[Dixielandjazz] Fwd: Fw: Keep (it) Swinging

Marek Boym marekboym at gmail.com
Tue Jun 9 13:07:34 PDT 2015

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Date: 9 June 2015 at 22:41
Subject: Fw: Keep (it) Swinging
To: Marekboym at gmail.com

שולח: *Keep (it) Swinging, *
נושא: *Keep (it) Swinging*
   Keep (it) Swinging <http://keepitswinging.blogspot.com/>

Oscar and the Duke: An Encounter In Paris, 1933

Posted: 08 Jun 2015 11:00 AM PDT
Some time ago I received an article about the encounter between *Oscar
Alemán* and *Duke Ellington *in Paris, 1933. The article is written by *Luis
'Tito' Liber* and is published below. It puts focus on Alemán's reactions
and has quotes from interviews in Argentine printed media, here available
in English for the first time.
in Gani Jakupi: Le roi invisible (Futuropolis, 2009)
One thing is that fans and collectors of today claim that *Oscar Alemán* is
one of the best jazz guitar players, but another thing is the opinion of
one of the greatest personalities in jazz history. The great *Duke
Ellington*, and the members of his band, affirmed that Oscar Alemán was not
one of the best, but THE BEST guitarist in 1930s Europe... Here is the
ad (source: Luis Liber)
In July 1933 Ellington`s band arrived in Paris to play at the* Salle Pleyel*
(Thursday 27th) and at the *Casino de Bauville*, in a tour promoted by *Jack
Hylton*. Music-hall star *Josephine** Baker*, convalescent at home
following a car accident that had injured her hand (the driver was *Oscar
Alemán*, and the car was seriously damaged), welcomed *Ellington*and
introduced him to Alemán. Ellington, who was very impressed by the skills
of the *"chaqueño"*, tried to persuade Md. Baker to ‘lend’ him Alemán as a
guest musician of an upcoming USA tour, but the "Venus" declined and
retained Oscar as a member of her staff which impossibly could have a
Josephine Baker and her car - June 1935 (photo ABC Madrid)
*Oscar Alemán* later recalled in an interview:
*"I met Duke Ellington by the time I had an accident. One day I was driving
my car to my work at the Casino de Paris, with Josephine Baker. They
crashed me. I stayed for ten days at the hospital, and later at my hotel.
The first visit I made when I got out of the hotel was to see my friends
from the Casino. I arrived at Josephine`s dressing room. Everybody came to
salute me. She had an injured knee and some scratches on her face. I was
patched*  *all over* *and walked with a stick. While I stayed at
Josephine`s dressing room Duke Ellington entered with his two trombonists.
One of them was Juan Tizol, the author of "Caravan", he was a Puerto Rican;
he made myself understood by Duke Ellington, because Tizol spoke in
Spanish. With them also was Freddie Guy, Ellington`s guitarist. The four
were good "orejeros" *(in Argentine: they had good ears for music)*. In a
certain moment Duke told Josephine: "I came to greet you and to hear a
recommended guitarplayer" (...) Next I asked one of the dancers to go to
the second floor and bring me my guitar. The kid went running. I opened the
case, took the guitar and began to play for Duke Ellington. When I
finished, he told Juan Tizol to ask me if I wanted to go with him to North
America (...) "You are not going as a staff guitarist, but as a soloist."
Josephine objected: "No. Where am I going to find another guy who plays all
the styles Oscar do: dancing, tapping, singing? Besides, I have seven suits
and shoes* *made for him, all of the same colour. And those costumes aren`t
useful to another person. And his substitute has to be black." Because of
that I didn`t go to the USA and I had to stay in France."* (Ardiles Gray,
Julio. *Historias de artistas contadas por ellos mismos*. Ed. Belgrano,
Bs.As. 1981, pp. 285-297).

Another Alemán comment about the encounter with Ellington in Paris, 1933:
*"I should be angry with Josephine because my life would have changed.
Ellington had offered me the triple than she paid me and he was going to
present me better"* (cited by Espinosa, R. *Oscar Alemán. Hablando con Dios
<http://www.mundoclasico.com/>*. 2002)

Further, Oscar later has an interesting remark on Duke`s ability for
"stealing"/memorize the tunes heard for the first time. Alemán’s theme
song *Hombre
Mío*could have had the same fortune as Juan Tizol`s *Caravan*: *"Juan Tizol
was present, the Ellington`s trombonist, now already dead, who is the true
author of "Caravan". Duke Ellington insisted me to play my own composition,
called "Hombre mío", by that time not registered neither recorded. Tizol
advised me not to play it, because he (Duke) was going to steal it from
me."* (*El tenedor y el cuchillo*. Pelo. Julio 1978).

Yet another quote of Alemán’s remembrance of his meeting with Ellington in
Paris, 1933:
*"What an immense emotion the day that, without expecting it, I have him in
front of me, ready to juzge my guitarplayer skills! Can you imagine my
nervousness?... Even today I don`t know how I had the nerve to play all the
pieces he asked me and some I knew he was going to like (…) Getting up of
his seat, he came to congratulate me. That ment to me the greatest honour I
ever received."* (*Oscar Alemán tiene un galardón que es orgullo. **Es
amigo de Duke Ellington*. *Mi Cine*, 22-05-1947).
Ellington Band at Cotton Club 1933
As a demonstration of fondness and admiration, the members of Ellington’s
band presented Oscar with a photo similar to the shown dedicated at the
reverse side by all of them.
dedications to Oscar (click to enlarge), wrongly dated 1932Some of the
dedications read: *“Muchos recuerdos para el mejor guitarrista que hemos
oido” *(*Juan Tizol*), *"To my good friend Oscar Aleman, the greatest
guitar player we heard in Europe" *(*Art Whetsol*), *“To Oscar, to me the
greatest guitarist of today” *(*Fred Guy*), *“To the greatest guitarist in
the world” *(*???*)

During that same 1933 tour through France and the UK, Ellington`s
banjoist, *Fred
Guy* (b.1897 - d.1971), adopted permanently the guitar as part of the rythm
section of the big band. Maybe the Duke had made this change after hearing
the sound of the instrument in the hands of Oscar. So, the rythm section
(tuba, banjo, piano, drums) changed from tuba/banjo to double bass/guitar. It
is worth mentioning that Guy (who was with Ellington for 24 years: 1925-1949
),after changing to guitar, became almost inaudible and a less important
member of the orchestra (it was prior to electric amplification), while the
loud volume of the banjo had allowed him to be heard clearly.
Duke Ellington Orchestra at Palladium, London, July 1933 -
Notice Fred Guy is featured with both banjo and guitar
The years of *Alemán*’s success in Argentina during the 1940s and 1950s
passed away and he came into a dark period in the 1960s. He would, however,
meet Ellington again in September 1968, during Duke`s tour through
Argentina. A turning point in Oscar's career. But that is another story.

*Luis 'Tito' Liber*
*keepitswinging.domain at gmail.com <keepitswinging.domain at gmail.com>*

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