Archive for the ‘Carlos Gardel’ Tag

Just Call Me Charlie   Leave a comment

Just Call Me Charlie

By Alberto Paz
December 1997

A nation that lacks legends, said a poet, is condemned to freeze to death. It is arguably possible. But the populace that lacks myths would be dead already.

December is the month anniversary of Carlos Gardel’s birth. Since orchestra leader Julio De Caro also was born on the same day of the same month albeit in different years, the Republic of Argentina declared a few years ago, December 11 as the National Day of Tango.

The only memories of a snow fall in Buenos Aires date back to 1918 and 1955, that is why poet Raul Gonzalez Tuñon once wrote about Gardel, “nobody has surpassed his touching voice, on the face of a record or in the rose of the air. Perhaps, when the snow falls again over our city, another voice may come close to match his“. Betty, Julie, Mary and Peggy loved his voice. They were the blondes of New York, “delicious perfumed creatures” kissing Carlos with their “pretty painted lips as if they were fragile pleasure dolls“, in a scene of El Tango en Broadway filmed in 1934. A year later Gardel burned among charred metal on the tarmac of Medellin, Colombia’s airport.

Many believe that when he died the myth was born. Of five Argentine myths (presidents Yrigoyen and Peron, Eva Peron, Diego Maradona and Carlos Gardel), only the latter has been accepted by all levels of society. While the errors of the other four were never forgiven and their lives have been questioned and defamed suffering the consequences of political hatred, antagonistic rancor and class discrimination, all is forgiven of Gardel. Writer Horacio Salas points out that “in the same way that nobody in his/her right mind would dare criticize the chromatic qualities of the flag or the literary deficiencies of the National Anthem, the cult of Gardel has elevated him to that same plateau“.

In many ways the myth of Gardel identifies the common people of Argentina’s middle class, sons and daughters of immigration. Gardel is the man who made it to the top. He arrived. He conquered. All this in spite of an obscure past and an almost impossible to trace heritage. The second wave of immigrants in Buenos Aires totally identified with the French immigrant who grew up in a conventillo, who experienced segregation, poverty and lack of shelter like those who had to start from the very bottom of the pit in a foreign environment and without a father figure. Through his voice, Gardel went beyond the meager horizon of the slums to become the symbol of the tango song, first in the City of Lights and finally all throughout North and South America.

When Gardel sings, and he does it better every day, the dancers stop because The Voice is reminiscent of joy, The Voice is the wail that announces the miracle of a new life arriving to this world. Gardel is born again in the soul of every Argentine that is far removed from the source. Because Gardel is a winning attitude, a posture of arrogance and conquest. Because he has elegance and class, with an irresistible smile, a slick hairdo, shiny shoes and an impeccable wardrobe.

Women loved Gardel, but he never tied the knot, playing the myth and the legend to the end. He was the eternal groom only married to his singing the way a priest marries his religion. He created the ethereal fantasy for the women who fantasize about the day when the idol will become Prince Charming and make their dreams come true.

Witnessing the first snow fall of the season through the window of a high-rise apartment in New York City, the twilight had overcome the first flurries of snow; its gray tones were now pierced by a thousand points of light. Soon the city would get ready for another night of tango on Broadway, an experience that seemed to last forever. As the snow continued to fall, I headed for the milonga. Nobody noticed when I walked into the hall carrying Carlitos in my heart. They might have thought that it showed that I was a porteño by the way I moved and walked. And when Robin, Jane, Valorie or any other New York blonde asked me who I was, I flashed a big smile and coyly whispered in their ears, “just call me Carlitos, darling, Charlie if you wish…

RUBIAS DE NUEVA YORK

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THE DIVINE POET OF THE JAILHOUSE   4 comments

The divine poet of the jailhouse
By Alberto Paz
Copyright (c) 2000-2012, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

