Maestro, can you play a tango now?   1 comment

Maestro, can you play a tango now?

“It was fashionable at the time after playing a concert to have a question and answer session with the audience. In those days, the early 1960s, the musicians did not look at their watches so much. They were looser. After we played, the coordinator of the event introduced me, I talked about what I thought about tango at the time, and I then asked for questions. In truth, I was unlucky right from the start because I gave the microphone to this guy who looked like a weasel and kept staring at me. The guy stood up and put it to me without blinking: Maestro, now that the concert is over, are you going to play a tango? It was not the last time it happened. Maestro, can you play a tango followed me like a curse.” – Astor Piazzolla

A few months after a stroke rendered Astor Piazzolla unable to recover from a slow and irreversible transition to his death, which finally occurred on July 4, 1992, the sixty-nine year old controversial musical genius told Argentine sportswriter Natalio Gorin a retrospective tale of his life. They met for three consecutive days, early in 1990, in the resort city of Punta del Este in Uruguay. Just before Gorin turned on his tape recorder, he produced an old letter with a very personal line, in Piazzolla‘s own handwriting that read, “Never believe what I tell journalists.” This reminder was a way of making Piazzolla cognizant of a commitment to tell the true story. Piazzolla, who had a tendency, in the style of Jorge Luis Borges, to say certain things for the fun of it, to provoke, accepted the rules. Amadeus Press of Portland, Oregon, has published Gorin’s book, translated, annotated, and expanded by Fernando Gonzalez, a regular contributor to The Washington Post, Down Beat magazine, and National Public Radio, under the title, Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir. Piazzolla‘s untimely stroke before meeting Gorin again to review the material, suddenly left Gorin alone with the work, moved by this blow of fate and with a huge sense of responsibility.

The first version of Astor Piazzolla: A Manera de Memorias (By way of memories) arrived in bookstores in March 1991. People who read it, let Gorin know their opinions in many different ways. After Piazzolla’s death, the book went through a revision, to complete the portrayal of his life, and because it was possible for the author to enrich the memoir with testimonies that are key to the story.

Bringing forth personal memories, experiences, and ideas explored over hundreds of hours of conversations with Piazzolla’s friends, his acquaintances, his enemies, and most of his musicians, Gorin also added a poignant chapter of his own to say good-bye to his idol. Of such treasures, he held back nothing, and it’s devastating.

There can be no doubt about the genius of Astor Piazzolla, the Mozart and Gershwin player of the bandoneon, insatiable composer, trail blazing arranger and demanding orchestra conductor. His work is well known and available all over the world. He continues to be a cult figure for classical and jazz lovers worldwide.

Piazzolla “knew” that his music would be heard in the year 2020, as well as in the year 3000. He knew that his music was different. He believed that he was going to bequeath to history, like Carlos Gardel. He knew that he would endure, because like Gardel, he didn’t consider himself a mediocrity. He made sure to tell Gorin all this, so we wouldn’t forget, “I am a tango man, but my music makes people think, people who love tango and people who love good music. All ballet companies in the world are dancing my works. The jazz people love and enjoy what I do. Chamber groups that play classical repertoire are asking me to write for them.”

In Europe his music has always been respected; not so in Argentina. He was criticized for decades, and he defended himself, he fought, he argued, but, as he tells Gorin, “I had fun. Without realizing it, they (his detractors) helped create Astor Piazzolla’s reputation.

Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir is the definitive version. It is a great document. It is a must read for everybody who is not afraid to be confronted with the realities of human life and the struggles for survival and recognition.
The book has fourteen chapters plus a postscript, Gorin’s own essay, and a revealing collection of commentaries by Horacio Ferrer (president of the Academia Nacional del Tango, and lyricist for some of Piazzolla‘s most successful ballads), (jazz musician) Gary Burton, Atilio Talin (Piazzolla’s friend, manager and agent for twenty years), and Leopoldo Federico (one of the most forgotten geniuses of the bandoneon, who played along with Piazzolla, and today heads one of the government sponsored tango music schools). A chronological listing of Piazzolla’s musicians and singers precede the most comprehensive discography of recordings by Astor Piazzolla to date.

