Oscar Aléman (1909-1980) by All About Jazz

Here’s someone about whom you may never have heard. Swing guitarists know about him and David Grisman – whose Acoustic Disc label released an album – knows, yet he remains in relative obscurity. Oscar Aléman was born in Argentina on Feb. 20th, 1909. By the age of six he was performing as a singer and as a dancer with his family’s folk ensemble, the Moreira Sextet. His mother died and his father commited suicide and at the age 10, Aléman, an orphan, worked on the streets of Santos. When he was 15, Aléman met Brazilian guitarist Gaston Bueno Lobo and the duo signed to the Argentine Victor Label, working under the name of Los Lobos  and sometimes performing and recording with violinist Elvino Vardaro under the name Trio Victor. Aléman soon discovered American jazz and swing in the recorded person of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti and in the ‘30s he moved to Paris where he soon got the job of leading Josephine Baker’s band,  the Baker boys. The gig, at the Café de Paris, gave Aléman the chance to play with visiting Americans who wanted to sit in with Baker’s band. Shortly thereafter, Aléman befriended Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli when his own nine-piece band played at Le Chantilly near to where they were getting known at the Hot Club of Paris. In 1939, jazz writer Leonard Feather visited Paris and returned to America saying,  « Aléman has more swing than any guitarist on the continent ». Back in Buenos Aires in the early ‘40s, Aléman continued to record and perform with both a swing quintet and nine-piece orchestra. He essentially remained in that situation until 1973, when a new album briefly relaunched his career and he could be found playing concert dates and appearing on television. In addition, many of his earlier recordings were reissued. Oscar Aléman died in Buenos Aires in 1980. In addition to the beautiful two-disc set on Acoustic Disc and Buenos Aires-Paris 1928-1943 (Frémeaux), there are several other more obscure Argentine discs available and some more rare appearances on YouTube. In all of them he shows himself to be a genius in his own realm. Overshadowed by Django in popularity, he uniquely blends the pulse of his native country, Continental sophistication and a rootedness in jazz and swing. Check out his « Improvisaciones Sobre Boogie Woogie » - it’ll tell you in one setting what makes this artist so special. Donald ELFMAN-ALL ABOUT JAZZ