At around 6 in the morning on March 30, 1910, three British sailors witnessed a knife fight among a group of five men who had spent the whole night drinking and dancing at Cafe La Loba Chica, steps away from the corner of Mexico and Paseo Colon. It is not known whether what they saw would ever make it into the embarrassing and offensive lore of British tales that have been written about Argentina and particularly about the tango. They might not have known either that making deep cuts into the groin area, where the blood of sex flowed, was the way homosexuals solved questions of honor at knife point.The Englishmen alerted policeman Juan Quintana who upon arrival at the pool of blood immediately recognized Andrés Cepeda. The cop had seen him in innumerable rounds of recognition, manyamientos as they were called, a common practice of parading suspects through all the precincts so they could be known by all the cops. The action was also called yirar, where the term “yira, yira” that inspired Discepolo‘s tango of the same name originates.Andrés Cepeda, a poet, small time delinquent, anarchist and homosexual, was a legend in the Buenos Aires lunfarda at the beginning of the 20th century. His tangos were sung by Carlos Gardel. What the British sailors did not know then was that they had witnessed the death of “the divine poet of the jailhouse.” One of the first poets of the Argentine tango, Cepeda was a friend of Carlos Gardel, Fray Mocho, Gabino Ezeiza, José Razzano: of men who somehow marked forever the Argentine culture. One hundred years later, a group of researchers continue to discuss heatedly the details of the life of Andrés Cepeda.Why is there so much debate about a delinquent with more trips to jail than poems? It could be the fascination provoked by a man who could have been the star of his time but preferred to be faithful to his disquieting convictions. In spite of many discussions and the well-intentioned sugarcoating of this story at the time, and invented romances with women, there isn’t a single researcher that can avoid the topic of homosexuality, even when most of them would have preferred to do so. Cepeda did not give them that opportunity even when he also made sure to leave a heap of false tracks about his personality.

He was born in 1869. Like many children of his generation he ran away from home at a very early age, and became part of the invisible population of homeless kids roaming the streets of Once, Paseo Colon and the shantytowns of Pompeya and Boedo tugging along their shoeshine boxes, and peddling newspapers on the street corners. He was part of a generation of rebel and homosexual children who lived and slept in makeshift huts near the port. At age 15 he fell so ill that he was taken back home where his sister nurtured back to health while reading to him and instilling his interest for the written word. That signaled the birth of the boy poet of the street.

When he turned 20 Andres Cepeda got a job writing for an anarchist publication. By the time he was 24 he had become a frequent target of arrests and brushes with the police. His lifelong police record included a collection of burglaries, public intoxication, disorderly conduct and carrying illegal weapons. He was never booked for his anarchist militancy. There was never any mention of his sexual orientation.

The available research on Cepeda shows a willingness to believe in his heterosexuality and to reject any clues of homosexuality. Some have gone as far as assuring that he lived with a woman, based only on rumors that Cepeda always denied. It is a fact that he routinely falsified information about his life. Still, his biographers insist, without any proof, that as an adolescent, Cepeda fell in love with a girl and it was her rejection of him and her cheating ways what led him to drinking and the bad life. And since there is no solid evidence to back up their belief in his heterosexuality, they also swear that an impossible love with a high society girl drove him to a life of vice.

It is evident that his biographers don’t seem to have wanted to peek into the abyss of Cepeda‘s personality. They deduce that his poems have always been about heterosexual love. There seems to be a real problem in maintaining a dialog regarding the history of homosexuality in times when it seemed tolerable for it to coexist with sexual diversity. Even so, there was still never any admission of homosexuality allowed on the record. It was so unthinkable as to imagine that Carlos Gardel could had written, sung and published songs about the love between two men. Composer José Razzano, Carlos Gardel‘s friend, and also a friend of Cepeda, years after Cepeda’s death went as far as say that the police used to lock him up for being an anarchist, in an attempt to clean up to his image, perhaps out of guilt for having misappropriated the rights to Cepeda compositions. Anarchist sounded more romantic than quarrelsome thief. The police records were so unreliable and so prone to invent causes, that there was not much that could be assured on the matter. Most likely the man was a mix of lunfarda life, a bohemian underworld character who could meet all those characteristics.

