A cornerstone of Fresedo’s smooth sound?

It has been my intention so far to cast some light on barely-known musicians or songs in tango history. Today, let’s zoom in on the virtually unknown musician featured below, Adolfo Muzzi, born in distant times when Adolf was still a boy’s name like any other (sorry, Adolfo, you can’t help it either). Born in Rome in 1897, Muzzi was one of the many tango figures who were born in Italy and moved with their families to the then very “promising” Argentina, at a very young age. One can only imagine the influence of Italian (musical) culture these musicians or singers brought along with them, captivated by a new and sophisticated music genre that was just as exciting as their young and thriving new homeland.

Casting these nostalgic musings aside and returning to the topic at hand, what we can find about Muzzi is that he was the first violinist of Osvaldo Fresedo’s orchestra during at least twenty years. This meant he played an important role in how the orchestra’s musical style generally sounded ánd evolved with time, and probably also how individual arrangements were made. There is some element of speculation in that, but one thing we can say more for certain is that we can link Muzzi’s name to violin solos heard in recordings of this important orchestra. These solos can either mean the (multiple) violins coming to the foreground in a certain song, or simply one violin, which very likely was played by Muzzi due to his role as first violinist. And this blog wouldn’t be this blog if I didn’t proceed to invite you to listen to some of those violin parts in Fresedo’s music.

(article continues below photo….)

muzzi, violin de Fresedo

However, before we continue, let’s talk a bit more about Muzzi and why he made an interesting pick for our blog. I generally prefer to discuss the music of the Golden Age, but we shouldn’t forget that other than the singers, who were generally young guys, many of the “veteran” musicians in the Golden Age were born around the turn of the century, or even before, and thus were a part of the music’s obscure beginnings as well. Muzzi actually played in Firpo’s pioneer orchestra from 1916 onwards, until he joined Fresedo in 1923. And before joining Firpo, young Muzzi had been playing in a local orchestra in the famous barrio of La Boca, at the time a hot spot of Italian immigration.

In other words, this man witnessed ánd contributed to the evolution of our beloved tango music throughout more than three decades. And yet… that’s all we can say! There’s no more info about him, the rest of his career or about when he died… and there are only a few, pretty early compositions on his name, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that list is incomplete. Another “unknown soldier” for sure! However, now that our scarce “intel” is sadly depleted, let’s turn to the actually available music to actually link Muzzi with something we can listen to. I shall discuss with you four songs from several stages of Fresedo’s career until Muzzi’s role in it seems to have ended, and our sweet sugary diabetes man continued without him for easily another three decades (or with him…. info is really scarce!).

Let’s begin with Alma en pena from 1928. In this era, tango music was still relatively simple and it’s harder to find particularly pronounced solos like the violin one we are searching for. However, after Ernesto Famá’s refrain ends at 2:30, it’s immediately followed by a violin solo that lasts until the end of the song. It’s not particularly spectacular, but try to recognize how this violin (or should we call it Muzzi?) tells its own story, perhaps as a response to what had just been sung, and perhaps to replace a part of the lyric that has remained unsung.

In a similar vein, let’s listen to Volvé (1932), just when the the orchestra started to evolve into its full Golden Age splendor. If you listen to the singing that starts around 1:35 (“Come back, look, please just come back! Keep cheating on me if you want, I won’t bother you with my jealousy…”), you can notice that the singer is actually accompanied by a violin solo that, in my view, really adds some extra sense of sorrow to the story being told in human words. I can assure you that, once you begin to consciously hear all the musical tricks that are being pulled off in tango, your listening enjoyment will increase even further! By the way, if you can, also try to hear how the violin comes and goes intermittently in the rest of the song.

Now, let’s move on to the kind of music most of you find more interesting, the Golden Age! Fresedo offers us a very exciting repertoire of recordings with Roberto Ray, and it’s hard to make a decision, but let’s single out a very popular song from 1939 (just before Fresedo and Ray parted ways) called Vuelves, not only because it’s an absolute dream to listen to, but also because perhaps the most beautiful element in that dream is … sí señor(a), the violin! Let’s start listening to Rays singing and specifically focus on what comes after 1:48 and at 2:08, namely the silky smooth violins that add so much emotion to Rays voice! An absolute delight to listen to, some of the best pieces of musical art ever produced in the history of tango. And now, after so many years of adoring this song and this style, we at least know a little bit of who was in charge of these violins…

You like Fresedo with Ray? I bet you do! Well, you’re lucky, because our next article will specifically focus on something that has to do with those years. It’s actually been in the works for a while, but once I get rid of my writer’s block, you can expect something quite interesting!

