Orquesta Típica: It’s origins.
The first stablished musical formation for the interpretation of tango music was the trio, integrated by harp or guitar, flute or clarinete, and violin.
These trios did not produce any recordings, but we can be sure enough, according to testimonials, that they played a faster and more “staccato” rhythm, which was slowed down and shaped into a more “legato” sound with the arrival of the bandoneon.
At the beginning of the 1900, the word “tango” was still considered inappropriate.
As an example, when José Luis Roncallo performed for the first time “El choclo” at the restaurant El Americano, in 1903, he presented it as “danza criolla”.
In 1910, Casa Tagini, dealership of Columbia Records, produced the first recordings of a formation dedicated exclusively to playing tangos. In need of an appropriated label for this formation, the term “Orquesta Típica Criolla” was born.
Vicente Greco (1888-1924), conductor and bandoneon player of this formation, is recognized, together with Francisco Canaro (1888-1964), who played violin in it, as the creators of this term, which will from this moment, characterize the orchestras conformed for the interpretation of tango music.
They both were neighbors of adjacent “conventillos” of the “candombero” barrio de Concepción, on Calle Sarandí 1356 and 1358 respectively.
Their families were very poor and they had to work since their childhood selling newspapers in the streets of Buenos Aires.
Vicente’s parents, Genaro and Victoria were from Italy, and his father played the mandolin. His siblings also played music and were passionated students of every subject.
His nickname “Garrote” (club) needs an explanation. During one of those card games in which Don Genaro use to find entertainment, the eldest of Vicente’s siblings, Fernando, knockout of a slap one of the players, possibly because he perceived a cheat, or this man said something not nice to his father. From that moment Fernando got that nickname, and Vicente was first known as “Garrote’s brother”. As his fame grew up, people started calling him simply “Garrote”.
Vicente started playing the flute, then guitar and singing. He had a talent for music, he worked hard and study passionately, self-taught and made each instrument sound in a personal way: concertina, bandoneon and also harmonium, in which he made many of his great compositions.
He also aspired to have access to a comprehensive culture and deeply loved literature and theater. He self-taught himself to read and write by asking people in the street, while he worked selling newspapers, what the words in the signs said: “panadería” (bakery), “librería” (bookshop), “se alquila” (renting)…
Julio De Caro told that “One day, by chance, discover a box over his parents’ closet. At opening it, he is amazed by the unknown instrument. He interrogates her mother, who replied: “It is a concertina that we were given by a family friend.” Vicente begins to practice with the instrument, and in one month he was able to play a Waldteufeld’s waltz, a polka and… Juan Tango! Studying day and night without taking a break.”
Other version of how Vicente gets this concertina tells that a group of young boys were playing a serenade for a beautiful girl in a nearby conventillo. When, instead of the girl a policeman showed up at the opening of the conventillo’s door, the group of boys runaway, leaving a concertina behind. Since nobody came back to reclame it, it was given to Vicente, known for his talent.
Another version of the story connect both renditions saying that this left behind concertina was keep by Vicente’s parents over the closet, were he will eventually find it.
He was introduced to the secrets of the bandoneon by a colorful character of the Buenos Aires of those times, Sebastián Ramos Mejía “El Pardo”, who worked as trams guard.
We refer again to Julio De Caro: “After listening to Greco playing the concertina, Ramos Mejía, amazed, advised his parents to buy him a real bandoneon. Family and friends chip in and after a long search, being then very few of these instruments in Buenos Aires, they find the long-awaited bandoneon and give it to the 14 years old prodigy. Vicente soon dominates his new instrument. “
Almost simultaneously, he learned musical theory with Carmelo Rizzuti, but the intuitive musician will always prevail. Bandoneon player and composer of original realization ideas, he was always caught by a spontaneous musical inventiveness, without traces of academicism.
Vicente Greco was the first professional bandoneon player. Other bandoneonists played before him, but at homes, in family parties. He assumed the task to take the bandoneon to the streets.
