Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli in the Netherlands (1937) - Part one

Georg Lankester, expert in the French pre-WWII jazz scene, Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of Hot Club de France, gives an account of the first visit of QHCF in the Netherlands. Below follows part one, the second part will be published later.

Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt was born in 1910 and proved already in his youth to be a highly gifted musician. Playing on his six strings’ banjo, which his gypsy family had given him,  he became a star at the popular Musette balls, sought after by the accordionists in Paris at the end of the Twenties.
Great musicians such as Gusti Malha and Poulette Castro had taught him the basic principles of playing, but the boy gradually developed his own playing technique which no other banjoist could equal.
The young artist won prizes and earned a lot of money since the top accordion players wanted to be accompanied by him. That’s why e.g. Jean Vaissade already made records with Django in the early days of the grammophone.
After a fire accident in his caravan (November 1928) which caused severe burns on his left leg and arm, a long recovery time followed. It took 18 months before he would come back on stage in Paris. His left hand remained crippled and only allowed the use of two fingers.
The last few months of his rehabilitation a member of the family had handed him a guitar for distraction and – who would have expected this? – he then developed a new playing technique adapted to his handicap.
So in the early Thirties Django – now as a guitarist - came back into the Parisian music scene and could be heard with singers.
Jean Sablon
The very popular singer Jean Sablon selected him for his small group and in 1933/34 several beautiful songs were recorded in France, followed by BBC radio broadcasts in England and performances in the Casino of Monaco. But Django was also attracted by new American jazz themes like “Tiger Rag,“After you’ve gone”and many others.
Stéphane Grappelli
He then met violinist/piano player Stéphane Grappelli which, on the initiative of the Hot Club de France leaders would result in the founding of the first jazz string quartet in the world. The two star soloists soon made a name in Europe as well in the USA and their performances were received with astonishment and admiration.

A year full of jazz
1937 would become a remarkable and historical year with lots of surprises as to the Jazz in Europe. Since the foundation of the Hot Club quintet, the group had got quite a reputation. The two star soloists on guitar and violin, accompanied by a strong rhythm section had great success, not only in Europe but also in America. Their records were sold everywhere and these even are available till the present day.
A huge event was going to take place, for in 1937 the great World Exhibition in Paris would be held, a reason for the Hot Club de France leaders (in particular Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié) to invite American jazz giants to France for concerts and recording sessions. And so it happened.
However, already several months before this event, the celebrated quintet was invited to perform at the 5th ‘Jazz World’ party in Holland. The initiative was taken by the Dutch Jazz Liga, managed by Eddy Crommelin and sponsored by magazine “Jazzwereld” (Jazz World). 
And  – for the very first time - the illustrious formation travelled to the Netherlands.
On Saturday July 10 one could speak of a full house in the big ‘Kurhaus’ ballroom for a memorable gala concert.
As can be seen from the attached advertisement, this party was rounded off by a ball with the Dutch band “Jacques Kluger’s Collegians’ and piano player Ernst van ’t Hoff.  Moreover people could watch that evening films of Benny Goodman and others.
After this very special event,  the abovementioned magazine published a favourable review. Due to this report we get a good impression of the program which was presented that particular night whereby several performed themes are described.

We learn that the quintet opened with “Exactly like you” which – according to the reporter – immediately excited the audience. Then people could listen to “Limehouse blues” and “Blue  Drag” followed by “Honeysuckle rose”, Django’s “Boléro” and the “Tiger Rag”, all described as  ’superb performances’. As to the two star soloists, expressions were used as ‘fully inspired, highly emotional, dynamic performances with touching inflexions’. Those words would be impossible to use in our times!
After the break we read that compositions like “Speevy”, “I’ve had my moments”and “In the still of the night”were played and again the reporter is very favourable about them and continues:
Then a funny thing happened. Immediately after the final theme was played a  few strong guys entered the stage, picked up the bass and carried it away,  till – in a hurry – it was decided to put it back again, which took a while. All this caused, of course,  great merriment.
 To round off their program the quintet ended with”Moonglow” and “Nagasaki” enthusiastically received by all persons present.