By 1906 the city had become one a big continuous prison for Andrés Cepeda. He was systematically persecuted . If he crossed from one precinct to another he was arrested for the manyamiento, the yira, the customary parade in front of the beat cops in order to keep them acquainted with him. He was ill, sad and felt that the world was like a giant foot of an elephant pressing against his chest. He wrote a letter to the Chief of police that read:

“This is terrible, Mr. Chief, and I know the magnanimity of your heart. I am ill and since I’m being denied medical assistance I appeal to you asking for your help in being sent to a hospital. I am a human being and as such I esteem my existence even if it is so miserable and sad.”

As anyone except a romantic like him would have expected, nobody paid attention to his plight. To be sure there is some other loose, generally contradictory information about Cepeda’s life. It seems that he wrote all his poetry while in jail. His works were popularized by word of mouth by the old roaming troubadours from the porteños districts. Of the first fourteen recordings made by Gardel in 1912, five were authored by Cepeda. Actress Lola Membrives also included works of Andrés Cepeda in her repertoire.

In 1925 when Carlos Gardel was asked to include the tango hit Tiempos viejos (Old times) in his repertoire, he agreed on the condition that a verse that mentioned Cepeda was changed because it wasn’t kind to the memory of his friend. Gardel‘s version says,

Remember brother, Mireya the blonde
whom I took away from the crazy Rivera (
instead of Cepeda), at Hansen’s?

Death for Andres Cepeda came from a short deep cut, red and fast. He knew why the knife cut into his groin. The groin where the blood of sex flows. Researcher and popular minstrel Victor Di Santo wrote that the reason for the fight was never revealed officially, since there were no arrests and no witnesses willing to talk. For decades a version circulated that the fight was about settling a dispute among homosexuals that went wrong. This opinion, although never confirmed, was not denied either. Yet Di Santo must have known about two papers from the Porteña Academy of Lunfardo, that clearly confirmed Cepeda’s homosexuality. In one of the reports, academy members had interviewed an old poet named Martín Castro, with whom they talked about popular old writers. When the conversation turned to Cepeda, Castro said that he had aberrant sexual inclinations. An individual humiliated by Cepeda had become the target of ridicule from his friends and acquaintances. For that he had emigrated to Montevideo, but later returned to Buenos Aires and got his revenge by stabbing Cepeda.

The other paper said something similar with a twist. In an interview with an old scoundrel who had shared jail time with Cepeda, the old man assured that the death of Cepeda was the epilogue of a dispute for the possession of a young boy between Cepeda and his killer, who were both homosexuals. Andrés Cepeda fancied young flesh.

Whether it was an act of revenge or a dispute over a young guy boy as a sexual trophy, is difficult to know. What it is known is that for the assassin things didn’t go so well. Just a short time later in Palermo, on Tagle street, near the railroad tracks, he was stabbed to death. The debts of the suburb always were paid.

Andrés Cepeda had the opportunity to identify his assassin seconds before he died, when asked by officer Quintana. He did not do it and that gesture inspired two tangos that Carlos Gardel would sing years later. Barely disguising some names, the “deed” of Andrés Cepeda was recorded in Sangre maleva (Blood of a fighter), with music by Dante Tortonese and lyrics by Juan Miguel Velich and Pedro Platas:

