Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jean Omer (1912-1994): The prewar years

Jean Omer – the active Belgian reed player and bandleader
Full house for the Jean Omer Night at the Antwerp Zoo 
Georg Lankester

After my publications on the Belgian band leaders Fud Candrix and Stan Brenders here is another one about a third important musician from the past.

  • Jean Omer, born in Nijvel, the 9th of September 1912, grew up in a well-to-do family and at an early age showed interest in music. He started to play violin, however, also learned trumpet, clarinet and saxophone. The reed instruments would form the basis for his career.
The Baker Boys, directed by Robert De Kers, the band to accompany vaudeville artist Josephine Baker. Jean Omer is the man standing left - Robert De Kers is standing in the middle and Oscar Aleman at the right) (ca. 1931) ( photo; Albert Michiels archive)
A quick start: Jean Omer is talented in music and in business. At the age of 16 (1928)  he got a contract to play in Blankenberge with his own small group. Soon afterwards he became a professional musician and performed some time in Strasbourg. There he met Billy Smith, joined his orchestra and made tours in Belgium, France and even Italy.
  • In 1929 the motivated Jean Omer founded a sextet called “Hot Melodians”. With this group he performed in Oostende, at the Palace Club of Antwerp and also played in Blankenberge. One year later he could be heard in the orchestra of Albert Sykes in the Kurhaus hall of Oostende.
the Baker Boys.Oscar Aleman (left) and Gaston Bueno lobo (right) next to Josephine Baker. (photo: ca. 1931)
In the early Thirties our reed player joined the Baker Boys which included the well-known Belgian saxophonist Jean Robert. The latter played an important role in the Belgian jazz scene. The Baker Boys were popular and besides performances in Belgium they travelled to France and Italy (“Savoy Dancing” in Milan). One should realise that it was not so easy to travel in those days – all was done by public transport, because a car was a luxury and the roads were still very poor. Particularly the French press was praising Omer for his performances.

Le Boeuf sur le Toit at the Naamse Poort (Brussels) ( 1930s)

After a succesfull trip to The States he founded, in 1938,  the dancing, later jazz club  Le Boeuf sur le Toit at the Naamse Poort in Brussels. Here known jazz musicians would perform. Jean Omer directed here his Big Band and performed with soloists like Gus Deloof, Ernst van ’t Hof, Jean Robert, Frank Engelen, Nick Frerar and more. Pianio player Gus Clark, also a member of Omer's Big Band, made its arrangments, like Jean Robert .............

Jean Robert (1908-1981) (photo; Bas Robert archvie)

Robert was labeled as  “de Europese Coleman Hawkins”, The European cCleman Hawkins .....Even Hawkins praised him for his sound. Hawkins often asked Robert to be his repelacement in Brussels or Amsterdam, when he had a profitable gig in Paris.

Fud Candrix (1908-1974)

In small combos Jean Omer also accompanied soloist Harry Pohl and e.g. the Dutch lady singer Annie Xhofleer. It is remarkable that a lot of Dutch singers were asked to perform in Belgian bands. From a Belgian relation I learned that Dutch singers were often selected because of their good pronunciation of the English language. Fud Candrix accompanied singers like Tony Jongenelen and Jane Miller.

Coleman Hawkins ( 1904-1969)

On the 5th of November 1938 Omer impressed all jazz enthousiasts with his Big Band featuring saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, the top of the bill.
Jean Omer is now quite known in Belgium and sometimes even leads the Stan Brenders Orchestra, when Stan is unable to attend himself. The Omer concerts with guest soloists attract the audience and his concerts often have  a full house with lots of enthousiastic reactions. When in the concert room of the Antwerp zZo an ‘Omer night’ is organised, lots of young ladies love to see the young soloist/band leader. His orchestra included excellent musicians like saxophonist Victor Ingeveldt, the piano players Gus Clark and Paul van Nek and the virtuoso trombonist Albert Brinkhuizen. It looked like an US Harem-Style event, with dancers in black make-up ... 

Georg Lankester
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For more blogs about Jean Omer visit MY JAZZ LINKS: Jean Omer

Jean Omer, the active Belgian reed player and bandleader is the key figure in two blogs dedicated to this, nowadays almost forgotten, Belgian jazz musician, founder of the Le Boeuf sur le Toit and responsible for dozens of great swing recordings. Georg Lankester spotlights his prewar years ......
Keep Swinging (old) Oscar Aleman Choro Music Flexible Records Hit of the Week-Durium Friends of the Keep Swinging blog Keep Swinging Contributions

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