|Birth name||Oscar Marcelo Alemán|
|Also known as||"El negro" (The Black One)|
February 20, 1909|
Machagai Chaco, Argentina
|Died||October 14, 1980
|Occupation(s)||Jazz guitarist, vocalist, and dancer|
|Years active||1915 – 1980|
|Associated acts||Josephine Baker|
Oscar Marcelo Alemán (February 20, 1909 – October 14, 1980) was an Argentine jazz guitarist, singer, dancer and entertainer. He is widely recognized in his country and abroad as one of the best jazz performers, and as an influential artist.
Alemán was born in Machagai, Chaco Province in Northern Argentina. He was the fourth child of seven born to pianist Marcela Pereira (a native Argentine of the Toba people), and Jorge Alemán Moreira, who played guitar in a folk quartet, with his children Carlos, Jorgelina and Juan.
At the age of six, young Oscar joined the family ensemble, by then the "Moreira Sextet", and played the cavaquinho, a Brazilian ukulele before taking up the guitar. The group travelled to Buenos Aires for gigs at the Parque Japonés, Nuevo Theater and at the Luna Park. Later they toured in Brazil.
Alemán was orphaned by the age of ten when his mother died and his father committed suicide. He sustained himself by 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, in a duo called Los Lobos with his friend, Brazilian guitarist Gastón Bueno Lobo. The duo moved 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. They later played with Carlos Gardel and Enrique Santos Discépolo.
In 1929 Los Lobos and dancer Harry Fleming travelled to Europe, and after the tour, Alemán stayed in Madrid to play as a soloist. In the 1930s he discovered American jazz via Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti. He then moved to Paris where he was hired by Josephine Baker to lead her band, the Baker Boys at the Cafe de Paris, providing him an opportunity to play regularly with American musicians who would come to see Baker and sit in with her band.
While in Paris, he met Django Reinhardt, for whom he would sometimes substitute if Reinhardt couldn't make a gig. Alemán spoke of his friendship to Reihhardt:
"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".
Though the two men played together, no recording exist of their collaborations.
Return to Argentina
The Nazi invasion of France during World War II forced Alemán to return to Argentina. He had a hit with the composition Rosa Madreselva, and continued to record and perform with both a swing quintet, as well as with a nine-piece orchestra.
Alemán became romantically involved with actress Carmen Vallejo with whom he had a daughter, Selva Alemán.
In 1972, Alemán relaunched his career with the recording of a new album and many of his previous recordings seeing re-release. He continued to tour the concert circuit along and appeared frequently on television. He continued to teach and perform in his native country until his death in 1980 at the age of 71.
Style, technique and equipment
Alemán generally played with thumb pick and fingers and 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.
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."
In 2002, an international jazz guitar festival, called Festival Oscar Alemán, was created in his honor.
- Hawaianita (1927–1929), Buenos Aires
- Ya Lo Sé (1930–1933), Madrid-París
- Fox-musette n.º 301 (1933–1935), París
- St. Louis Stomp (1936–1938), París
- Doing the Gorgonzola (1939–1940), París
- Susurrando (1941–1942), Buenos Aires
- Negra de Cabello Duro (1943–1944), Buenos Aires
- Haciendo una Nueva Picardía (1945–1949), Buenos Aires
- Swanee River (1951), Buenos Aires
- Scartunas (1952), Buenos Aires
- Minuet (1953), Buenos Aires
- Ardiente sol (1954), Buenos Aires
- Estambul (1955), Buenos Aires
- Juca (1956–1957), Buenos Aires
- Guitarra de Amor (1965), Buenos Aires
- Sueño de Víbora (1966–1969), Buenos Aires
- Moritat (1970–1972), Buenos Aires
- Tengo Ritmo (1973–1978), Buenos Aires
- Vestido de Bolero (1979–1980), Buenos Aires
- Hombre Mío (1960–1980), Buenos Aires
- Sí... Otra Vez! (1979), Buenos Aires
- Swing Guitar Masterpieces 1938-1957 (2 CD Collection) DAWG Productions/Acoustic Disc, 1997
- Buenos Aires Sings (1947)
- Carner, Gary; Kernfeld, Barry (2002). "Alemán, Oscar (Marcelo)". In Barry Kernfeld. The new Grove dictionary of jazz, vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. p. 26. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.
- Bob Brozman, The History & Artistry of National Resonator Instruments, Centerstream Publishing, 1993, ISBN 0-931759-70-6
- Classic Jazz Guitar
- "Oscar Alemán, vida con swing (2001)".
- Ecomchaco.com.ar (Festival Oscar Alemán).