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Osvaldo Pugliese (1905-1995)

Every July the 25th we remember one of the greatest and most famous symbols of popular “milonga” tango. He is well known as an extraordinary argentine tango piano player, composer and orchestra director.

He studied piano with great teachers such as Vicente Scaramuzza (who also taught Martha Argerich, Horacio Salgán and Atilio Stampone) and Pedro Rubione. When he was fifteen years-old he became part of a trio which made its debut at a bar in a neighbourhood called “Café de la Cancha”.

In 1921 he became part of a sextet known as “Orquesta Paquita”, which was directed by the first professional accordion player, doña Francisca Cruz Bernardo. In 1924 he became a part of Enrique Pollet’s sextet. He then participated as a pianist in Roberto Firpo’s orchestra and in 1926 he joined Pedro Maffia’s (who was an extraordinary accordion player) orchestra, to soon disassociate from it in 1929. He left with violin player Elvino Vardaro with whom he formed the Vardaro – Pugliese sextet. They both played for the first time at the “Café Nacional” and then went on an unsuccessful tour to the provinces of Argentina.  Such a failure obliged Pugliese to pawn some of his musical instruments in order to pay for the tickets to get back home.

When he returned in 1930, he worked as a pianist in Alfredo Gobbi’s orchestra together with accordion players Miguel Jurado (who was then replaced by Ciriaco Ortiz), and Aníbal Troilo (who was 16 years old at the time), violin players Elvino Varado and Alfredo Gobbi, double bass player Luis Addesso.

In 1931 they formed the Pugliese-Gobbi quintet which counted with the participation of: Aníbal Troilo and Alfredo Attadía as accordion players, Alfredo Gobbi playing the violin, Osvaldo Pugliese as pianist and José Díaz playing the double bass. In 1932 this quintet became a sextet which performed at “Cine Garay” in the following order: Aníbal Troilo y Alfredo Calabró played the accordion, Gobbi y José Goñi played the violin, Osvaldo Pugliese played the piano and Agustín Furchi played the double bass.

Furthermore, in 1934 Pugliese played in Pedro Laurenz’s orchestra, and in 1936, he joins Miguel Caló. During that period of time his political convictions led him to be imprisoned. In 1936 he also created a sextet with Alfredo Calabró, with which they made their debut on the famous Corrientes Avenue in the “Germinal”, where they presented their show until 1937.

In 1938 he comes up with a new formation which included Enrique Alessio and Aquiles Aguilar (they were sometimes replaced by an understudy born in Rosario called Santana), Ambrosio Lotito (violins), Osvaldo Pugliese (piano) and José Díaz (double bass).  The singer, “cantor” was Mario Doré.

He finally makes his debut with his typical orchestra on August 11th, 1939 at the café “El Nacional”, orchestra which will accompany him for fifty-five years (going through logical replacements).

During this time Pugliese composed more that 150 themes, including the famous “Recuerdo”, “La Beba”, “Negracha”, “Malandraca” and his anthem “La yumba”. Addionally, he recorded more than six hundred themes composed by other musicians.

His musical formations included musicians as talented as Enrique Alessio Osvaldo Ruggiero, Julián Plaza, Víctor Lavallén, Arturo Penón, Lisandro Adrover, Daniel Binelli, Alejandro Prevignano, Rodolfo Mederos and Roberto Alvarez who played the bandoneon; Enrique Camerano, Mauricio Marcelli, Julio Carrasco, Jaime Tursky and Emilio Balcarce who played the violins; Aniceto Rossi, who played the double bass; Norberto Bernasconi and Merei Brain, who played the viola; Adriano Fanelli, Patricio Villarejo and Daniel Pucci who played the cello, amongst others. 

In the same way, some excellent cantores such as Roberto Beltrán, Roberto Chanel, Alberto Morán, Jorge Vidal, Jorge Maciel, Miguel Montero, Alfredo Belusi, Adrián Guida and Abel Córdoba worked with him. The latter sang with him in his orchestra for thirty years.

He took part in eight films, such as “La mujer más honesta del mundo” (The most honest woman in the world) in 1947; “Mis cinco hijos” (My five children) in 1948; “El tango es una historia” (The tango is a history) in 1982; “Tango y tango” (Tango and tango) in 1984; “Tangos, el exilio de Gardel” (Tangos, Gardel’s exile) in 1986; “Pobre mariposa” (Poor butterfly) in 1986; “Convivencia” (Coexistence) in 1994 and “Muchas gracias, maestro” (Thank you, teacher) in 1994 which was never released.

His performances in radio, cinema, theatre and television in Argentina and Uruguay made him internationally famous. In 1960 he went on a spectacular tour to the Soviet Union and China, proving that neither Tango nor its talent have frontiers.  Five years later he went on tour to Japan. He performed on stage for more than seventy years.  On his 80th birthday he received an outstanding homage at the “Colón Theatre” in Buenos Aires.

Pugliese is also remembered for his social engagement, due to the fact that in 1935 he drove the Argentina Musicians’ Union, in which he was member number 5. It was there and then that the struggle for “work to be a question of personal dignity and not punishment” began.  However, his activism did not remain undetected by the management chamber of cabarets, from where the main sources of income for musicians and such came from. He ended up in a black list and was persecuted. It became impossible for him to find a job at a night club.

In 1936 he enrolled at the Communist Youth Argentine Party.  Due to his political ideas, he became a target for persecution, censorship, prohibition and imprisonment during Juan Domingo Peron’s government, later during the facto government known as the self-proclaimed “Revolución Libertadora” which means “Freedom Revolution”, and after that during Isabel Martinez de Perón’s government. Because of Osvaldo Pugliese’s absence, the orchestra presented itself numerous times without its director and pianist. They used a red carnation to represent his absent presence, stating a clear message regarding his freedom and his persecution.

He has been distinguished as an Illustrious Citizen by the city of Buenos Aires, as Commander in Arts and Literature by France, with the Highest Award in Arts in the Commander Degree in Japan, and with the Alejo Carpentier Cultural Degree in Cuba. 

Pugliese was always been known and respected by the woman and the men from where he came from because of how he defended his ideological convictions without hesitation.  Persecuted, banned, questioned by the weak of heart and by the obsequious, Osvaldo Pugliese was the first musical director of tango orchestras to organize a cooperative’s scheme with the musicians with which he worked. He respected, in equal proportions, the profits they made with their performances, as well as the antiquity of each of the orchestra’s members.  He considered himself “one more”. Today, all tango groups conformed by young musicians are not only influenced by Pugliese’s musical syle, they also follow this community mind set and practice as a model.

Lastly, it is well known that in the artistic fields it is quite common to be labelled as “yeta”, “mufa” or “gafe”, all of which mean “bad luck”.  Don Osvaldo is the anti-bad luck mentor. His name is the key word with which musicians wish each other good luck. “We always mention Pugliese” says León Gieco in one if his most famous songs, “Los salieris de Charly”. 

“I betray the devil each night, but when the time for spike comes, I will say: Boys, this is how far I’ve come, I’m leaving, you go on. (…) In the end… What have I done? Tangos. That is all”.

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