Through La Boca, Avellaneda, Barracas, Puente Alsina,
Belgrano, Mataderos and in the entire suburb
strutted his bravery the southpaw Cruz Medina,
who was a good friend, without any ostentation.
Tempered up in the suburb, he was brave and bold among louts,
He lived weaving dreams there on the alley,
where the cops walked their beats at night
and in the neighborhood café moaned a bandoneón.
He was brave without cheating, without godfathers and without glory;
without crumbs of as much history, but good looking and all action.
Caseros saw him take a risk without relaxing a bit,
and in the ninth precinct is recorded his courage as a man.
But one dark night he fought in Avellaneda,
and in a corner of the tragic suburb
three shots sounded and on the sidewalk
fell wounded a man brandishing his knife.
Help came running and the police arrived
finding the smiling audacious and brave bully on a pool of blood
mortally wounded, rebellious in his agony,
with the full manly voice, without blinking he spoke;
Don’t ask me officers who the man who wounded me is,
that will be a waste of time because I’m not a snitch.
Let me die and nobody be astonished,
that a male to be a man, must not be an informer.

Another tribute written in code is the tango No fue batidor (He wasn’t a snitch), with music by Enrique Mora and lyrics by Germán Rein:

The porteños districts, saw him walk by
showing off his silhouette in every occasion.
And there in Mataderos, he went to take refuge,
imposing his manhood as a man of action.
As a fair man he conquered for himself,
not only great fame, but someone’s heart,
for whom one night he gambled his life
in a duel against another one man.
With no sponsors nor witnesses
the rivals face each other
and a shot broke the silence of the night.
And the fighter handicapped
because of the unequal weapons
fell there with his chest stained by blood.
Suddenly came help to the alley
and laying on the street they see the the man
that yesterday ruled among brave bullies
and today a romance his hands handcuffed.
Surrounded by cops, the rebel holds out,
does not give in a bit and in as much pain,
with rage gesture, his lips he bites,
to not give the name of the one who wounded him.
And the fighter already beaten,
anticipating his agony,
watching at the police,
begged in his pain:
“Let me die in calm,
without disclosing his name
that the man to be a man
must not be a gossip monger”.

It is reassuringly impressive to read the lack of prejudice on the part of the authors who obviously knew about the homosexuality of Cepeda or the myth about his sexual orientation. Nevertheless, they spoke not only about his “male courage”, his “deep male voice”, and his “manly attributes as a man of action” but they made him an example of masculinity for not being an informer, a finger pointing gossip monger, snitch.

Although it was not a common knowledge that the two tangos were inspired by Andrés Cepeda, those in the know knew perfectly well that they were. For them it was quite clear that it was a tribute to a famous anarchist with a reputation as a delinquent and a homosexual. In neither of the two songs did they use the subterfuge of the woman for whom the man might have died, which would have added exactly the heterosexual interpretation that the authors were not willing to do.

Andrés Cepeda, blonde, face pricked from smallpox, with an enormous mustache, lived fast and died at forty. His poetry was sad, very sad. He had the virtue and the disgrace of being the comet that embodied the spirit of the turning of the century.

He shone, he spread fire, he disappeared. The police raided his funeral and arrested everyone. With his death, Buenos Aires lunfarda also began to disappear, bearing too many betrayals from then on. And as the name Andrés Cepeda didn’t show up in the songs he wrote, and the songs continued to be sung well into the twentieth century, the muddy world from where he originated was also denied to him. The police took care of arresting everyone.

Reference source : HISTORIA DE LA HOMOSEXUALIDAD EN LA ARGENTINA by Osvaldo Bazán – Buenos Aires: Editorial MAREA, 2004

MISSING CARLITOS   Leave a comment

Every year on this date, June 24th, I’m haunted by the image of the freak airplane crash that took the lives of Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Lepera in 1935.

For most folks born outside South America, it is nearly impossible to understand what it meant for the nation of Argentina, and many other South American countries, to wake up on the morning of June 25, 1935 to the chilling news shaped in bold letters headlines that, except for minor variations in copy, were saying the same unthinkable fact: GARDEL IS DEAD.