In this book, the words of Astor Piazzolla, the man, talk to and touch people in many different ways, depending on which side of the love/hate/who cares equation the reader happens to be. Many questions about his music being tango or not, or whether he “killed” the tango or sired a “new” tango, will be answered while, perhaps, an entire new set of controversies will begin, as Piazzolla relates his unique life story and analyzes the factors that contributed to forge his personality, his view of the world, and his destiny.

Natalio Gorin made his fame as a well known and respected sports journalist. He “discovered” Piazzolla on a television show in the early 1960s and heard him live for the first time in 1962 at a dive, in downtown Buenos Aires, with a room capacity of about forty people. By then Piazzolla had “renounced” tango; shelved the bandoneon; gone to Paris on a grant to study classical music; been told by Nadia Boulanger to stick to “his” native music; resumed writing music like mad; heard the Gerry Mulligan Octet, and decided to imitate him, but featuring the best tango musicians he could find in Buenos Aires; founded the Octeto Buenos Aires; gone back to New York; written his most famous piece, Adios Nonino; and returned to Buenos Aires to form his most famous group, the Quinteto.

The 1960’s were traumatic for the inhabitants of Buenos Aires with the aftermath of the dismantling of the Peronist political machine and the subsequent series of military coups and short lived flirtatious attempts to establish democratic governments unraveled. The invasion of rock and roll, and the Beatles served as a catalyst for the changes in the way many began to see the world. Gorin, part of a generation bent on rescuing native intellectualism, saw Piazzolla’s music as a natural evolution towards some elusive respectability for the proletarian, disorderly and morally offensive origins of the tango. Gorin became part of a small group of about one hundred fans who devotedly followed Piazzolla’s career and his presentations in small cafe concerts in Buenos Aires.

In 1971, while vacationing in Europe with his wife, Gorin read about Piazzolla living in Paris. He showed up at Piazzolla’s quarters, rang the bell, identified himself as a compatriot big fan of him, and was invited in. Thus began a friendship that continued until Piazzolla’s death, with an eight year interruption between 1978 and 1986. After a concert in 1978, Piazzolla became angry when he perceived Gorin’s slight of Laura Piazzolla, his third wife. Gorin later admitted that he was wrong, but it was an ugly reaction that banished him from Piazzolla’s life. Piazzolla brought a lot of suffering to many who became a target of his uncontrolled temperament.

That is why, Argentinians, who have often times “offered their lives” for Peron, Evita and Maradona, have never voiced such a generous sacrifice for Piazzolla. Some have gone as far as to “give” their lives for the music of Piazzolla, which is a very different thing. Perhaps the most graphic and bold quote is one by Aldo Pagani at the beginning of Gorin‘s own The Penultimate Goodbye chapter, “Who is Piazzolla? Onstage he is God, offstage he’s a son of a bitch.” Pagani is the man who had so much to do with the crowning of Astor Piazzolla‘s music, first in Europe and later throughout the world.

The readers would do well in keeping Piazzolla‘s memoirs in perspective by often reminding themselves that the eloquent account of his life is a retrospective view from the mind of a sixty-nine years old man who had gone to hell and back in pursuit of a purpose for an uncontrollable creative musical genius.

Life for Astor Pantaleon Piazzolla begun uneventfully on March 11, 1921, like many other lives of sons of Italian immigrant parents in Mar del Plata, a beach resort city four hundred kilometers south of Buenos Aires. His parents were Asunta Manetti, and Vicente Piazzolla, both born in Mar del Plata also, from Italian parents with blood lines traced to both Puglia in lower Italy, and Tuscany, today, the most chic region in Italy.

Right away life turned a trump card on Astor in the form of a defect caused by infantile paralysis (polio) during his mother’s pregnancy, and he underwent four operations on his right leg before he turned four years old.
The formative years are the period of time early in life when most of the moral, social, and family values are etched into a children’s conscience, forming the foundation that will support for the rest of their lives, the actions they take, the choices they make, and the destiny they get. This is fundamental to understanding how traumatic it must have been for Astor, a short, lame child forced to wear special shoes to conceal the different length of his legs, to be uprooted when he was barely four years old, and transplanted to New York City.

