By Héctor Bates and Luis Bates
He was born in the city of Agnone, province of Isernia, in the region of Molise, Italy, 170 kilometers south of Rome, on December 24, 1889. We don’t know the precise date of his death, we know only the year (1969), but we know it was in our country. He studied violin with Ercole Galvani and harmony with Cayetano Troiani.
In spite of his classical training he devoted himself to tango. He began playing violin but in the latter years his instrument was the piano.
Some numbers he composed, the tangos: “A mi nunca me mordió un chancho”, “Centenario”, “Atilio”, “El maximalista”, “El puma”, “Idilio”, “Sonaste viejo”, “Nuevo auxilio”, “Pasame un mate china”, “Un buen gaucho”, “Juan Sin Ropa”, “Sentimental”, “Salve”, “Tricromía arrabalera” and the pasodoble (double step) “Granuja”.
«In fact, I was never bitten by a pig but at that time, it was in 1908, funny things were scarce and that was a way to have fun among the musicians. We made up such crazy titles! I really think that my first tango was “Centenario”, of course of 1910.
«With my parents, at age eight, I arrived at this country and by that time tangos were played by trios and quartets without bandoneons. But some played with a concertina, an instrument much smaller than a bandoneon and with a different sound. I attended up to sixth grade but I had to quit in order to help my father in his mattress shop. Later I worked in a cloth factory. By then I was studying music.
«“Centenario” was premiered by an orchestra in which Pascual Cardarópoli was on piano. It was at the Café Central. The first group I played with was one that was formed by 1909 to appear at the Hotel Cabildo, on Sarmiento and Paraná. It was as well a group without bandoneons.
«I only included a bandoneon when it was already popular. It was in 1921 in an orchestra that I led. There was “Negro” De La Cruz. We had a long tenure at the Café Nacional. We also played on the brand-new radio stations. We appeared on the “Cultura” and the “Nacional” radio stations for free, there was no pay.
«In 1910 I also published “Auxilio” but that title was already filed in the record by Arturo de Bassi. Then I named it “Nuevo Auxilio”. It was a rhythmical piece and, like Villoldo’s “El esquinazo” at the Tarana café, it was banned because the attendants with their teaspoons stroke the cups and broke them. That happened to me at the El Trovador café, on Corrientes and Libertad, when an orchestra conducted by the violinist Olivari was playing. This tango was recorded and in it are heard whistles like those used by policemen which were recorded by true police whistles.
«I lived next door to a political committee and one day that I was playing that record I opened the window because it was a hot day and then the people reunited at the neighboring local started to flee fearing some incident was happening. Then the police arrived. Finally I was led to the police station because they thought it had been a joke of mine. At last I showed them the real cause of the confusion.
«I remember two other tangos of mine with lyrics by Francisco Bastardi: “Sonaste viejo” and “Tricromía arrabalera”.
«An anecdote? It was 1919 and tango was still suspiciously regarded. They asked me to play piano at a party. It was at a house on Sarmiento Street between Riobamba and Junín. The host asked not to play tangos. So I began with waltzes and other things. Nobody danced. Then a lady came to ask me to play a tango. I told her about the ban and everybody complained to the housekeeper. At last everybody danced to tango even the host that was a hell of a dancer».
Interview made on February 20, 1935 and published on the book "La Historia del Tango".
Sunday, October 22, 2006
By Héctor Bates and Luis Bates