Bandoneonist, composer and leader
(24 February 1892 – 29 September 1924)
Every tango lover has a personal vision towards the artists’ values, and that is all right, our taste and personal experiences define us in the choice of ones or others.
Certainly, when we talk about tango as song, there is an unanimous agreement in the incomparable figure of Carlos Gardel, something that does not happen when the opinion is about orchestras or the rest of the musicians or singers.
The case of Eduardo Arolas, is another exception, his extraordinary talent as composer, places him one a rank above the rest, what is a merit even greater if we take into account that in his time the major tango creators appeared. Let us remember musicians of the category of Agustín Bardi, Vicente Greco, Arturo De Bassi, Juan Carlos Cobián, Roberto Firpo, among so many others.
So Gardel and Arolas are, in my opinion, the basement of modern tango, the former, born French and porteño (Argentine from Buenos Aires) by adoption, the latter, Argentine with French parents.
Gifted with an incredible melodic creativity, he stepped into the musical environment as a modest player of guitar, his first instrument, introduced by his friend Ricardo González, (Muchila).
But the bandoneon will be responsible for his consecration and the faithful witness of his genius and his tormented life. Continue reading.
Pianist, leader and composer
(7 January 1903 – 12 January 1960)
He, as nobody else, knew how to combine the rhythmic cadence of tango with a harmonic structure, apparently simple, but full of nuances and subtleties.
He was not enrolled for any of the two streams of his time. His was neither a traditional orchestra, styled after Roberto Firpo or Francisco Canaro nor a follower of the De Caro renewal.
Di Sarli imposed a seal of his own; a different musical profile, which remained, unaltered throughout his prolonged career.
In the beginning, his sextet reveals us the influence of Osvaldo Fresedo. And certainly, I think there would have never been a Di Sarli had not existed a Fresedo. But, only as necessary forerunner of a style that, with time, would become a pure model with its own and differentiated nature.
He was a talented pianist, maybe one of the most important, who conducted his orchestra from his instrument, with which he mastered the synchrony and the performance of the outfit.
In his orchestral scheme there were not instrumental solos, the bandoneon section sang at times the melody, but it had an essentially rhythmic and danceable role. Only the violin was showcased in an extremely delicate way, on a brief solo or on a counter melody. Continue reading.
Singer and composer
(6 January 1922 – 24 February 1999)
Listening to Roberto Rufino when he sang “María” or “La novia ausente” or “Malena” or any of the tangos he had chosen for his repertoire, was to realize that that tango was unraveling little by little and that the words sprang up separately, without forsaking the whole that gathered them, with the proper strength they had to have in their context.
Rufino was that: a storyteller, a phraser, an interpreter that perfectly knew which was the meaning of what he was singing.
He was born on January 6, 1922, on 753 Agüero Street —in the heart of the neighborhood of el Abasto—, son of Lorenzo Rufino and Agustina Guirin, although in his birth certificate is written the day he was filed on the records, on the 8th day of that same month and year. A little bit yonder, on Agüero and Guardia Vieja Streets, the café O’Rondeman was placed, where Carlos Gardel attempted his early songs. A premonition? Maybe, because Rufino as well started at the old café of his neighborhood, which still was run by the Traverso brothers. But there is a further coincidence: in the same year, 1935, his father and Gardel died. And in 1936, a few days after the cortege which was mourning Carlitos to his final abode had passed along Corrientes street, El pibe del Abasto —as he was called since the early days at O’Rondeman, made his professional debut; he was also called El pibe Terremoto— at the Café El Nacional, as vocalist of the Francisco Rosse typical orchestra, to switch, a little bit later, to Petit Salón, with Antonio Bonavena orchestra, composer of “Pájaro ciego” and uncle of the would-be boxer.
But we are still in the singer’s prehistory. Continue reading.
Osvaldo and Coca Cartery are incredible dancers. Osvaldo does lots and lots of very interesting steps that I haven’t seen anyone else do. I recently revisited the Tango and Chaos web site and read how Osvaldo Cartery’s dance style is probably the closest thing to the legendary dancer Petroleo’s style in the milongas today. Find out more.
He had a so porteño destiny that he was born in the year the Obelisk was inaugurated.
As a kid he used to dance with his mother and his aunts. «He was the favorite in the family», to such an extent that when he was nearing the time of wearing long trousers he entered the Jockey Club of Olivos. «I danced foxtrot, boogie, later tango, and I have never stopped since then».