Finally, less popular among dancers but still very great, and more up-beat dance music, we shouldn’t forget Fresedo with Ricardo Ruiz in 1939, 1940 and 1941. The typical “sound” of these years probably involves the violin even more, and we can hear that in one of my personal favorites, Sólo tú (1941). In this song, actually similar to our previous ones, the violins get the role of accompanying the singer, almost like a duet but not with human words. Around 1:00, the violin introduces the singer instead of the other way around, and its solo role lasts until around 1:30, after which you can also hear bandoneon, piano and even harp clearly ”singing” along in the musical story. In any case, we could theoretically keep analysing Fresedo’s music this way until the end of time, but at least we now know a little bit about a person who was an important force behind all this splendid musical creativity.

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Arcieri, a typical ”Unknown Soldier”

As you might have noticed in my previous articles, a recurrent theme I like to place emphasis on is how incomplete our vision on Golden Age tango music is. This vision has been mostly defined by the actual recordings that were made and can still be listened to today. While in some cases the ”privilege” of studio recording does reflect who the most succesful and popular artists were, I can easily list some utterly painful cases in which there aren’t really any acceptable reasons as to why so much creative and high quality music has been lost forever. For example, in early 1940, D’Arienzo was deserted by all of his musicians, and the pianist, Juan Polito, went on to lead a key orchestra for several years that included D’Arienzo’s star singer Alberto Echagüe. Nothing was recorded.

I could easily list other examples, such as Troilo only being able to record 2 songs from 1938 until 1941, but for now, let’s focus on one specific and more obscure example of what we are missing out on. The photo below shows the orchestra of a certain Antonio Arcieri around 1935 and perhaps the most surprising element here is that the aforementioned Alberto Echagüe was its singer. Just a few years later, Echagüe would become one of the pillars of D’Arienzo’s powerful musical revolution that had begun gaining traction in 1935 and would foster a Golden Age for all the main tango orchestras. The few existing internet biographies don’t mention Arcieri’s orchestra in Echagüe’s career, so it might have just been a short stint, or… we’re once again dealing with something that simply hasn’t been documented all too well.

(article continues below photo….)

antonio arcieri con echague

What makes this story even more confusing is that the (scarce and short) available articles about Antonio Arcieri don’t even mention the existence of his own orchestra around these key years of tango music history. A very interesting thing we do find however, is that all these bios mention Arcieri being a violinist in Ricardo Tanturi’s musical endeavours starting somewhere in 1920s and continuing throughout the 1930s and 1940s. This basically means Arcieri went on to play an important role in one of the classic Golden Age orchestras. But it also means that it’s quite possible that when Arcieri was leading his own orchestra, his style was similar to Tanturi’s. That’s an important conclusion, because beyond all this speculation, in one rare track we can actually hear how Tanturi’s orchestra sounded like in the early Golden Age! Exciting, right? I’ve always found it quite different from conventional Tanturi just a few years later, and yet, also positively similar and mature.

So, why is this important? I tend to argue that towards the rise of the Golden Age or perhaps even a few years before that, the main tango orchestras started developing a more mature and distinct musical style for their orchestras, whereas until more or less 1933 most of the orchestras pretty much sounded alike (this is the part the article where Theresa Faus is scripted to get totally tilted). In essence, that’s why I would have loved to hear how Arcieri’s orchestra, possibly similar to Tanturi’s, could have sounded like, especially with a singer of a caliber like Echagüe. But the sad conclusion is that we will never know, just like due to the lack of recordings, we can barely hear how Tanturi’s orchestra sounded like before 1940. And this is a pattern we see happening with several Golden Age orchestras (or singers who went solo and made actual music for dancing too) that became much more free to record music in the late 1940s, when the special excitement of the Golden Age years was all over and done with.

And yet, as a conclusion, fortunately there’s a small consolation for those wondering how Antonio Arcieri’s orchestra sounded like, because at least he did leave us one tango (head phone users beware of an annoying glitch at 0:16) in 1944 with Juan Carlos Miranda, who was arguably Lucio Demare’s best singer in the years before that. And you know what the funny thing is? To me, actually this song kinda reminds me of Tanturi before 1940. So, can you imagine this style with Echagüe as a singer? That’s some pretty cool stuff, right? At least you have the power of your imagination.