In the 1920’s, violence spawned by neighborhood clashes between gangster gangs that came from ethnic backgrounds as diverse as Italians, Jews and Irish, was a way of life for many residents of New York City.
It is safe to assume that Astor Piazzolla grew up as a red blooded American kid on the streets of Manhattan. In spite of his father’s efforts to keep him out of trouble, to instill a desire for a musical vocation, and to provide him with a religious education, Astor fought to overcome his perceived handicaps, and he set out to excel, to become one youth crusader against the world.

He ran the streets and fought the Jews as a member of a strong gang of sons of Italians. He ran away from home against the wishes of his father. He ignored the doctors advice against playing sports, and jumped into baseball games and ran like everyone else. He won several 100- and 200- meter events in swimming meets. With a right leg two centimeters shorter, he took on tap dancing lessons and even danced in public. He had pals such as Jack La Motta, who later would become middleweight world champion, and Joseph Campanella, who in time became a famous baseball player, but most of the rest of the gang ended up in jail.

Don Vicente, affectionately known as Nonino, played an important role in providing some elements that would be key to Piazzolla‘s future. Astor had gone to the extreme of shoplifting a Honner chromatic harmonic as a teenager, after asking his father for one since he was eight. Instead, his father bought him a bandoneon, that stayed untouched in a closet for several years. But it was his mother, who wanted to have him attend religious schools, and unknowingly brought music for the first time to Piazzolla‘s life. Listening to Brahms and Mozart symphonies, Astor would be tested and was able to recognize the composer of a passage before anyone else.

Music had found him, but he had not discovered it yet, because in an effort to stand out, he was the class buffoon, laughing and making others laugh. This would prove to be a lethal personality trait that later in life would gain him enemies more than his experiments with the tango status quo.

At age nine, there was a short-lived return to Mar del Plata, where he took his first bandoneon lessons from a friend of his father, Homero Pauloni and experienced once again the anguish of those who don’t belong and are made aware of that. He spoke English and he wore the clothes that his mother had bought him in New York. Those who saw him as a foreign child muttering pidgin Spanish made fun of him. His New York chutzpa, and his left jab punches put an end to the laughing in short time, but this again, was an omen of things to come. Piazzolla the fighter would land and take punches for most of his early manhood years in Buenos Aires. The Depression was hitting hard, so shortly afterward his father decided to return to New York.

Graduation day 1934 for Astor, with dad Vicente and mom Asunta Manetti

Graduation day 1934 for Astor, with dad Vicente and mom Asunta Manetti

In the chapter, Self Portrait, Piazzolla indicates that he discovered music when he was eleven, when he heard a piano playing what later he found out to be Bach. The piano player, turned out to be Hungarian born Bela Wilda, a disciple of Rachmaninoff. Bela became his teacher but before that, Piazzolla had gotten his first notion about the bandoneon with an Argentine musician living in New York, before taking lessons during his short first return to Argentina. But it was Bela who made Piazzolla get his bandoneon out of the closet, and taught him how to play Bach on that instrument which was a double rarity in New York.

Although the Latin American community in the city was not too large, young Astor found himself the center of attraction as a child prodigy, which boosted his confidence and fueled his incipient arrogance. Soon, he played on the bandoneon anything from classics, Spanish music, Mexican songs and Argentine folk songs. When Gardel visited New York, his father sent Astor to Gardel‘s hotel with a present as a token of respect from an old tanguero admirer. The Argentine crooner and matinee idol became fond of the streetwise Argentine kid with a command of the English language, and appointed him to be his guide around the city. When Gardel found out that Astor played the bandoneon, he got him a cameo appearance in his film El dia que me quieras, not before making fun of him because he played like a “gallego” and putting him under the supervision of Terig Tucci, who was conducting the orchestra.