Later, at age 14, he went downtown and came to know Alfredo Gobbi, who became his dancing backer and allowed him to enter the Sans Souci dancehall on Corrientes Street. So then he frequented other milongas. Among them we can mention the Galería Pronor on Maipú Avenue and the Club 12 de Octubre, both in Olivos; the Club Huracán in Villa Martelli and the Club Defensores in Florida, among others, «where people danced tango in the Pugliese’s style» and he developed a style that made him an expert in slow-paced tango. Continue reading.
Blas Catrenau & Enriqueta Kleinman dancing in Los Angeles, California, 2011.
He started dancing tango in his early youth among other young men at the practice studio of Crisol and Verné. Later he attended several carnival balls organized at local clubs such as San Lorenzo de Almagro.
Since then he never stopped dancing and attending the most important clubs of his time, like Club Unidos de Pompeya, Club Huracán, Club Social y Sportivo Buenos Aires, Club Social Rivadavia, Palacio Rivadavia, Club Almagro, Chacarita, Premier, Editorial Haines, etc. In his youth he often danced at the main tango bars of Buenos Aires, such as Picadilly, Sans Souci, Montecarlo, and many more.
At the early ‘90s, he started organizing “milongas” himself. From 2003 to 2009 he leaded “La Milongüita”, one of the most famous “milongas” in Buenos Aires.
In 2002 he won the First Metropolitan Tango Championship in Buenos Aires.
In 2003 he obtained the Tango Teacher degree released by Buenos Aires City Government. He was then authorized to teach at the Centro Educativo del Tango de Buenos Aires (CETBA), created by Masters and Dancers Gloria and Rodolfo DINZEL.
His passion for dancing as well as the harmony he shares with his partners, and the gracefulness of his movements, capture and celebrate the essence of traditional TANGO.
In 2002, he won first Metropolitan Tango Championship Hall of the City of Buenos Aires.
In 2003 Professor Tango was declared by the Government of the City of Buenos Aires which enabled him to teach in the Education Center of Buenos Aires Tango (CETBA) created by the teachers and dancers Gloria and Rodolfo DINZEL.
Enriqueta Kleinman (1953-2014)
Enriqueta has danced tango for over 17 years. She had taught group and private classes in Buenos Aires and all over the world. She was an expert in Salon Tango – Milonguero Style, Tango Waltz and Milonga. Enriqueta also specialized in teaching technique for women and has led many courses and seminars. She performed at the Third and Fifth Metropolitan Championships in Buenos Aires. She has done a number of performances in Buenos Aires including at Salon Canning, Cachirulo (Maipu 444), and at the Confiteria Ideal at the First Milongueando Festival in Buenos Aires. Enriqueta has taught and performed in many cities of US, Canada. In Europe: Germany,Italy, France, Sweden and Russia. She has also taught and performed at the following Tango Festivals: 2008 May Madness at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; the 2009 Portland Tango Festival; 2009 Tucson Tango Festival; 2009 Chicago Mini Tango Festival; and 2010 May Madness. Also, again Chicago MIni Tango Festival 2011 and 2012. Retiro Festival (Sweden) 2011 and 2012. Enriqueta also speaks English, having lived for several years in New York City. Enriqueta was also an artist by profession.
In 1913, while playing at Armenonville, Gardel-Razzano premiered there. From then on, the singers would become great friends of Roberto Firpo, with whom he later worked at Odeón and toured Argentina. It was on that tour, in 1918, that the singers abandoned him one dark night and fled to Buenos Aires to witness the revenge of Botafogo and Gray Fox in the Hippodrome of Palermo. Recalling those days and the things that Gardel and Razzano did, Firpo said more than once: “With those jesters you could not have peace. They drove me crazy!”
On that same night in 1913, Firpo premiered his compositions “Sentimiento Criollo”, “Argañaraz” and “Marejada”.
