, phrasing, swing, and attack are so grand that if anyone ever mentions Django Reinhardt to me again, I shall stare coldly."Alemán was best known for playing the D-hole Selmer Maccaferri (also played by Django Reinhardt). He also used a National Style 1 tri-cone resonator guitar., nylon string guitars and archtop guitars.LegacyHis life was portrayed in Hernan Gaffet´s documentary film Oscar Aleman. Vida Con Swing., and in a graphic novel (in French) Le roi invisible by Gani Jakupi.In 2002, the Internacional Festival of Jazz Guitar «Oscar Alemán», was created in his honor.


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