Much has been said about the sequence of events that led to the tragic death of Gardel one year later, and the stroke of fate that kept Astor Piazzolla from joining Gardel on his tour and facing the same destiny. The truth is, that Piazzolla‘s parents did not want the child (he was only thirteen) to leave home and the family at such a young age. It is doubtful that Piazzolla then, had any idea of what that experience meant or what influence may have exerted on him. He was too busy committing all kind of acts of aggression to hide his insecurities, and his fears of the unknown behind an image of toughness and transgression.

Although there is no credible evidence that he had any idea who Carlos Gardel was, or what his brief encounter with the Argentine singer in New York meant in the realm of his future career as a musician, there is no doubt that Piazzolla’s relationship with the tango started in New York, “having to listen to my chagrin, to those records that my dad had.

When the Piazzollas of New York finally decided to move back to Argentina, Astor was a sixteen-year old, streetwise, red blooded New Yorker, a teenager with an penchant for pranks and an irreverent attitude for the new world he was facing. Although his nationality has never been questioned, as it is the case with Gardel, one could safely state that the Piazzolla that the world recognizes as one of the greatest musical genius of the twentieth century, was born in Argentina at the age of seventeen.

Mature as Piazzolla seemed to have been in musical terms, he lacked from a personal point of view the formative years that the musicians he encountered in his initial foray into the world of the tango, already had.
In the late 1930’s, the focal point of the tango night scene was the cabaret, a cosmetic front for the clandestine sex-for-money forays of the rich and powerful.

The period covering 1938-1950 in Piazzolla’s own account of his life shows a man who was bitter and vindictive at times, brutal in his evaluation of other musicians, full of ironies, contradictions, mordancy, self-inflicted denial, and irreverent arrogance.

Although there is plenty of evidence that tango was not what turned Astor Piazzolla on, a fact that he acknowledges at a later age, his own recollection indicates that as a virtuoso of the bandoneon, the world of tango seemed to be the only way to go, after he first came across Elvino Vardaro and Miguel Calo in Mar del Plata.

A new world was unfolding in front of his eyes, and he wanted to shock and impress everyone with his ability to play Mozart and a little Gershwin on an instrument which he was hearing being played in a totally different way by tango musicians.

He moved to Buenos Aires in 1938. Sharing a room in a run down boarding house, Astor soon found out that the city that was not an easy place to be for someone who, having grown up in one of the worst neighborhoods of New York City, had been pampered and protected by caring parents. From the onset, he rejected and despised the environment where bad orchestras played (tango) music he didn’t like, and the men and women who behaved in immoral ways. He showed his contempt by doing many wicked things and having fun at doing that.

Such sophomoric behavior is described in his own account about the time when he loosened the screws on Francisco Lauro’s bandoneon and telling him, before going onstage, that a customer had requested Loca, a tango in E minor in which he had to open out the instrument. “He (Lauro) started playing, and in the middle of the tune the screws went flying and the bandoneon came unhinged.Piazzolla lasted three months with his first employer. He left because he could not stand that setting, and Lauro couldn’t stand him. Something similar would happen later with (Anibal) Troilo: “three times he wanted to fire me because of things I had done in the cabaret.

Piazzolla spent five “beautiful” years in Troilo’s orchestra, from 1939 to 1944. It was another tango baptismal premonition that his tormented personality failed to recognize, like meeting Carlos Gardel in New York or discovering the Elvino Vardaro Sextet in Mar del Plata. Troilo was ten years his senior, and at twenty-eight he had earned his stripes growing up as a bandoneon child prodigy much as Piazzolla had, but he had matured under the tutelage of De Caro, Maffia and Vardaro, among many others musicians of the 1930’s generation. Piazzolla paid lip service many times throughout his life to Maffia, Troilo, and even Pugliese, but he never really understood how to respect them.

Playing with Troilo he made good money (approximately $240 a month. D’Arienzo, by comparison was paying the most, $300, but Piazzolla would have never joined that orchestra. He already had his personality and well-defined musical taste). That allowed him to get married to plastic art student Dede Wolf, rent an apartment, and continue his “serious” musical studies on the side. About these times, he recalls, “Between the anger that the cabaret world produced in me and the problems I had with certain musicians, my enthusiasm began to wane… Playing with Troilo did not seem to me the ultimate goal.