Firpo was at this time one of the most recognized and celebrated composer of Tango, and for that reason, the recording company Lepage Odeón, of Max Glücksmann, summoned him to make their first recordings. Firpo would start a catalogue of recordings on discs, only surpassed over the years by his colleague Francisco Canaro. From the piano, he directed a set that counted on Bachicha on bandoneon, Tito Roccatagliatta on violin and Bazán on winds. At the time, recording the piano with other instruments presented challenges because the overwhelming sound of the piano would drown out the other instruments. Firpo was able to resolve the problem by simply placing the instruments in an order that is still kept at the orquestas típicas. Due to the advantage this gave Odeón over other recording companies, in addition to his talent, it is perhaps why Firpo achieved such special position in the company. Odeón was known at the time for having the best technical equipment. Firpo was hired by Odeón with an exclusive contract: he would remain the only musician recording tangos with an “orquesta típica” for them. Francisco Canaro recorded on the Era label. Following the success of his tango “El Chamuyo”, a manager of Odeón spoke with him about recording for them, but since Firpo had an exclusive contract, he was able to block other orchestras from recording. That is why Canaro began recording with a trio at Odeón, and sought an agreement with Firpo, “which consisted of paying him six cents for each record that was sold recorded by my orchestra” – said Canaro.
In 1916 in Montevideo, he played what would become the tango of all tangos, “La Cumparsita”, by Gerardo Hernán Matos Rodríguez, which at that time was a two-part song. Firpo, in the style of the “Guardia Vieja”, composed the third. Some time later he would regret not having signed it jointly: the rights of “La Cumparsita” reported millions!
With respect to this fundamental tango, Firpo recalled: “In 1916 I was at “Confiteria La Giralda” in Montevideo, when one day a man arrived accompanied by about fifteen boys – all students – to tell me that they had a humble carnival march, and wanted me to take a look and fix it because they thought there was a tango. They wanted it for that night, because it was needed for a boy named Matos Rodríguez. In the score, in two by four, appeared a little of the first part and in the second part there was nothing. I got a piano and I remembered two tangos of mine composed in 1906 that had not had any success: “La Gaucha Manuela” and “Curda Completa”, and I put a little of each one. At night I played it with Bachicha Deambroggio and Tito Roccatagliatta. It was an apotheosis, and everybody celebrated Matos Rodríguez that night. But the tango was then forgotten. Its great success began when they attached the lyrics of Enrique Maroni and Pascual Contursi”.
He then played with his formation in the play “Los dientes del perro” accompanying Manolita Poli when she sang “Mi noche triste”, the lyrics that Pascual Contursi wrote for Samuel Castriota’s“Lita”, which went on to be the first tango recorded by Carlos Gardel, and considered the first tango lyric structured in the the way that would become classical to Tango.
On more than one occasion, Firpo shared the stage with the duet Gardel-Razzano, in addition to enduring their relentless jokes. Once, when Firpo played the pasodoble “Que salga el toro!” (Release the bull!), at the moment in which one of the members of the orchestra shouted the title of this song in the middle of the performance, Gardel – using his index fingers as horns – struck the musicians who went to the floor.
Beyond such terrible jokes, Firpo and Gardel-Razzano recorded together once in 1917, the tango “El Moro”, although in the label Gardel and Razzano do not appear, oddly, except – as it is – as authors. Revenge of Firpo? No. What actually happened is that no vocalization was planned. Gardel and Razzano just burst into the recording room and the joke, in this case, consisted of singing the lyrics of the song surprising Firpo. The recording company edited the record without modifying the disc label.
The success of Firpo was also financial. He made lots of money for his performances, but even more for his recordings and composer’s rights.
In 1928, he unexpectedly abandoned Tango for a while. He himself explained the reason to Héctor and Luis Bates: “With the money I received for the recordings, I felt like a cattleman. Everything I had, I invested in the hacienda. In a year, I got to earn a million pesos … Then came that sadly famous flood of the Paraná River that decimated my farm; I wanted to make up for so much loss and I tried my luck in the stock market. It was in 1929. There I lost everything I had left. I had to go back to the work I had done before, I formed my orchestra and started again.” He also returned to the composition, with an eloquent title: “Honda Tristeza”.
Firpo was one of the greatest musicians of Tango, of complete musical erudition, nevertheless, maintained his work within the purest traditional school.
Some of the great tango musicians who started their career with him included Eduardo Arolas, Osvaldo Fresedo,Pedro Maffia, Bachicha, Cayetano Puglisi, Horacio Salgán and many others.
