Pugliese playing ”Percal”? Music lost in time…

It’s one of the most painful aspects of tango music history: only a limited part of even the most popular orchestras’ repertoire was actually recorded. These bands played in mass venues or on radio stations in an age of tango as mass ”pop music”, but unlike nowadays, getting everything recorded wasn’t all that easy. Sure, I guess the top orchestras most likely had their biggest hits recorded anyway, but we still miss out on a lot of interesting material, like different versions of popular hits by other orchestras. Let’s take a look at some proof for that statement.

This advert below shows that Pugliese was actually playing a number of typical mid-Golden Age songs we wouldn’t directly associate him with nowadays. Percal is well-known as a recording of Caló with Alberto Podestá, and there’s also a magnificent version by Troilo with Fiorentino. Likewise, the two other songs were both recorded by Caló and others, but not by Pugliese. Just imagine listening to Radio El Mundo, hearing the beautiful song Percal as played by the talented Pugliese, and with its exquisite lyrics sung by, probably, Roberto Chanel. But we can only imagine what that was like – the sad fate of music lost forever.

advertpugliesepercaladvert pugliese percal

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Ads in the Golden Age: Caló says hello from Uruguay

How about something quite different: the following picture resembles a telegram sent by Miguel Caló from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. In 1944, Caló and his ”guys” spent some time touring this neighbouring country (expect more material on this later) and apparently, he wanted to send his ”warm” greetings to his Buenos Aires tango public, promising to return soon with ”a renewed repertoire of songs that beyond any doubt will delight all enthusiastic fans of our great dance, the tango”.

And although this feature seems more like an Odeon advert than anything else, with my education as a historian I would claim it still is interesting historical material, as a ”primary source” supposedly written by Caló himself (although we will never know for sure how authentic this was…), even mentioning tango as a dance, with tango as dance music, and not necessarily just music. Tango was huge in the 1940s: a mass cultural phenomenon. Little traces like this attest to that popularity.

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Two smiling colleagues: D’Agostino and Rodio

This is an amicable picture of two ”popular” musicians from the Golden Age of tango: directing orchestras wasn’t just about hard work and facing fierce competition, it seems that many people involved were friends or at least pretended they were, posing for some camera like below. One of the goals of this blog has been to show a more ”human” side of all the major musicians whose music we still dance to today: and varying from the two men below with their very natural look to Canaro, Lomuto and Firpo being children again for a moment, I definitely think there is some progress for that goal.

Interestingly, the caption for this picture claims that Ángel Vargas, D’Agostino’s classic partner, rejoined the orchestra after a number of weeks of probably trying to become a soloist, which happened in 1943, when there was a trend towards opting for a solo career, with popular singers like Alberto Castillo setting the example. Indeed, when we look at the chronology of D’Agostino’s recordings, Vargas went missing for a while, with a few tracks sung by someone else. Fortunately, Vargas changed his mind and the famous duo kept recording together for a few more years.

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Pugliese and Roberto Chanel

Here’s a young Osvaldo Pugliese with his most classic singer, Roberto Chanel.

When I first started to listen to Pugliese (the first tango music I liked), I spent hours exploring his later music with very dramatic voices like Jorge Maciel, Miguel Montero, and later Alberto Morán. I knew about the work with Chanel, but I strongly disliked his nasal voice, and avoided it: I simply did not listen to that music.

But, as the years go by, and as our tango tastes develop and evolve into unforeseen directions, my somewhat chaotic preference for dramatic music changed into a more structured, mature one for the best (dance) music of the Golden Age, and one day I came to appreciate (because that’s often how it works) the superior quality of the early recordings with Chanel, where the orchestra and singer are in utterly beautiful harmony, making him seem like a natural instrument inside an already restraint orchestra, and even apart from that, I consider that although Chanel himself has a somewhat strange voice (that’s very personal…) yet at the same time he is a truly masterful singer, with a kind of depth, consistency and skill unrivaled by those who came after him.

Let’s celebrate this great partnership with this picture below, where Pugliese is holding a shellac. And indeed, tango dancers are very fortunate with the solid amount of recordings he made with Chanel, and I am always glad when I can play them in a milonga.

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Caló on bandoneon, with Raúl Iriarte

Here is a picture of Miguel Caló presumably practising a song with one of his two most important Golden Age singers, Raúl Iriarte, famous for fantastic dance songs like Marión, Nada and Mañana iré temprano, and this distinctive music is still one of the (several) keystones for tango DJs nowadays.

This duo below left us an ample number of highly danceable recordings in 1943 and 1944, when the Golden Age was still going strong and the genre went into a more romantic, dramatic direction. Like in the rival Troilo orchestra, you can hear this gradual change, transition in the recordings: a song like this, Es en vano llorar (No need to cry) from 1943, has a relatively light tone, like several other tracks (not all) from that year, and a relatively clear energy. Just a few years later, the tone has become much darker, and the music is slower and more focused around the singer, like in Fruta amarga (Bitter fruit) from 1945.

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Tanturi, Castillo & the orchestra

For me, Ricardo Tanturi and Alberto Castillo together form one of the true pillars of the Golden Age of tango: it is a sound perfectly suited for the dance floor and it is music of a wonderful artistic quality. Here you can see these gentlemen (to the left of the microphone) with the rest of the orchestra, in-between playing some of the famous songs we still dance today, or perhaps some that were never recorded…

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Carlos di Sarli, a benefactor of children

According to the story below, in 1942 the succesful orchestra director Carlos Di Sarli began to give away a part of his yearly income to charity. To be precise: he chose a foundation in Buenos Aires, Patronato de la Infancia, that (according to internet sources:) was taking care of a wide range of children in need of support, varying from orphans to street children to children of European war refugees etc. The caption explains that Di Sarli would donate his royalties of every last four months of the year to this institute, apparently quite a large sum of money. And he even hid his mysterious sunglasses for a change! (third picture)

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