It was during these times that Piazzolla had started studying with Alberto Ginastera and he would do his homework in dressing rooms, rehearsing with Hugo Baralis, Kicho and David Diaz, and sometimes when a piano was available, with Orlando Goñi. Troilo was not happy with the situation because “if I took my ideas to the orchestra it might undermine his style.” Gradually Piazzolla began to make arrangements for the orchestra, trying everything he was learning with Ginastera. Troilo became the censor of all his arrangements. Piazzolla would write down two hundred notes and Troilo would erase half of them. To make him mad, Piazzolla sometimes would use complicated chords.

Life in the orchestra was getting harder and harder and the practical jokes got out of hand. Piazzolla would find his bandoneon filled with garbage, his homework messed up. He would retaliate in kind. Cabarets were real whorehouses and what upset Piazzolla the most, was being dumped on. So, in 1944, being only twenty-three and fed up with Troilo’s crossing out his arrangements and the cabaret life, he quit the orchestra. The tango world was shocked. People said it was a betrayal. Troilo got very mad. In truth, Piazzolla just wanted to play his own music.

In retrospective, Piazzolla, listening to his early recordings, recognizes that there was an intention to change, but at the time it was not clear what he actually wanted. He found his true seam in 1951 when he wrote Para lucirse (To show off). But before that, he went to hell and back. Having left Troilo, he directed the orchestra of Francisco Fiorentino, who coincidentally, also had left Anibal Troilo. The attacks continued, the lack of understanding was greater, not just from the public who rejected Piazzolla’s audacity in tinkering with the tango, but also from Piazzolla himself, who couldn’t see that the rejection to his alien ideas tainted with foreign music concepts, was partially because jazz, for example, was a four letter word for the tango musicians at the time.

In 1946 he formed his first orchestra. It was a very modern orchestra for its time, but it had little commercial appeal. He introduced counterpoints, fugues, and new harmonic forms into the music. He had a small following of people who prefered to have a cup of coffee and listen. Because he wasn’t getting any offers from the radio, like every other orchestra director, he realized that things weren’t working out. In 1949 he put the bandoneon away, dissolved the orchestra, and quit the tango forever.

Although the memoirs are not exactly related in a chronological form, it is possible to rescue some insights in trying to explain the unexplainable about Astor Piazzolla and his tormented love affair with the tango. He acknowledges for example, that the people of Buenos Aires loved “that music” played by the older generation by the likes of Julio and Francisco De Caro, Juan Carlos Cobian, Pedro Maffia and Pedro Laurenz. He underscores Buenos Aires because “the tango scent exists right up to the city limits, perhaps a little beyond, but that’s where it ends. (Folklore pianist) Ariel Ramirez can play an irreproachable version of Comme Il Faut. (Folk singer) Mercedes Sosa can sing Los mareados very well. But they always said that although tango and folk music are two very authentic Argentine expressions, they cannot be played at the same time. You have to pick one or the other. The man from Buenos Aires is different from the one from (provinces) Salta, Tucuman, or Mendoza. I don’t say better or worse. I say different.” Perhaps as different as a man from New York?

A second reincarnation of Astor Piazzolla began in 1953. Since the demise of his first and only tango orchestra, he had kept busy writing several scores for films. With the premiere of his Buenos Aires Symphony in Buenos Aires, he won a cash award and a scholarship to study in France. He settled in Montmartre with his wife Dede and with little money, in a beautiful and unforgettable bohemian life. Tired and frustrated of his recent experiences with Troilo, the cabaret and his own orchestra, Piazzolla thought that his future was in classical music as a pianist and composer. At first he hid his past from teacher Nadia Boulanger, but as she failed to find any spirit in the works he had brought along, Piazzolla fessed up about his work with Troilo, his own orchestra, and the bandoneon hidden in a closet. Listening to Piazzolla play on the piano some of his vanguard tango compositions, Nadia Boulanger might have changed the history of the tango by declaring, “Here is the true Piazzolla – do not ever leave him.” That seemed to have been a great revelation in Piazzolla‘s musical life.