Gardel and Lepera had become very successful partners in the tango-for-films department. Under contract with Paramount, Carlos Gardel was becoming a box office attraction in South America because of his personal appeal, his baritone voice, and his successful tours around Western Europe. Yet, the underlying attraction of Gardel, the music and lyrics of his tangos, had presented a public relations problem for the Hollywood suits. There was something about the language and jargon embedded in the lyrics of the tangos Gardel sang that didn’t fly very well outside Buenos Aires.

So they brought Alfredo Lepera, a Brazilian born writer and poet then living in Buenos Aires. His mission was to write new lyrics in a more palatable Castillian language that would be universally understood and appreciated in all of South America and Spanish speaking Europe.

The resulting body of work represents the most popular and celebrated songs that are easily recognized by people all over the world, even when many may not realize that they were all written for films starring Carlos Gardel.

Can you remember hearing any of these titles: Cuesta abajo, Volver, Melodia de arrabal, El dia que me quieras, Por una cabeza…? It was during a promotional tour for his latest film, El dia que quieras, that Gardel and Lepera met their untimely deaths. First Puerto Rico, then Cuba and finally Colombia were visits that attracted large crowds eager to see, touch and listen to Carlos Gardel.

Towards the end of the tour, Gardel and his entourage boarded a plane at Medellin airport for a short flight to Cali, where he would make his final appearance on a radio program before returning to New York, in time to board a ship to Buenos Aires to fulfill a promise he had made to his mother, that is, spending more time with her. The aircraft never got completely airborne as it suddenly veered of course and slammed into another aircraft waiting to enter the runway. Among a twisted pile of melting metal and an infernal blaze, Gardel ended his mortal existence.

Almost instantly he became immortal, and his image, his legacy and his works eternally became the subject of a religious adoration and veneration for a large majority of people spanning many generations.

When his remains arrived in Buenos Aires almost a year later, the city came to a grinding halt. He laid in wake for a day at the Luna Park arena, located where Corrientes Avenue begins to grow up into the heart of the city. Dignitaries, musicians, singers, artists, and plain people all shed tears of sorrow and mourning before his casket began its final journey along Corrientes Avenue to the cemetery of Chacarita where he was laid to rest. The slow pace of the funeral march was accentuated by a shower of flowers and tears being cast from every balcony and every door along the way.

Carlos Gardel began singing at a very young age. Raised in poverty and with limited means of survival, he managed to get singing gigs at weddings, birthdays and other family receptions. His repertoire was mostly made out of Creole compositions, a genre that included folk songs and rural milongas typically accompanied by one or more guitars. Gradually he began to hang out at some seedy cantinas surrounding the old Mercado de Abasto, a sort of central wholesale market. Visitors today may have noticed a subway station under Corrientes Avenue named after Gardel. A super modern mega shopping center stands above on the grounds of the old Mercado de Abasto. It was in one of those cantinas that he faced Uruguayan folk singer Jose Razzano in what was supposed to be a duel for supremacy and ended up becoming a sensational duo that started performing at theaters, clubs, and cabarets around the country and in neighboring Uruguay.

The story goes that sometime in 1917 Gardel was approached in Montevideo by a street poet who had a penchant for writing risky lyrics to existing tango music. Gardel loved what Pascual Contursi had written for a tango named Lita composed by Samuel Castriota. In private gatherings he was amused at Contursi’s clever use of lunfardo expressions to describe the sappy tale of a pimp in love who laid awake at night hoping for the return of his former whore.

It began with, “Percanta que me amuraste, en lo mejor de mi vida…” (Woman who left me at the best moment of my life) and ended with,

“Porque tu luz no ha querido, mi noche triste alumbrar…” (Because your light (talking to a lamp in the room) has not wanted to illuminate my sad night.” And those three last words, MI NOCHE TRISTE, became the title of the first and foremost tango lyrics, setting the stage for a rich chapter in the glorious book of tango history.

Going against the advice of his friends, Gardel decided to take a chance singing “Mi noche triste” at a theater performance. Razzano bailed out, and Carlos Gardel made history by singing his first tango in public, sending the audience into a frenzy and receiving a standing ovation.