At evenings, Vicente would practice his instrument at the entrance hall of the “conventillo” where he resided, opening the door for fresh air. The people passing by would by attracted to the hunting sounds of this mysterious instrument and would stop to listen. Night after night the crowd grew bigger.
His professional premier happened in 1906 at “Salón Sur” (Pozos and Cochabamba), with a trio integrated by, in addition to his bandoneon, violin and guitar.
With them he started a year long tour throughout the sprofitable brothels of the Buenos Aires province’s cities and Rosario, a great opportunity for all tango musicians of the time to make money, gain experience and achieve prestige. During this tour, Vicente suffered a serious accident, which will be, eventually, the cause of his early death, when the stage setup for his performance fell apart (some claim that following a violent fight), damaging his kidneys. But he also linked up with the most famous tango musicians of the time, who would influence him improving his technique and the way he conduct his formations.
After recovering from the accident, he returned to his performances at the “cafés de camareras” (bars attended by waitresses) of La Boca neighborhood, with his brother Ángel Greco in guitar, and Ricardo Gaudenzio -author of “El chupete” (listen to Anibal Troilo’s rendition of 1940, click here) playing the violin.
He continue playing for three years at the most popular venues of the area known as Suárez y Necochea, with great success, and premiering some of his compositions, yet without title.
Then he was hired by “El Pardo Santillán”, a renowned milonguero, to play in downtown, at the “Salón San Martín”, known by the dancers as “Rodriguez Peña” due to the street in which it was located, where he played with a quartet integrated by his bandoneon, piano and two violins.
It was so successful, that soon the salon resulted too small for such crowds. This hall was attended by the best dancers of the time, like the aforementioned “Pardo” and “El Vasquito” Casimiro Aín, “La Parda” Loreto, “La Chata” or María Angélica, to whom Vicente dedicated his tango of the same name (listen to Adolfo Pérez “Pocholo” rendition of 1934, click here).
Greco performances at this venue contributed greatly to the acceptance of tango at Buenos Aires downtown. Vicente expressed his gratitude to his huge following with his composition “Rodriguez Peña” (listen to 1945’s Carlos Di Sarli rendition, click here).
Soon, he is hired to play at “El Estribo” (Entre Rios 763/67), where his musicians will be his disciple Juan Lorenzo Labissier as second bandoneon, “El Chino” Agustín Bardi at the piano, “Palito” Abate and “Pirincho” Canaro in violins, and ”El Tano” Vicente Pecci playing the flute. It was the year 1910. The police had to close Entre Rios street due to the amount of people that crowded in front of the café to listen to Greco even they could not enter to his sold out performances. Applauses and shoutings exploded at the end of each song. The public was most heterogeneous, and “compadritos” (marginals) co-existed peacefully with “niños bien” (rich family boys), at least for a while. Regulars were also famous “payadores” of the time, as José Betinoti and the duet formed by Carlos Gardel and José Razzano.
Vicente composed the tango “El Estribo” (listen to Rodolfo Biagi’s rendition, 1940, click here) dedicated to Mario Scolpini, owner of this place.
This is the time in which the nascent phonographic industry of Argentina, headed by the owners of Casa Tagini, decide to hire Greco to make the first ever recordings of tangos by a musical formation exclusively dedicated to this gender. The sponsors of these recording were not convinced of the piano as a instrument that belonged to tango music yet, and that is why Ángel Greco came to play the guitar instead of Agustín Bardi the piano. There are also some doubts about who played the violin, regarding Canaro and Abate.
At the print label of the discs was written: “Vicente Greco y su orquesta típica criolla con bandoneón”. The firs recording was “Rosendo” (listen, click here).
In 1912 Greco’s orchestra played at the opening of Armenonville, in Palermo, the first cabaret in Buenos Aires. It had beautiful gardens with tables and chairs, a sumptuous villa with ample dance floor and windows. The ground floor, generously lit by a stunning chandelier, contrasted with the semidarkness of the box seats.
