John Ouwerx

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The Belgian jazz pianist John Ouwerx was ahead of his time, realizing there would be a market for swinging music in the lowlands when many of his peers were still busy designing innovative waffle fixings.…
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The Belgian jazz pianist John Ouwerx was ahead of his time, realizing there would be a market for swinging music in the lowlands when many of his peers were still busy designing innovative waffle fixings. But even he didn't predict that he would someday be identified with recording songs mistakenly identified under the titles "Only Forever Locve Universe the Things You of Acres," and the slightly more sensible "I Can't Love You Anymore Sweeping the Floor." The failure to envision such a calamity can't really be blamed on the man, after all who could have envisioned the insanity of computer translation programs, which created the precending mess out of the titles of sides originally cut by Ouwerx and fellow Belgian jazz hotshot Johnny Jack for Decca. The same computer program identified the genre for this titles as "piano lecture" when it was done gargling with them, and perhaps a lecture is truly in order to explain what the titles are all about.

Ouwerx grew up in Belguim at the turn of the 20th century, moving to New York City in the hot summer of 1925. Listeners in this era might have heard him playing organ at the Strand Palace, a regular gig despite green-card issues. He made history upon his return to Belguim four months later, performing the country's premiere of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Through the late '20s, he performed in an ensemble entitled Bistrouille A.D.O. and also lectured on the subject of jazz. In 1928, he toured the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, and even got as far as Egypt. In another group under the leadership of violinist Marek Weber, Ouwerx toured Hungary and Germany as well as additional gigs among the chocolate dreamers of Switzerland. He began working as an arranger for film music, and made his premiere recordings in 1931 with Gus Deloopf. In 1934, he was based out of Antwerp and played in the band of Robert De Kers, as well as with Stan Brenders. The activity of the latter gentleman brought Ouwerx his widest exposure. Brenders tapped his pianist friend to take part in a large-ensemble recording project highlighting the guitar stylings of Django Reinhardt. In other words, improvised passages played with such blinding speed and accuracy that the reaction of most guitarists is similar to a stroke, although not as physically dangerous. The instrumental lineup included a string section, as well as tracks cut with the violins and violas out having a sandwich break. The historic music that emerged from these sessions includes the tracks "Divine Beguine," "Nuages," "Djangology," "Eclats de Cuivres," "Django Rag," and the brilliant "Dynamisme."

Ouwerx worked under the baton of Brenders throughout the war years, from 1936 to 1944. Following this period he became involved in an extravagent musical kick, concerts of music for both two and four pianos, bringing him together with the aforementoned Jack as well as Egide Van Gils and Fud Candrix. The smooth Ouwerx was a regular piano tinkler at the Continental in Brussels, then took off for the Belgian coast of Africa, where he opened his own piano bar. A period of nearly a decade jazzing up the Belgian Congo ensued; long before this land was transformed into independent Zaire, the pianist was back in Belguim, even getting in on the World's Fair of 1958. The final 15 years of his life were spent running a piano bar in Brussels; he could be heard performing there, retaining a unique touch and pleasant melodic style.