What followed was a body of work touching on tales of love, hate, infidelity, and crimes of passion depicting the fictional relationships between pimps and their whores. Record companies couldn’t press enough vinyl to keep up with the demand, and many popular bards followed Contursi’s suit and inundated the market with one of the most prolific productions of lyrics in tango history.

Gradually, Gardel began to incorporate tangos in his recordings, and by the early nineteen twenties the popular demand and the pressure from the record companies made him become a full time tango singer.

Soon he traveled to Spain and was met with great success. Then he ventured into Paris where he became the darling of a decadent aristocracy who catapulted him into international fame. He kept returning to Buenos Aires in what became trips “to enjoy the city as a visitor, rather than as a resident.”

The Radio Broadcasting Company brought him to New York from where he made history by broadcasting a program via telephone lines to Buenos Aires. Paramount saw in Gardel their golden opportunity to enter the Latin American film market. At the time of his death, he had become an idol among fans from all over Latin America.

So, if shouldn’t come as a surprise that this June 24th, as it has been happening since 1935, men and women in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico will listen to Gardel with a very special purpose, to continue paying respect to his memory, to continue admiring a singer that sings better every day.

When Gardel died, so did the hopes of any aspiring singer to ever reach universal acceptance. Agustin Magaldi and Ignacio Corsini were great popular singers contemporaries of Gardel but withered under his shadow. Horacio Deval’s register was identical to Gardel’s so he was chastised for that, and in spite of a short success with the Horacio Salgan orchestra, he never achieved popular recognition. People have found Horacio Deval and heard him sing the Gardel repertoire at one of the many Argentine restaurants and tanguerias in the city of Miami, where he had been residing for many years until his recent death.

Uruguayan born Julio Sosa came very close to reach the pinnacle but his life was cut short in a car accident. Roberto ‘El Polaco’ Goyeneche reached cult-like following and respect, but he managed to age and deteriorate in the eyes of the public. They say that it will snow again in Buenos Aires the day a replacement for Gardel is born.

Perhaps what it is most important to understand about Gardel, the man, the myth, the icon, is the identification that the common people of Buenos Aires have with his rise to fame from humble beginnings. With his unmatched fame and success, and his eternal smile, he has been shining a ray of hope over the tribulations of those who face life challenges from a less than ideal social standing. Gardel is the epitome of the socially challenged immigrant who made it out of the tenement and into the royal palaces of Europe all the while retaining the modesty, humility, loyalty and generosity of those who never forget the friends they make on their way up because they know that they’ll still be there when it’s time to come down. The eternal smile reminds us of that.

Posted June 24, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS

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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.

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The birth of the golden years   Leave a comment

The birth of the golden years
By Alberto Paz
Copyright (c) 2000-2011, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

The business success of the Argentine tango posed a threat to the American record and film companies following the Great Depression. An all out attack was launched to sell the entertainment products coming from the North to a new generation of Argentines, and one of the main ingredients of the strategy was to destroy the tango as a favorite pastime for many residents of Buenos Aires. The untimely death of Gardel in 1935 supported an orchestrated marketing campaign that resulted in the now legendary headline published in one of Buenos Aires dailies: “The Tango is Dead.” That was going to prove to be a major blunder.

A friend recently wrote from Buenos Aires to remind me that history is written by the winners, and that Americans and British tend to look at the world from a winner’s position and sometimes assume ownership of things that don’t belong to them. I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe he’s been reading absurd messages on the Internet. However I agree when he added that the tango, being Argentine like the Pampas and the ombu, can tell its own history from a vantage viewpoint.

Even so, there are aspects of tango history which are biased depending on the agenda of those in a position to influence public opinion. Horacio Ferrer, president of the National Academy of Tango has written in his book History of the Tango: In 1935 Rodolfo Biagi, with his nervous pianist modality (harmonically elementary and rhythmically monotonous because of the invariable repetition of the same musical ideas), joined the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo, contributing to define the interpretative style of the combo.