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How to survive Corona times? Learn from the best!

When you first began dancing tango, you probably couldn’t have imagined that one day, you would be stuck at home with no access whatsoever to any tango salon. Sure, maybe one day you would have some kind of back or knee injury and unable to go to the milonga, but that’s peanuts compared to all the milongas actually being closed. And… let’s say there’s a slight chance you aren’t quite the sports type, so without your musical calorie burner, how on earth are you going to stay fit?

Well, fortunately for you, once again your lord and savior shall be Francisco Lomuto. Yes, Lomuto, the original tango comedian who’s always leading the way in your life. Adult responsibilities taking their toll? No problem, just relive some of your best childhood memories. Has the love of your life just abandoned you? A strong drink’s ready for you, sweetheart. Feeling stuck in a dead-end job? Just move and laugh a little, for God’s sake. Feeling lonely? Let Lomuto be your wingman. Can’t decide which instrument to learn? Just play all possible ones.

And today, señor Lomuto brings his inevitable answer to all your Corona troubles. Let’s stay fit by swinging, and I am not referring to jazz dance or a form of liberal sexual behavior, because neither are a good idea in Corona times. Instead, just ride/swing the swing, like you used to do when you were a little kid. Simply put on some rhythmic tango music and feel the happiness hormones get to work again. Lomuto has your back.

lomuto swing

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Something not only tango DJs struggle with…

Are you reading this AND are you a tango DJ? My mathematical instincts tell me there’s a statistical chance of 65% that you meet both these standards. In case you do, before beginning with your tango DJ career, there was a 85% chance that you weren’t expecting just that one particular thing which would turn out to be tragically obvious later on.

Hell yeah, I refer to arriving for a gig somewhere and finding out that…. the venue’s sound equipment was bought somewhere in the 3rd century BC and that, in somewhat crude language, your audio for the night is essentially fucked, or that you have other unforeseen technical issues that are either related to your own laptop, cables, system or to whatever external technical obstacles there are left between you and what you actually arrived there to do, namely simply playing some nice music for a bunch of dancers, whose night is risking to become just as terrible as yours. And then… usually, there is some unexpected solution and you all live happily ever after.

Well, at least now you can finally comfort yourselves realising that you are not the only ones with these tales of bitter tragedy! Turns out the professional lives of those who made the music we play… were far from idyllic either. In the caption below, a still young-looking Miguel Caló is asked about ”the fear for the microphone” among artists, which seems most obvious for singers, but the famous band leader reassures us by saying not only singers suffer from it. In fact, Caló sheds some light on a whole different perspective of worry and trouble, one that most listeners are totally unware of: when a tango orchestra is playing live in a studio, everything sounds great, but how is it going to sound all distorted on the radios in people’s homes, usually under far from perfect acoustic circumstances? Well, all the musicians could do is essentially just hope for the best. Just like we tango DJs do. Life is far from perfect, after all….

caló microphone

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A ‘D’Arienzo Unknown’? History retold: a case like Mauré and Reynal

That’s quite a long text below, huh? But… how about a little game first: if I say ”Alberto Echagüe”, what orchestra will you immediately mention? But had I said ”Juan Carlos Lamas” instead, would your reaction have been just as quick? Well, if you note any difference there… that difference can be explained. Let me guide you into a bit of relevant tango history.

Some of the major tango orchestras had only one main singer at the time, but in others, this key role was shared by two or even more vocalists. Actually, even within one single orchestra, this could change over time, depending on factors like the popularity and/or skill of the singers involved, or the creative choices of an orchestra leader, or maybe just chance and circumstances. Let’s take a brief look at a few examples.

From 1935 to (late) 1938, Francisco Canaro’s almost exclusive singer was Roberto Maida, (click for a gem of a live performance) until Canaro hired Francisco Amor as a second singer and, crucially, he also let a big star, the orchestra’s veteran Ernesto Famá, return. In a music scene so full of rivalries and competition, Maida immediately quit the orquesta. From that point on, Canaro’s discography shows a different pattern: even though Famá was more important than Amor, both singers appear in Canaro’s recordings of those years, and (unfortunately, rarely) even together as a duet. That way, something fundamental had changed in the orchestra.