To be continued

Georg Lankester

Retrospect Keep Swinging (old) Oscar Aleman Choro Music Flexible Records Hit of the Week-Durium Friends of the Keep Swinging blog Keep Swinging Contributions

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Luca Velotti Quartet - Moonray

Mainstream jazz is a genre of jazz music that was first used in reference to the playing styles around 1950 by musicians, who did not abandon swing for bebop performing the music in smaller ensembles. Today mainstream jazz is still performed in clubs, at festivals or similar venues and the music is also exposed in various recordings appreciated and well received by a wide audience that primarily perceives jazz as entertainment with recognizable musical themes to create or accompany a pleasant atmosphere. This, however, does not mean that mainstream jazz musicians are just copy cats and unimaginative reproducers of a tradition long left by the vanguard of progressive jazz performance. Mainstream jazz musicians are skilled performers that keep the swing tradition alive by adding their personal interpretation and improvisation to the performed musical themes, some also add new themes to the inventory of standard tunes. An example of a contemporary successful mainstream jazz production is the new CD by Luca Velotti Quartet - Moonray, shown below

CD front: Luca Velotti Quartet - Moonray (Luckyvelox), 2015
Luca Velotti (b 1966) is an Italian clarinet and sax player with an international career and a stable sideman with Italian songwriter Paolo Conte since 1992. Velotti graduated in clarinet at the Conservatory "A. Casella" Aquila and studied arrangement, clarinet and jazz saxophone with Bob Wilber and Bill Smith. He has worked, often in New York, alongside big names of American jazz, such as Bob Wilber, Dick Sudhalter, Kenny Davern, a.o. participating among other things as a special guest at a concert of the Sidney Bechet Society. Luca Velotti has released several recordings as a leader of his own jazz ensemble, on the new CD he is featured in a quartet setting that comprises Michele Ariodante (guitar, vocal), Gerardo Bartoccini (double bass), Carlo Battisti (drums) and Velotti himself alternating between clarinet, tenor sax and soprano sax.
Luca Velotti, clarinet (photo by Pier Andrea Morolli)
The repertoire of the CD has a wide variety of influences, from the more traditional repertoire (Jitterbug waltz, I’m in the mood for love, Shine) to seldom played standards (Moonray by clarinetist Artie Shaw, I’ll be seeing you) and blues songs  (Gee baby ain’t I good to you, Nobody knows you when you’re down and out). Beyond that, Velotti’s love for South American musical genres, such as choro and habanera, is represented by Migalhas de amor, (by Brazilian mandolin player Jacob do Bandolim), Anita and So cool, two of the three Velotti originals on the record (the third, Sidney and Louis is a slow swing tune dedicated to two of his heroes). The CD has 11 tracks and is presented in a promotion video uploaded at YouTube

The Luca Velotti Quartet is a well organized and well played mainstream jazz ensemble featuring great sidemen that provide good opportunity for Velotti's inspired interpretations of familiar and lesser-known themes in addition to his own compositions that fit perfect into contemporary jazz performance.
Luca Velotti Quartet - l-r: Michele Ariodandte (g,voc), Gerardo Bartoccini (double bass),
Luca Velotti (soprane sax), Carlo Battisti (drums) (source: YouTube)
To give you an impression of Luca Velotti Quartet in live performance, I'll insert a couple of videos recorded at a concert Semptember 2013 featuring music available at the new CD. - Here is first a presentation of Nobody knows you when you're down and out 

From the same live performance, here is Luca Velotti Quartet playing Jacob do Bandolim's Migalhas de amor 

Finally, to end this small presentation, here is Luca Velotti Quartet playing Jitterbug Waltz 

More info about Luca Velotti's Moonray CD, here, the cd is available for purchase as digital download from Amazon, CDbaby and Itunes, see the mentioned link.

Retrospect Keep Swinging (old) Oscar Aleman Choro Music Flexible Records Hit of the Week-Durium Friends of the Keep Swinging blog Keep Swinging Contributions

Monday, June 8, 2015

Oscar and the Duke: An Encounter In Paris, 1933

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.
Illustration 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 story.
Concert 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 HyltonMusic-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 substitute.
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. 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.
Handwritten dedications to Oscar (click to enlarge), wrongly dated 1932
Some 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.
The 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

Retrospect Keep Swinging (old) Oscar Aleman Choro Music Flexible Records Hit of the Week-Durium Friends of the Keep Swinging blog Keep Swinging Contributions