Vicente Greco did not created the “orquesta típica”, but devised its name, and contributed with the doubling of bandoneons and violins, which together with the substitution of flute by bass, done by Francisco Canaro, and the finalized acceptance of the piano instead of guitar, done by Roberto Firpo, will lead to the formation of the “Sexteto Típico”, core of the Orquesta Típica.
From 1913 Greco recorded for other companies. In 1914 for Atlanta records, with the name of “Quinteto Criollo Garrote”, and at the end of this year, he takes a break and travels to Montevideo de Canaro to expend the money made with these recordings.
Then he continue with his performances at “Petit Salon”, “Cabaret Montmartre” (Corrientes 1431), at the summer house of the roundabout of Las Heras 2500, the “Rowing Club”, “Cabaret Maxim’s), the hotels Plaza, Americano, Tigre… Also, the families of the ‘Porteña aristocracy” opened their doors to him and with him to Tango itself -another of Vicente Greco’s great contributions to Tango-, and he played at the residencies of Dr. Lucio V. López (Callao and Quintana), at the Lagos García, at the Lamarque, Green and many others.
In 1916 he and Canaro put together one of the first known big orchestras, to play at the carnival dances at the “Teatro Politeama” in Rosario. The size of the hall and the amount of people assisting to these events, demanded the enlargement of the musical formations to increase the sound volume.
This orchestra was conformed by Vicente Greco, Juan Lorenzo Labissier, Pedro Polito and Osvaldo Fresedo in bandoneons; Francisco Canaro, Rafael Rinaldi and Francisco Confetta in violins; Samuel Castriota in piano; José Martínez in armonio; Vicente Pecci in flute; Ruperto Leopoldo Thompson in bass; Pablo Laise in sandpaper; and Juan Carlos Bazán in clarinet.
These idea would later be followed by Firpo and Canaro in 1917 and 1918.
Then his health declined rapidly. His plays less and less often. His last performances were at the city of Córdoba in 1921. His demise happened at his home of Humberto Primo 1823, on October 5, 1924.
Of his personality, what is more notorious is his extreme modesty. he loved literature and theatre, cultivated the friendship of Evaristo Carriego, with whom he coauthored a tango that remains unpublished, and Florencio Sánchez, great screenwriter. He frequented the literary cafés, like the one called “Los Inmortales”, of Corrientes 1369, and left at the time of his death an unfinished screenplay.
As a composer, he knew to intertwine in his creations the rhythms and melodies of the “criolla” music, of the traditions of a country populated by gauchos descendants of the Spanish colony, and the new sounds and idiosyncrasies arriving to Buenos Aires with the massive immigration of the end of 1800s.
Some examples of his talented compositions are:
“El pibe” (to listen to Vicente Greco rendition of 1910, click here)
“El morochito” (to listen to Enrique Rodriguez of 1941, click here)
“Rodriguez Peña” (to listen to Carlos Di Sarli rendition of 1945 , click here)
“El flete” (to listen Juan D’Arienzo rendition of 1936 , click here)
“El estribo” (to listen Rodolfo Biagi rendition of 1940 , click here)
“Ojos negros” (to listen Anibal Troilo rendition of 1948, click here)
“Pofpof” (to listen to Juan D’Arienzo rendition of 1948, click here)
“La viruta” (to listen Carlos Di Sarli rendition of 1943, click here)
“Racing Club” (to listen to Alfredo Gobbi rendition of 1948, click here)
- History of Tango – Part 1
- History of Tango – Part 2
- History of Tango – Part 3
- History of Tango – Part 4
- History of Tango – Part 5
- “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
- “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
- “Historia del tango – La Época Dorada”, chapter 2, “Vicente Greco”, Luis Adolfo Sierra, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
- “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
- “El tango, el bandoneón y sus intérpretes”, Oscar Zucchi, Ediciones Corregidor, 1998.
- “Encyclopedia of Tango”, Gabriel Valiente, 2014.