In the rich landscape of Golden Age orchestras, we see these two different ”trajectories”, so to say, coexist and/or merge all the time. In the case of Lomuto, Jorge Omar was the main singer for a number of years, but was then joined by his predecessor Fernando Díaz, apparently without any real issues. In fact, they also left us a number of interesting duets during various years, and they eventually left the orchestra together, continuing as a team elsewhere (just like Famá and Amor). Donato is perhaps the best example of a duet-rich orchestra, where Horacio Lagos was, admittedly, the most important singer, but essentially shared his post with not one but two other singers.

In the case of Biagi, during his first years we can see a lot of recordings both by Ibáñez and Falgás, but without any recorded duets. After they quit, Jorge Ortiz becomes the singer for a few years, until the old ”shared” pattern returns with (a different) Amor and Acuña. In Troilo’s case, Fiorentino remained the main flag-bearer for many years, just like Vargas in the famous D’Agostino-Vargas combination. However, in 1943, Marino was invited to join Troilo’s orchestra (without much envy, unlike Maida and Famá earlier), and they now had two main singers, who also appear together in a few duets. There are many more examples. Sometimes, orchestras had several singers, but only one of them was actually important, like in the case of Demare. Also, like we just saw, sometimes rivalries got fatal, but other times, things worked out just fine. As you can see, there are quite some variations.

Now, let’s focus on what is arguably the most popular tango orchestra, that of Juan D’Arienzo. From 1938 to early 1940, this orchestra had just one major singer, Echagüe (here’s a live performance for your enjoyment). And after D’Arienzo lost all his musicians including Echagüe, he came up with someone sounding rather similar, Alberto Reynal (left, on the picture below), a tendency which actually wasn’t uncommon. However, at some point in 1940 he also hired Hector Mauré (on the right, below), a young talent with an entirely different kind of voice. And even though Mauré is seen as much more important nowadays, both these singers were able to record an ample amount of songs. After Reynal left the orchestra, someone else joins (Juan Carlos Lamas) with, again, a voice quite similar to Echagüe, who eventually rejoined the orchestra. But in any case, both Reynal and Lamas were allowed to record a great variety of songs, so we can’t really say they were mere secondary singers left behind by one dominant star, like we see in some other orchestras (want an example? Take a look at Demare with Miranda, during that time only a few songs appear with a minor name instead of Miranda).

But then you say, what is really the point of this article? Well, the general idea of some of my earlier posts on this blog is that there is a lot about tango we don’t know, because the recordings we now have are only a part of the actual repertoire of Golden Age orchestras. They were playing live all the time, and probably had to follow the latest trends in their competition with other popular bands. If we follow that line of reasoning, the current discography of D’Arienzo doesn’t show his entire repertoire, and it also doesn’t show any songs that D’Arienzo and Reynal, shown below apparently working on something with D’Arienzo, may or may not have shared together.

Let’s just fantasise and even philosophise about a beautiful vals duet, which is common in other orchestras of exactly those years, like Canaro, Donato and Lomuto. Just imagine a thrilling song like this perhaps including the voice of Mauré too, or a popular recording by other orchestras like this one instead performed by D’Arienzo with Reynal and Mauré at a concert somewhere. Or how about their own version of the following duet? Such daydreams require some true thinking ”outside of the box”, and my reasoning is perhaps merely based on historical speculation, making up (?) things that actually may never have happened. But at the same time, it’s an interesting approach if you want to imagine how glorious the Golden Age of tango should have been for those lucky enough to experience it fully, in person. The recordings we now dance to only allow a limited view of how amazing those times must have been (…even though we are really lucky with how much was saved through recording). And the photographic material I have gathered like the picture below, only attest to how much will be forever shrouded in mystery.

d'arienzoreynalmaurépiano

Most of the factual information used in this analysis was based on my own knowledge as a  researcher, tango DJ and collector, but for some historical details and ideas I want to thank Michael Lavocah, a researcher and writer of a number of excellent books about tango history, like his book Tango Stories: Musical Secrets.

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Fresedo’s favourite song – inspired by Chopin

EDIT: There has been some discussion about the right recording belonging to the track title below. There are two recordings, one of which is posted below, but they seem registered with different composers. According to Michael Lavocah, the ”Tristezas” mentioned by Fresedo might be a different song altogether, which was perhaps never recorded. But it would be hard to draw any definite conclusions.

Most tango dancers today probably associate the major orchestras with a small amount of very famous recordings: for example, Canaro is often identified with classics such as Poema, Invierno and Alma de bandoneón, and when you think of Biagi, great hits like Quiero verte una vez más and Golgota presumably come to mind. But, how about the favourite songs of those orchestra leaders themselves? Let’s look at a little piece of evidence below. By the way, before we start, I recommend a similar article about Canaro.