For instance, Julio De Caro‘s first public performance and the beginning of his career playing tango was with Firpo, when De Caro was only 17 years old. His friends arranged for De Caro to see Firpo playing at the cabaret Palais de Glace, even though De Caro was not old enough to be admitted in a cabaret. At the time, boys would not wear long pants until they were 18 years old. Parents would give them their “pantalones largos” as a admission into adulthood. So, Julio’s friends had to get a pair of long pants that would be the credential of being old enough to get into the cabaret, and once he was there, during Firpo’s performance, his “barra” (group of friends) started to shout “Que suba el pibe!” (Bring the boy to the stage!). Julio joined his friends in the shouting, not knowing that “el pibe” (the boy) was him. In short, his friends carried him onto the stage, Firpo asked his violin player to give Julio the instrument and asked him what he would like to play, to which De Caro responded “La Cumparsita”. Eduardo Arolas was also there, and was so impressed by De Caro’s playing, that asked him to play in his orchestra.
Roberto Firpo’s recording work is immense and surely many titles have remained unregistered. During the time of acoustic recordings he made more than 1650 records and at the end of his career, back in 1959, close to 3000 recordings.
Roberto Firpo is one of the first evolutionists of Tango as a director, interpreter and composer.
In those initial days of the “Orquesta Típica”, he definitively established the piano in the tango orchestra, which displaced the guitar, but his way of playing the piano borrowed a lot from the way of playing the guitar in Tango and in the native music of the gauchos, for instance the “bordoneo”, a technique used to embellish the melody with notes from the sixth string of the guitar -the lowest pitched string, called “bordona”.
His orchestra was a model that pointed the way to go, signaling a trend that will germinate in future tango formations.
As a performer, he owned a very fine style – as we can hear in his exquisite solo recordings – and was the first to use the pedal, which offered a greater resonance.
As a composer, he introduced in Tango the romantic emotion, which until then was foreign to the genre.
His personality had the same magnetism as his work – tells us, again, Cadícamo. He was always great and sweet to everybody. Even at the peak of his fame and his fortune, he never made display of it, always living modestly, having all that he and his family needed.
He passed away at the age of 85, on June 14, 1969, being a living glory of Tango since a long time before.
We would like to tell you about the early life of Francisco Canaro. According to Tango historian Orlando Del Greco “In this name, all the Tango is summarized”.
Francisco Canaro, artistic name of Francisco Canaroso, was born in Uruguay in 1888.
During his early childhood he moved with his family to Buenos Aires, where they rented a room in a “conventillo”, collective form of accommodation or housing in which several poor families
shared a house, typically one family for each room using communal sanitary services. His family was very poor. Later, he would become one of the wealthiest people in Argentina, and a major contributor to the diffusion of Tango in Buenos Aires, the rest of Argentina and abroad. He went on to be very involved in the struggle for musicians and composers rights, making it possible to make a living for musicians and generating incentives for them to improve and be creative. His life runs parallel to the history of Tango: starting in the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, moving up the social ladder, eventually achieving world wide recognition.
Not long after Canaro and his family arrived in Buenos Aires, a smallpox epidemic broke out. Three of his siblings got sick, causing one of them to die. To avoid contracting smallpox, Francisco and his remaining siblings had to sleep outside his family’s one-room home.
They decided that they needed to do something to help, and without telling his parents, Francisco, Rafael and Luis went to sell newspapers in the streets.
They would beg in the streets to get some money to buy newspapers at 5 cents, to sell them at 8 cents. They found a corner that seemed well suited for the enterprise, at Entre Rios and San Juan streets, but they soon discovered the corner was already the post of two other brothers. A conflict soon developed into a fight that ended with all of them at the police station. There they settled on an arrangement to share that corner and a new post with the other siblings.
Francisco also worked as shoeshine boy in the afternoons, after selling newspapers in the mornings.
Later Canaro and his family moved to a “conventillo” at Sarandí 1358, occupying Room 31, where one of his neighbors was Vicente Greco. In modern day Buenos Aires, the freeway from the Ezeiza Airport to the downtown area passes over the former location of this “conventillo”.
When he and his family moved, Francisco got a job in a workshop manufacturing oil cans.
His passion for music began in his childhood. He had a good voice and would be a soloist during the comparsas de carnaval (Carnival Parades). Later, a neighbor in the “conventillo”, taught him to play the guitar, and soon he started playing with other kids in the neighborhood parties.
He also learned how to play the mandolin, but his dream was to play the violin. Not being able to afford one, he made his own using an oil can and a wooden board.