The dancing section of the tango stands knows not to trust those yielding power solely by the nature of their political or social affiliations, but many outsiders (metaphorically and geographically speaking) tend to repeat (and believe) as words from some sacred gospel, the obvious put down that elitist Ferrer dishes out to one of the musicians responsible for changing forever the history and fate of the tango music in the 1940’s. Dancers became a motivational force with a strong say in influencing the way tango music for dancing should sound.

Rodolfo Biagi played a very important part in the history of tango, particularly in regards to the renaissance of the dance craze that has become to be known as the Golden Era of tango. A pianist, Biagi seems to have been unjustly forgotten or maybe shortchanged when it comes to highlighting names in the gallery of tango’s greatest figures.

Perhaps the birth of the Golden Era of the tango was an unexpected stab of fate. Uruguayan composer Pintin Castellanos brought a new tango to orchestra director Juan D’Arienzo for his consideration. Members of the orchestra suggested that the piece would be more suitable as a milonga, so they rearranged it and one evening of 1935 they played it for the first time from the studios of LR1 Radio El Mundo. The vibrant sound of the milonga was accentuated by the unmistakable presence of the piano striking rhythm and melody through the hands of the recent addition to the Juan D’Arienzo orchestra, twenty-nine year old Rodolfo Biagi. La puñalada (The Stab) became an instant hit, and the sound of D’Arienzo with Biagi at piano caught the imagination of an entire generation of listeners. Soon dancers began to flock to the neighborhood clubs to dance to the compelling beat of the renewed two by four tango signature of the early 1900s, revived and polished by the diabolical arrangements of D’Arienzo and Biagi’s “harmonically elementary , monotonous rhythm of invariable repetition of the same musical ideas.”

With an undeniable talent and a spirit characteristic of the natives of the city of Buenos Aires, Rodolfo Biagi injected a much needed, and later to become a well-known and fruitful change, in the music of Buenos Aires. The enormous success of the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo during the 1936 Carnaval season, with its strong and accelerated emphasis of the forgotten 2×4 rhythm led to a decade of extraordinary activity among musicians, singers and dancers between 1935 and the late fifties. The energetic and original treatment of the piano by Rodolfo Biagi set new standards for that instrument, and forced the rest of the orchestras to vary their styles, and many pianists assimilated the influence of the new rhythm in vogue.

Heading into 1940, the tango began perhaps its most fruitful period.

It all began when Rodolfo Biagi joined the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo in 1935. Soon after, other orchestras abandoned their romantic (and at times dense) style characteristic of the late twenties and early thirties. They opted for a more upbeat playing style to please the increasing demand of the dancers.

The tango scene became brilliant, the quality of the musicians shot upwards, and the personality of the singers blended within the new musical structures as another instrument that responded to the needs of the dancing public.

Concurrently, Buenos Aires underwent a significant transformation anticipating the Peronist regime that would come to power in 1945. The deteriorating conditions of the farmlands, and the industrialization of the capital city driven by the need to replace imported goods, provoked
a massive emigration of people from the provinces to Buenos Aires.

The working class underwent a process of national restructuring that included the embracing of a nationalistic cultural pride. Coinciding with World War II, and the weakening of the cultural influences of the imperialists nations, a national cultural industry grew quickly aided by a massive development of the media. Movies, radio and the dance halls contributed to the renaissance of the tango and the onset of its Golden Era.

The Recordings of the Forties

Between 1940 and 1949 the following orchestras registered the indicated number of recordings.

