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.
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”
“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.