In his memoirs, Francisco tells us about his childhood and what he and the other kids in the neighborhood liked to do. Going to the circus was a favorite, but they did not have money. Part of the fun was to try to get in without paying and to avoid getting caught by the workers and guards. They also played games in the street called “rayuela”, “villarda”, “Cachurra monta la burra”, and “vigilantes y ladrones”. Also, there were stone throwing wars between the kids of Sarandí Street and Rincón Street. He also confessed to “diabluras” with other kids, breaking the glass of the street kerosene lamps using their sling shots.
He learned the painter’s craft, and worked on the final stages of the Congress Building, together with another tango musician and composer: Augusto P. Berto.
At this time, he got enough money to buy a violin in a pawn shop.
He decided that he wanted music to be his profession, formed a trio, and went to play in a brothel in the town of “Ranchos”, eighty miles south of Buenos Aires, in 1906.
It was a very tough place, where the regulars were men that went to prison at some moment of their lives.
One night an argument between the police guarding the door and two drunk men ended in gunshots and two police dead. The trio was placed on a very precarious balcony near the entrance, and one of the gunshots perforated the floor of the balcony, luckily not injuring Canaro or his colleagues. The musicians, fearing harm or even death if they continued working in such conditions, demanded that the owner of the brothel terminate their contract, but the owner convinced them to stay by shielding the balcony with sheets of iron.
At this time, Canaro, who was very dedicated to his study of music, decided to take lessons with a local music teacher.
Then the trio continued to Guaminí, a town 300 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, on the border with the province of La Pampa. There they found work in a “casa de baile” (literally a dance hall, but more likely a brothel masked as a dance hall) called “El colorado”. The owner did not hire them, but allowed them to put out a plate and ask the dancers to pay ten cents for each song they danced, which they paid at the end of the round, one, two or more songs.
However, there was one guy, nicknamed “Firulete,” who would always find his way out of the place without paying. He was fond of showing off, and his gang of friends would often shout “Solo!” to demand everyone clear the dance floor to allow “Firulete” to display his dance skills.
Canaro and his colleagues got more and more annoyed by this over time, until one night they confronted him and demanded payment. “Firulete” reacted dramatically as though they had insulted him and waited outside with two of his gang members to provoke them to fight, which led to fist fights and gunshots. By the time the police arrived, they only found the musicians, since the others were locals and knew the town well and how to sneak away quickly.
The musicians ended up in jail for creating unrest, and they were forced to sleep on the cold ground with no blankets for many nights. Their only reprieve was a police escort to play at “El colorado”, a “privilege” granted to them thanks to the friendship between the sheriff and the owner of “El colorado.”
After a while, they were released from jail, assisted by the mediation of a “compadre” from the area, who became friends with the musicians during their stay in Guaminí.
A consolation for Canaro was hearing that “Firulete” was eventually caught, and submitted to the standard treatment sheriffs gave to “compadritos”, which consisted of cutting their hair short and removing the “taquito militar” (heels) from his shoes.
Also during Canaro’s time spent in Guaminí, he met Pacho. A friendship that lasted until Pacho’s death, in 1934.
Pacho came to Guaminí with his orchestra to play at the other “casa de baile” of the town, called “El verde”.
In Canaro’s memoirs, he remembers the owner of “El verde” who was a large, elderly woman who was very beautiful in her youth, and very extravagant in her apparel. To attend and watch over the business, she used to place herself in a kind of pulpit where she could dominate the scene. She wore lots of jewelry, and placed a diadem on her head that gave her the look of a queen. Often she organized gala nights and demanded women working for the house dress in green colors, but to avoid uniformity. On those special nights she wore even more jewelry, creating a strong contrast between herself and her clientele. These parties were very famous during that time.
Canaro and his orchestra then traveled on the train tracks to Salliqueló, 340 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, where they were not able to find a gig, since the town was very small and did not have dancing. As a means of survival, they went around to restaurants and asked the owners permission to play for donations. They received very little money, but enough for some food and lodging.
The next day, they arrived in Tres Lomas, where they were lucky enough to be hired in a “casa de baile.” The building was constructed with wooden walls and metal sheets ceiling and it was a very cold winter. During this time, the trio was playing at the top of their game, and were received with great acceptance by the audience. But in some moment they heard a noise: Tac! It was a drop of the water condensed on the ceiling due to the cold temperature. And then, one of these drops fell on the first string of Canaro’s violin, breaking it. They continued playing until the amount of water falling on them made it impossible. Canaro remembers that in order to continue playing, he had to do it with one string, and compared it with the feat of the great violinist Nicolo Paganini, who played a famous concerto with one string. Canaro acknowledged that his feat did not become as well known, playing in a obscure corner of the province of Buenos Aires, with a violin that only cost eight pesos, interpreting the tango “Piantá piojito que te cacha el paine”.