Francisco Canaro, 345
Juan D’Arienzo, 232
Anibal Troilo, 189
Enrique Rodriguez, 172
Carlos Di Sarli, 156
Miguel Calo, 151
Francisco Lomuto, 148
Ricardo Tanturi, 140
Rodolfo Biagi, 113
Alfredo De Angelis, 113
Osvaldo Fresedo, 110
Angel D’Agostino, 106
Roberto Firpo, 100
Osvaldo Pugliese, 94
Leopoldo Federico, 62

People can’t control, choose nor decide where and when they will be born. These circumstances, particularly at the beginning of the twentieth century in Buenos Aires, would unfortunately affect negatively the future of many talented people. Such was the case of Rodolfo Biagi, born in the working class district of San Telmo on March 14, 1906, into a the bosom of a humble family. The desire of immigrant parents to forge a future for their sons and daughters through education played an important role in the decision to enroll young Rodolfo as a non-paying student at a conservatory. By the time he turned thirteen, Biagi had graduated from the Conservatory of La Prensa, where he had been coached to be a concert violinist, but in the course of his studies converted to piano. At the suggestion of one of his teachers he continued to widen his knowledge at the Conservatory of the Anglican Church, while he earned his first money as a pianist in one of the many movie houses featuring silent movies.

There he discovered the legendary Juan Maglio “Pacho”, and at barely fifteen years of age was invited by Maglio to play in his orchestra. The setting could not have been more auspicious, none other than the cafe El Nacional on Corrientes Street, the Olympus for fans of the tango. From that moment in time Rodolfo Biagi had to juggle his performances with “Pacho”, his performances on Radio Cultura and his studies of teaching methods at the Mariano Acosta college. On parting with Maglio, he joined Miguel Orlando’s formation at the Maipu Pigall cabaret, and in that place he met Carlos Gardel, who was a habitual client of that establishment. Gardel proposed that he accompany him on some recordings together with his guitarists Guillermo Barbieri, Jose Maria Aguilar and Domingo Riverol, plus violinist Antonio Rodio. These recordings took place on April 1, 1930. The order of titles waxed was as follows: the tango Buenos Aires, the fox-trot Yo naci para ti, tu seras para mi, the waltz Aromas de Cairo, and the tangos Aquellas farras and Viejo smoking. After this recording experience, Carlos Gardel offered him a trip to Europe as his accompanist, but Rodolfo Biagi chose to remain in Buenos Aires.

At the beginning of the thirties we find Biagi at the piano of accordion player Bautista Guido’s sextet and in 1935 he was with Juan Canaro’s orchestra on a successful tour of Brazil. In Buenos Aires they enlivened the shows at the Teatro Cine Paris which were broadcast over LS9 The Voice of the Air. With Juan Canaro he began to develop his personal style, a style which reached its zenith in 1935, a time of crisis for the tango for the reasons mentioned before.

The socio-economic and political situation of the country had brought the tango and its people to a crossroad which was difficult to resolve. Many orchestras dissolved for want of places to play. The invasion of strange foreign rhythms, advanced by the ruling classes of the nation, and “supported” by a docile middle class, sent the business of tango into a tailspin; in this desolate environment for the popular music of Buenos Aires, a miracle aroused at the hands of Rodolfo Biagi.

It was then that Biagi was contracted by Juan D’Arienzo to take the place left vacant by Luis Visca. The tandem D’Arienzo-Biagi propelled the movement which produced the rediscovery by the people of their music. Rodolfo Biagi’s contagious sound emanating from his piano, fully coincided with the aesthetic postulates of Juan D’Arienzo, the popular style that at the time some qualified as simplistic, too fateful for the tango’s future. In fact, the tango establishment, the kind that meets to talk about things others do, never acknowledged D’Arienzo as a major influence for the tango. The king of the rhythm laughed all the way to the bank, but that is another story.

It was the common citizens who were the real depository of the culture which pertains to them and things were finally put in their rightful place, the public responding with its multitudinous presence at the performances of D’Arienzo with Biagi. A new rhythmic line was imposed and it was rapidly adopted by other orchestras and a new generation was born which brought about a great resurgence in the forties decade. Rodolfo Biagi was with Juan D’Arienzo until 1938, the year he formed his own orchestra.