In 1955 Piazzolla heard the Gerry Mulligan Octet in Paris, and as it had happened almost twenty years earlier with Vardaro in Mar del Plata, he felt an urge to imitate Mulligan‘s concept, but featuring the best tango musicians in Buenos Aires.

A military coup had just ended Peron‘s regime, broken the constitutional order and in the name of freedom had sent many innocent lives before the firing squad. The influence of the Golden Years was still omnipresent on the radio and in the movies. The Octeto Buenos Aires, the most revolutionary group in tango history made its appearance into that landscape. They were, Piazzolla and Leopoldo Federico (bandoneon), Atilio Stampone (piano), Enrique Mario Francini and Hugo Baralis (violin), Jose Bragato (cello), Juan Vasallo (bass), Horacio Malvicino (guitar). A star studded alignment which broke with conventional forms with such a shocking boldness that provoked reactions in perhaps the most disgraceful moment in the history of tango.

In The Penultimate Goodbye chapter, author Natalio Gorin describes it with a chilling impact, “(The Octeto) featured new rhythmic and sound effects, string counterpoint, a violin that sounded like a drum, the cello and the bass as low drums, formidable soloists, and an aggressive electric guitar improvising in most of the pieces… Some arrangements suggested disrespect… The hundred fans of the Octeto howled with pleasure wherever the group played… The Octeto Buenos Aires lasted only a year and a half… The rejection was to be expected, partially because of natural tendencies against anything new and because of traditional tango’s deep roots in the community.

The real fraud was committed by the radio personalities who wouldn’t play the Octeto’s records, and by those who controlled the business of tango. In order to record, Piazzolla, who was already paying the musicians out of his own pocket, had to sign away all royalties. This is an area which Piazzolla acknowledges to Gorin, “The truth after many years, is that there was a dummy, me, who took the money out of my own pocket to pay most of the musicians while someone else made the profits. We are still in litigation… I made similar mistakes regarding (publishing) rights later on, I was duped many times, and in other instances I was naive.

Impulsive and daring, in his mid-thirties, Piazzolla let his music be defined by a narrow minded generation of self-appointed protectors of the genre. His formative years in New York City perhaps played a role in his failure to grasp the deep rooted major social changes that were taking place in front of his own eyes. Rather than staying and fighting, he, who at the time of the recording of his memoirs “owned up to his own atrocities,” opted for yet another flight of fancy.

Like Nonino Piazzolla had done some thirty years earlier, Astor returned to New York City in 1958. He was practically broke, although the recordings of the Octeto were filling the pockets of the producers who had allowed him to record in exchange for giving away the royalties. He had the ambition of working as a film music composer in Hollywood because of a contact he had made in Buenos Aires. The deal fell through.
He even considered applying for a job as a translator in a bank, but the opportunity to back up a singer allowed him to put together The Jazz Tango Quintet. For those who drool at Piazzolla‘s tinkering with musical genres (and even have the audacity of describing their grotesque parodies to that music as tango dancing), read what Astor had to say about that, “It was a monstrosity featuring bandoneon, electric guitar, vibraphone, piano, and bass. It had a certain success, but I still consider it a sin… In the music there was a kernel of Piazzolla, but there were certain things that went against my principles. I did it to eat.

With that in mind,” he continues, “I agreed to do a show with Juan Carlos Copes, Maria Nieves and a ballet directed by Ana Itelman. What they did have was class, but I was not very happy with the music.
It was during a performance with Copes in Puerto Rico in 1959 that Astor received the devastating news of his father’s death.

Pressed by Gorin, Piazzolla names Adios Nonino as his number one composition piece. He has challenged himself to write a better one but he couldn’t. The composition has universal recognition because of a melody which plays off a very strong rhythmic foundation; then it changes key and ends with glorious and sad resolution.
Piazzolla recounts that he wrote Adios Nonino in less than an hour secluded in a room of his New York apartment. “On the trip from the airport to the house on 92nd Street, the image of Nonino appeared to me on every wall in New York. In that piece I left all the memories I had of my dad.