Then, the trio moved to Trenque Lauquen, where they did well enough, and Canaro felt especially fortunate because he started dating two of the ladies in the town. One of them was the daughter of the owner of the “casa de baile” they were working for, and the other was a girl from the town.
However, his fortune did not last long, since Canaro had to play in another town one hundred miles away. Nevertheless, Canaro wrote letters to them both to stay in touch.
Unfortunately, their experience in this new town was not good because they did not make enough money to pay for their hotel, leading them instead to escape in the middle of the night.
The next town was General Acha. They worked there for a short time, and when they were tired, decided to return to Buenos Aires.
Canaro had continued writing to his two girlfriends, but on one occasion made the mistake of mixing up the envelopes and letters, sending each of them the letter written for the other. When the train back to Buenos Aires made its stop in Trenque Lauquen, both of them were outraged and waited for Francisco at the station to confront him and make a scene.
In 1907, after a short stay in Buenos Aires, Canaro headed with the guitar player Domingo Salerno, author among other great tangos of “Marianito”, to San Pedro, a town 100 miles north west of Buenos Aires. They found work at a “casa de baile” called “La Puerta de Fierro”, but since they wanted a trio, they invited a local musician who played the flute, nicknamed “El Cuervo”. This musician, according to Canaro, had the problem of falling asleep between tangos, letting his flute fall on the floor, making a noise that made the regulars laugh.
The owner of the house was an Italian guy, not well mannered, whose big mustache would get wet in the soup he ate for dinner, which he would clean by licking it with his tongue. Canaro tells us that when the sheriff of San Pedro called this guy on the telephone, he would answer by standing up and taking off his hat, repeating “Yes Sir!”
The trio grew up to a quartet when Canaro incorporated another violin player, called Merella. Sadly, Merella soon got sick and needed surgery. After the surgery, he was not improving, and Canaro decided to accompany him back to Buenos Aires by train. Soon after getting on the train, Canaro noted that Merella wasn’t moving. He spoke to him with no response. Canaro took a small mirror that he carried in his pocket and placed it in front of his nose and observing that the mirror did not fog up, realized his friend was dead. When the train inspector came to ask for their tickets, Canaro told him what had happened. The inspector called the manager and they determined that the dead body could not continue on the train and asked Canaro to exit the train with his friend at the next station. Canaro begged them to let him continue with his friend’s body to Buenos Aires, where the brother of his friend was waiting for them to arrive, but he was not successful, and had to get off the train in Baradero.
Canaro was hopeless at this point. Luckily, he found help from some cart drivers parked at the station, who took him and the deceased Merella to town, where Canaro was able to buy a coffin, make the necessary legal arrangements, and bury his friend in the local cemetery. Then he returned to San Pedro.
After a while he got the information from some travelers that they needed musicians in Arrecifes, 35 miles south, and that the pay was better than what they were receiving in San Pedro. He wrote to the owner of the place, confirming that he and a bandoneon player (Salerno decided to remain in San Pedro) could be there in a few days. The owner replied that they needed them immediately, so Canaro and the other musician decided to take the first available cart. This last-minute decision saved their lives. Later they found out that the cart they had planned to take was crashed into by a train, and no one survived.
Once they were established in Arrecifes, Canaro wrote to Buenos Aires for another musician, Pablo Bustos, to join them. Pablo had recently been released from prison for killing a man, alleging self-defense.
While living in Arrecifes, Canaro was dating a lady who used to be the girlfriend of someone nicknamed “El Zorro”, with the reputation of “guapo” (though), who was in prison. When news came that “El Zorro” was going to be released from prison, Canaro and his girlfriend decided to disappear together. They planned for her to hide out in another town and wait for Canaro, who would join her once he received his salary. But “El Zorro” found out about their plan, and one day he showed up at a bar near the “casa de baile” where Canaro and Pablo Bustos were playing cards with other townspeople. He ordered a drink and tried to pick a fight with Canaro by talking loudly and making indirect references to insult him. Canaro did not let this get to him, instead playing dumb. “El Zorro” eventually became impatient with his game of taunting Canaro and got close to him, pushed his shoulder, and said:
“Listen, little musician, I want to tell you something.”
