Every July 4th we commemorate the passing away of one of the most important accordion players, composers, musical arrangers and tango orchestra directors of the 20th Century artistically known as Astor Piazzola and nicknamed “The Great Astor”.
Today, when we evoke “The Great Astor”, we centre our attetion on the tango genre milestone that the creation of the “modern tango” represents.
This great musician renewed traditional Tango while he searched for an alternative channel to keep Tango current and connected to the international reality of popular music.
Opposing Piazzola’s creativity, orthodox tango lovers from the 50s and 60s known as the “Guardia Vieja”, that is, “The Old School”, nicknamed him “the Tango assassin”, and together with the support of radio presenters, his compositions stopped being played, while recording studios refused to adventure themselves editing them. Their argument was that his music was a hybrid with brusque and unexpected harmonies, which sometimes even included a certain degree of rage from the composer himself. They therefore ruled that Piazzola’s music wasn’t Tango. Astor’s responsed confirming what was being said about him. He said: “Yes, it’s true, I am Tango’s enemy… But an enemy to the Tango that they can understand. They still believe in the “compadrito” and in the “farolito”, while I don’t. Everything has changed and so must Buenos Aires’ music. Many of us want to change Tango, and those who attack me will never understand this. I will carry on doing what I’ve done, despite what they say”. He defined his music saying: “my music is the contemporary music of Buenos Aires”.
This musical renovation materialized most clearly when he returned from Paris in 1955, after having studied harmony, as well as classical and contemporary music for almost a year with Nadia. Nadia is known to have been a very important piece of his career, since after meeting her his music changed in a radical way. After this experience, Piazzolla no longer debated whether to be a tango musician or a classical music composer. From then on, he would become a tango and classical music composer. Furthermore, Astor expressed that Nadia had taught him to believe in himself, which helped him understand that his music was not as bad as he considered it to be. “I used to believe I was garbage because I played Tangos in a cabaret, but it turns out to be I have something known as style”.
Once back in Buenos Aires in 1956, ready to ignite the fire of a national scandal, “The Great Astor” formed the Buenos Aires Octet and with it broke all of the musical schemes which run in Argentina. With the Octet he applied all the knowledge that he had acquired years before with Alberto Ginastera and what he had recently learned with Boulanger. After watching the Mulligan ensemble, he included some typical Jazz instrumental phrasing into the formation, as well as he introduced concepts such as swing and classical’s music counterpoint. He also included the electric guitar, which was a novelty in the tango genre.
Sierra’s opinion regarding the “Buenos Aires Octet” considered that its aesthetical conceptions and advanced technical achievements, completely broke without any concessions regressive conventionalities which stiffened Tango’s potential richness of substance and form”.
This ensemble didn’t have a director because it considered Tango had to be made “just as it is felt”. There was no singer, except for a few exceptions, and it was not meant to be neither performed or danced. Its performances were sporadical, which implied that its members had to participate in other group formations to make ends meet. Due to its creative disposition, the octet was not able to provide such incomes. One of its performances took place in “Canal 7”.
The initial formation of the group was constituted by violin players Enrique Mario Francini, by piano player Atilio Stampone, by guitar player Horacio Malvicino, by cello player José Bagato and by double bass player Aldo Nicolini. Later on, Pansera and Nicolini (who never recorded) were replaced by Leopoldo Federico and Juan Vasallo. These excellent musicians tore apart Tango’s classical mould.
While active they recorded two long lengthed records. One of them was the signature record “Disc Jockey” which contained compositions such as “Haydée”, “Neotango”, “Anoné”, “El entrerriano”, “Tangology”, “Marrón y azul” (composed by Ástor Piazzolla), “Los mareados”, “El Marne”, “Arrabal” y “A fuego lento”. The other one, which was recorded under the signature “Allegro”, included six Tangos, one of them being “Boedo” (composed by Julio De Caro), “Mi refugio” (composed by Juan Carlos Cobián), “Taconeando” (composed by Pedro Maffia), “Lo que vendrá” (composed by Ástor Piazzolla), “La revancha” (composed by Pedro Laurenz) y “Tema otoñal” (composed by Enrique Mario Francini).
By then, having reached a certain point in his artistic career, Piazzolla registered Modern Tango’s birth. Consequently, as from then on there is such a genre: the before and after Piazzolla. Let us enjoy the Octet.