Oscar D’Leon Experiments with “Big Band Classics”

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Legendary Salsa music star Oscar D’Leon released a Big Band album full of American songbook classics, which I found not to be a good match to Oscar’s style, with a few exceptions.

“El Sonero del Mundo” took on a musical experiment with this project, which features a double-CD album that comes in two languages; one CD in English and the other in Spanish.

As I read through Oscar D’Leon’s website, I found that he didn’t choose to do a big band project, but rather, that the project chose him. Producer Roberto Castillo had the idea of creating an album of American songbook classics in big band format and with a Latino singing star, and Oscar’s name popped to the top. Oscar rose to the challenge, as he’s done throughout his career and personal life.

Missed Opportunity of Singing Latin American Classic Songs

Songs Don’t Match Oscar’s Style – for me the American songbook, either in English or Spanish, was nor a good fit for Oscar D’Leon. Take note that these are not Salsa versions of these American classics; they are in the same version Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and others have performed them. The English version was especially hard to listen due to Oscar’s thick accent and his lack of identification with the songs! Even the occasional screams of “Yeah”, where he tries to bring his passion to the English songs, feels cold and unnatural.

Oscar D'Leon's "Big Band Classics" includes 20 songs, although the MP3 versions come as separate albums.
Oscar D’Leon’s “Big Band Classics” includes 20 songs, although the MP3 versions come as separate albums.

In a recent TV interview, Oscar D’Leon admits that he is still (now months after the recording) working on the pronunciation of the songs in English for eventually presenting them in a live performance. He got through the recording with some help from a vocal coach. For now he is rehearsing with his own band only the versions in Spanish. Smart move Oscar!

Although the album in Spanish is much better than the English one, I’m really not fond of the translations of American classics, although again I have to acknowledge that there are a few notable exceptions, such as “A Mi Manera” (My Way), “Sway” (Quien Sera), and “Perhaps” (Quizas, Quizas, Quizas) which are great versions of their English originals. That said, I still feel most songs in the “Big Band Classics” sound a bit forced.

Latin American Songs Would’ve Been a Home Run – the best example of this is the song “Cachito Mío”, of which I’ll provide more details below. But I think that if the big band would’ve played “guarachas”, “boleros”, “tangos”, “huapangos”, “danzones”, and other Latin American rhythms and song classics (Spanish only, por favor), Oscar D’Leon would’ve knocked it out of the park. His voice is still great at 71, and he brings that passion and flavor that reveals his trademark singing style.

Some Gems in “Clásicos de Big Band”

Oscar D'Leon still has his voice intact, and his Latin song classics "Cachito Mío" and "Frenesí" in the Spanish version are the highlights of "Clasicos de Big Band"
Oscar’s voice is still intact, and his Latin song classics “Cachito Mío” and “Frenesí” in the Spanish version are the highlights of “Clasicos de Big Band”

“Cachito Mío” is my favorite – Yes, there are some gems in this album. I definitely enjoyed “Chaito Mío”, popularized in the 50’s by the great Nat “King” Cole. The song has swing, is in Spanish, and Oscar D’Leon clearly shows he feels at home here, letting out his yells of “Como”.

“Frenesí” another gem – someone had the great idea of substituting the terrible “Copacabana” in the English album, for “Frenesí” in the Spanish version, instead of trying to go for a “Copacabana” translation to Spanish. This Latin American classic proves my point; Oscar also sounds incredibly well in “Frenesí”, and had Oscar D’Leon sang only Latin American classics, this would be a totally different review.

Super Big Band sound – the 34-piece band sounded as good as any of the ones used by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or anyone else.

Oscar Retains His Superb Voice – as said, Oscar still conserves his superb voice and charisma into his 70’s.

Download Individual Songs of “Clásicos de Big Band”

Since there are a few good songs here (all in Spanish), I would recommend that you preview and download individual songs of “Clásicos de Big Band”. I don’t think this album is worth buying as a whole.

Those of us that are fans of the great Venezuelan “Sonero del Mundo” will enjoy the 3 or 4 gems in this album.

Two Songs of Oscar D’Leon Big Band in Video

Here are two songs that illustrate the two sides of the coin of “Big Band Classics”. The 1st is “Cachito Mío”, which I mentioned was my favorite of the whole 2-CD set. The 2nd song is “Copacabana” (in English), which I disliked, but you can reach your own conclusions on it.

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5 Comments
  1. Héctor L González says

    ***I appreciate his great effort to interpret many classics even in English, but the truth is that it doesn’t suit Him or his career for where He shines is in his genre Salsa that’s where he truly shines. with His beautiful musical arrangements.

    ***He is one of my favorites South American Salsa interpreters that has managed to gel salsa with the nations and cultures .

    ***He has crossed over to become a Catalytic force in the salsa music industry around the globe. He has made a place for himself in music history ,you can only go into history if your accomplishments transform world cultures.

    That within itself is a gigantic achievement, that even some of the best have yet to achieve. I’ve been following Him with pleasure since the late the late 60’s and early 70’s since he was with the Dimensión Latina, where he made a name for himself and his bass (bajo).

    I do have to congratulate Him on his great efforts.

    I believe that what is happening is that he has reached a plateau( La Cima).

    Many excellent artist don’t recognize the extensive area of a plateau in this great universe , but even on the plateau that he has reached there is so more work to be done, so much more music to be done, that is where his calling is,

    *** Take for example Ismael Miranda, he has not resisted or feared to crossing over that imaginary line to introduce and expand his genre, guaranteeing himself success for many years to come. Of Course that this is just my humble and honest opinion!

    Oscar has taken part in most every Important musical Project that has existed in more than 2 decades except the Fania Stars which was an incorporated Salsa group .He proved his worth and his outstanding talent outside of corporate groups for the exception of RMM where he ended participating as destiny would have it, leaving his mark, with some of the Fania All Stars. Oscar D’Leon has much to achieve still and many young generations to conquer.

    His hopes are to conquer and leave his print on those who have their hearts already fixed on the original interpreters of the old classics .

    Most of the old classic interpreters and recording companies will not give permission for him to take the classics and musical arrangements into another realm of music, another musical genre, which makes his conquest difficult.

    I suspect that this is a personal goal of his, to expand his musical legacy. He still has a Venezuelan Volcano of Talent Erupting from His spirit that has to be heard in the universal language of music .
    His part in the last Sergio George project ( Salsa Giants, para Celebrar)who was as well a part of RMM ,was outstanding.
    Many might disagree but ‘s fine too.
    Congratulations Oscar! Congratulations Latino Café

    Respectfully …. Héctor L. González

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Hi tocayo,
      I think you and I are on the same wavelength. Always good to read your insightful comments. If you ever feel like writing a blog about a particular subject regarding Latin music, let me know and I can let you be a guest blogger.

      Saludos,

      Hector

      1. Anonymous says

        Bottom line: Oscar is a salsa singer. That’s his style. Swing is a language as is English. Mr. DeLeón doesn’t understand either one. His phrasing is very poor and totally out of character. And it’s pretty difficult to master a good English accent. It literally takes a lifetime. Honestly, he has no business singing these songs. Would you record an album with Tony Bennett singing salsa?

  2. Rodrigo Saenz says

    Oscar has no business singing these songs. Swing and English are languages with which he’s not familiar at all. The arrangement of “under my skin,” for instance, is a carnon copy of Nelson Riddle’s arrangement of Sinatra’s rendition (a classic!). So, one can’t help but compare the two versions. It would be like having Frank “work on his Spanish” and getting him to sing “Me voy pa’ Cali”. It would be a disaster. I rest my case.

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