“With great pleasure!” Canaro responded. He stood up, preparing for whatever would come next, while Pablo placed himself in a strategic position.
“El Zorro” made a gesture like he was reaching for his weapon and pushed Canaro out of the bar.
Then “El Zorro” said loudly, “I will make you tell me where Maria Esther (the lady) is.”
Canaro responded, “If you are so “El Zorro” (referring to the character who is clever and resourceful), why don’t you find her yourself?”
Then a fight broke out, but the people at the bar got in between them, the police came, and things did not go further.
But Canaro was convinced that “El Zorro” was not going to let this go, so, prudently, the following morning asked to be paid, took the train to meet Maria Esther, and continued on to Buenos Aires together, enjoying their romance for a while in the big city.
Once back in Buenos Aires in 1908, Canaro formed a trio together with Samuel Castriota on piano (author of “Mi noche triste”) and Vicente Loduca on bandoneon. They rehearsed feverishly until Canaro was satisfied with the repertoire and the sharpness of the interpretations. He found them a regular gig at “Café Royal” in the very center of the tango scene at the time, the corner of Suarez and Necochea streets, in La Boca neighborhood.
They played on a balcony that was so small, it could barely contain all three of them. In his memoirs, Canaro said that every time he visited La Boca for any reason, he liked to come back to this place, look at the little balcony, and reminisce about his youth.
“Café Royal”, like other similar businesses, had waitresses, called “camareras”, who dressed in black with white aprons and were very accommodating with the clientele – and very good looking.
The specialty of the house was Turkish coffee, which customers liked very much.
The owner of “Royal” was a Greek gentleman with black curly hair who, in accordance with the fashion of the time, had a very thick mustache. Here wore a picturesque vest, from which he hung a thick golden clock chain, that had a big gold medal, which he carried with pride, perhaps as a sign of his status as the owner of the café.
In front of “Royal” was another café, as important, where the Greco brothers played. On Suarez Street, “La Marina” was where Genaro Espósito played. In front of “La Marina”, there was another café with Roberto Firpo playing. On Necochea Street, Arturo Bernstein demanded being served beer without interruption, alleging he could not play his bandoneon with a “dry throat”.
Kitty-corner to “Café Royal” was a big “Café-Concert”, perhaps the most important in the La Boca neighborhood, where Ángel Villoldo performed.
Canaro had great admiration for Ángel Villoldo. In his memoirs, Canaro describes how Villoldo amazed his audiences by playing the harmonica and guitar simultaneously, using a device he created to hold the harmonica on his chest, leaving his hands free to play the guitar. His compositions were very popular. For example:
Canaro acknowledges his debt to this “precursor” of the “typical Porteño music”, and that not only he, but all tango musicians, composers, Tango itself and the country of Argentina owe a lot to Ángel Villoldo, who passed away on 1921 in complete poverty.
Continuing with Canaro’s description of the neighborhood of La Boca during those times, he tells us that the “Zeneise” language, a Genovese dialect, was spoken there almost more than Spanish. The area of La Boca centered on the corners of Suarez and Necochea streets, hosted not only shows, but also many restaurants. It was a neighborhood of night life, continuously bustling, that attracted many people from downtown and other neighborhoods, bringing out the gangs of young men from rich families, and not so young men, accompanied by beautiful ladies. Rivalries between them and the dwellers of La Boca would often arise, provoking fights.
A young man from the San Telmo neighborhood, nicknamed the “Fay”, frequented the bars of La Boca on an almost daily basis. He was a cart driver, strong, well-grounded, known for being “guapo” and his powerful fists, as he would resolve squabbles with punches. One punch from him resulted in one man out of the fight. The “Fay” was considered a neighbor of La Boca, not of the downtown, due to his regular and friendly camaraderie with the young people in that neighborhood.
One night, as usual, the “Fay” was accompanied by several friends at “Café Royal”, as he was a fan of Canaro’s music. A great friend of his, a waitress called María “La Morocha”, was invited to sit with them by the “Fay” while also attending to other tables. At another table close by, there was a “patota” (group of men), of a rich young men called Cacho Arana, and they started teasing “La Morocha”. When it became too much, the “Fay” responded to them and a fight broke out. First, they started throwing glasses and bottles, then chairs, then guns came out and tables went upside down. When the police arrived, the “Fay” was in the middle of the fight, throwing punches left and right. They closed the café and took everyone to the police station. These fights were common in La Boca.