This masterpiece performance of ADIOS NONINO is from the first recording of the Quintet in 1961, PIAZZOLLA PLAYS PIAZZOLLA. Simon Bajour, violin, Jaime Goss, piano, Horacio Malvicino, electric guitar and Kicho Diaz, counterbass join Astor Piazzolla, bandoneon

If Adios Nonino was his best composition according to Piazzolla, the last thing that the Quinteto Buenos Aires recorded, La camorra, was the best recording in Piazzolla‘s history.
In spite of his condemnation of the Jazz Tango Quintet, Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires and in 1960 he formed his quintessential Quinteto. Not being able to find a suitable vibraphone player, he added a violin, and an extraordinary period of bohemia ensued. Playing at small dives in front of a few dozen coffee drinking fans, Piazzolla (bandoneon, Osvaldo Manzi (piano), Antonio Agri (violin), Kicho Diaz (bass) and Oscar Lopez Ruiz (electric guitar), sometimes got paid, sometimes they didn’t.

From a whorehouse in the Northern province of Tucuman to Philharmonic Hall in New York, the celebrated Quinteto received ovations and rejections, playing everywhere, out of conviction, and without too many choices.
Anger and happiness filled Piazzolla‘s days in the decade of the 1960’s, but a major chapter in the music of Buenos Aires was being recorded in a body of work that many to this day have not realized its existence, refuse to recognize its existence, or prefer to continue using Piazzolla‘s later incursions into classical music as a pretext for not understanding what is tango and what is not.

Whether Astor Piazzolla was a New Yorker who felt at home in Argentina, or an Argentinian who felt at home in New York, the fact is that intellectually he towered like King Kong over the Empire State of the Buenos Aires tango establishment. Pugliese acknowledged that Piazzolla forced all of them to study. Jorge Luis Borges at first considered Piazzolla‘s cultural sophistication worthy of a partnership which would soon short circuit when Borges would claim that Piazzolla did not understand tango, and Piazzolla responded that Borges was deaf.

The final reincarnation of Astor Piazzolla seems to begin with the Concierto en el Philharmonic Hall de New York in 1965. Not willing to take anymore slights from critics everywhere, Piazzolla gradually stopped playing music written by others.

In the same year, he recorded El Tango: Jorge Luis Borges – Astor Piazzolla, for the label Polydor. With poems by Borges and original music by Piazzolla, this is considered the best record in the history of popular song in Argentina. Polydor also released La historia del tango: La guardia vieja, and La historia del tango: Epoca romantica, in 1967. Listening to these recordings today still requires some tango maturity, which at the time of its release did not exist in a troubled and confused Buenos Aires.

The sociopolitical reasons for the state of mind of Argentina in the 1960’s are beyond the scope of this review, but the partnership of Astor Piazzolla with poet Horacio Ferrer offers a poignant testimony in Maria de Buenos Aires, 1968 and Balada para un loco, 1969.

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, Piazzolla begun to get critical acclaim around the world, and an overdue recognition in Argentina as new generations heard him for the first time.

Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir by Natalio Gorin is a post mortem beacon that shines a warm light of fairness over Astor Piazzola‘s definitive truth. The only one that counts: his own. Natalio Gorin personifies the best attributes of a friend. He tells the story from his heart and from his mind providing a historical perspective of a great artist from a human point of view.

Amadeus Press/Timber Press, Inc. – The Haseltine Building – 133 SW Second Avenue, Suite 450 – Portland, OR 97204

One response to “Maestro, can you play a tango now?

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  1. Alberto,

    I enjoyed your summary of Piazzolla’s life and have added a link your “Maestro, Can You Play A Tango?” site on my Piazzolla Video Blog ( ) in the Piazzolla link section under the title “Piazzolla’s Life”.

    With your strong interest in Piazzolla, you might be interest in that blog (and you are welcome to include it in your Blogroll) or in the companion Piazzolla Video website:


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