Another night, Loduca was in the company of a Spanish lady, who had been involved with a guy nicknamed “El Ñato Campana”, with a reputation as “guapo” and a skillful thief.
Canaro explains that after the trio finished playing and they were on their way home, this guy showed up by surprise on the street with a gun in his hand. He threatened to take the woman with him by force, so Loduca quickly took his gun out and both of their guns fired without consequence. Although no one was injured, the next day Canaro discovered a bullet hole in his overcoat…
Another night, in 1909, a young man came to “Café Royal” with a group of friends, while Canaro’s trio was playing. He had the air of a “compadrito high life” (a wealthy, tough, young man), who wore a grey hat with a black ribbon, tilted forward, a checkered jacket with black and white squares and black trim, pants with a wide black stripe on each side and three small pearl buttons, a fancy vest with fileteados (a type of artistic drawing, with stylized lines typically used in Buenos Aires), and an ascot tie decorated with a colorful pin. He was very good looking and attractive, with long eyelashes, full eyebrows, good teeth, a ruddy complexion, and big black eyes. Considering the usual dynamics between gangs, Canaro was expecting a fight, but soon realized that this young man had come in a friendly mood when he noticed that he was carrying a bandoneon. He was Eduardo Arolas.
When the concert finished, they came down from the balcony to join him and his friends.
One of his friends said that he composed a very beautiful tango, and they all asked him to play it, to which he happily agreed. Arolas placed a small black velvet blanket on his lap, beautifully embroidered with his initials, got his bandoneon and played his tango “Una noche de garufa”. Canaro and his colleagues liked the tango very much, and included it in his repertoire. After that first meeting, they became close friends.
Around this time, Canaro also met Roberto Firpo, and they developed a close friendship. They were neighbors of the same neighborhood, San Cristobal, and every night they rode the #43 streetcar together.
By 1910, the year of the Centennial Anniversary of Argentina, Tango started to move from Suarez and Necochea streets to take over downtown.
The first to play downtown was Roberto Firpo. The success of his many compositions was the key that opened the center of Buenos Aires to him. The place was the “Bar Iglesias”, at 1400 Corrientes Street, where the Centro Cultural General San Martin is now located.
Canaro’s trio eventually dissolved, and he entered the orchestra of Vicente Greco, to play at café “El Estribo” of Entre Rios Street 763/67, and at the dance halls of “Salon Rodriguez Peña” on Rodriguez Peña Street 344, close to Corrientes Street. At “El Estribo”, Canaro liked to stay late after his gigs in the “peña” that happened in the underground of the café, two or three times a week, where many “payadores”, guitar players and singers came together. Gardel and Razzano were regulars.
On nights the “peña” was closed, he like to go with his colleagues after work to a “bodegón” (a kind of taproom) of the marketplace located across Entre Rios street. There, they enjoyed the specialty of the house, a succulent Italian style stew, served in abundant portions with a generous parmesan cheese topping, costing only ten or fifteen cents. They stayed there late into the night and would see other musicians and dancers, like “El Pardo Santillán” and “El Vasco Aín”, who where the organizers of the dances at “Salon Rodriguez Peña”.
Another place Canaro played with Greco was the house of “La Morocha Laura”, with a very selected clientele, located on Paraguay and Pueyrredón streets. Groups of wealthy young men rented the house for a fixed amount of time, including female dancers, drinks and musicians.
One night, a manager for “Casa Tagini” on Avenida de Mayo who ran Columbia Records in Buenos Aires, came to café “El Estribo” to sign them on to record. They accepted and, in order to differentiate their musical formation from others who did not specialized in Tangos, Canaro and Greco chose the title of “Orquesta Típica Criolla”.
These recordings were very successful and sold very well.
Once he left Greco’s orchestra, Canaro made other contributions to the formation of the “Orquesta Típica”, including the double bass (Ruperto Leopoldo Thomson) and the “estribillista” (a singer performing only the chorus part of a composition –Roberto Diaz).
Also, Canaro helped Tango to find its way to complete acceptance by all the sectors of Buenos Aires society, being the first Tango musician to play at the private parties celebrated in the houses of some of the most prominent upper class families of Buenos Aires.