In the article below, from the early 1940s, Osvaldo Fresedo talks about his favourite piece, which may come a true surprise to anyone familiar with his music. Sure, probably the number one song by Fresedo, for people nowadays, is Buscándote, probably closely followed by a number of very popular tracks with Roberto Ray, his champion singer from the late 30s. However: interestingly, as we shall see, Fresedo’s own preferences are not as obvious as our modern-day perspectives suggest.

But first, we need to discuss a small caveat. Fresedo is asked about his favourite ‘piece’, which may either mean any tango song he adapted, played and possibly recorded with his orchestra, or a tango song he fully composed himself. Many people don’t realize the following: many famous tangos were not composed by major tango musicians themselves, but by individual composers who either worked in tango orchestras, or on their own. In any case, sometimes their creations became popular and were adapted by orchestras that played all kinds of songs at the same time. These composers often collaborated with lyricists and poets to produce successful songs, that could perhaps become immensely popular as ”a hit of the moment”.

To cut a long story short: if we could ask Fresedo the same question with a slightly different choice of words, like ”What is the best general song you ever recorded?”, he may or may not have answered Buscándote, for instance. But even then, even if we just look at his favourite own compositions, it is quite remarkable that he mentions a completely unknown song from 1927, Tristezas (”Tristezas/Sorrows is my tango, the one I prefer above all others”), from a distant era when tango music was much less sophisticated than in the Golden Age. But, don’t forget that Fresedo was a real tango veteran with a very long career, even though most people nowadays probably don’t realise that. So, why did he choose Tristezas?

In the text below, Fresedo explains that he found inspiration in the work of classical music genius Chopin. At some point in the year 1922, Fresedo found himself suffering from a flu at home, yet his doctor allowed him to play the piano and practise, and so he did. On a misty afternoon, he started composing this song, Tristezas, inspired by the ”sweet, absorbing sadness” of Chopins music, who by the way also inspired Donato’s famous song La melodía del corazón. I am not very familiar with Chopins music, but the sadness in his compositions indeed mirrors so much of the melancholy we find in tango music, even though (!!!) we will never exactly know how much of it was indeed inspired by classical compositions.

In any case, just this one tango is very revealing in the sense that it shows a bit of Fresedo’s soul and passion, and even though nobody can say, because Fresedo is obviously not there anymore to ask, we may conclude that some of his more famous, later music may have been inspired by Chopin too. Now, in case you are a seasoned listener of classical music, it’s up to you to speculate on the question whether such an influence may indeed be widespread in the rest of Fresedo’s music.

fresedochopin

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Roberto Flores and his violinists

In my analysis, Roberto Flores should be regarded as one of the major representatives of a (sadly) lost part of tango dance music. But first, what does that ”lost part” mean? The recordings we now dance to, only give us a limited insight into the splendid creativity of this genre’s Golden Age. Some famous orchestras failed to record much or anything during key years, like Troilo (1938-1940) and Tanturi (late 30s). Other popular orchestras barely recorded anything, or nothing, in fact, for a variety of reasons, partly beyond their control. But so much tango music is lost forever, or maybe until we invent literal time machines to go back to the great concerts and radio shows of an epic age.

So what does all of this have to do with Roberto Flores? He was the first singer who successfully and sustainably went solo after working for an important orchestra (Rodriguez), but ultimately decided to focus on dance music, instead of the usual Gardel-like singers who disregarded dancers, and just wanted to let their voice shine. According to late Michael Krugman, this new orchestra made a number of important appearances, like providing the main act for Carnaval at Boca Juniors in 1942. And remember, not everyone was just as successful in such a competitive environment, during tango’s zenith.

After 1943, it is unclear what happened with Flores and his orchestra, but he ended up successfully touring other Latin American countries, until he settled down in Medellín, Colombia, a somewhat odd epicentre of tango enthusiasts far from Argentina. However, even though you could say Flores has been quite succesful in his endeavours, he left only four recordings, the most important of which is Tristeza Marina, a song that he himself composed, but is generally only known as a Di Sarli and a García recording. Take a moment to listen to his exquisite own recording, which is dance music indeed, and that is an understatement (the bandoneons, violins and piano in this song are amazing!). Even though I personally think there are better singers than Flores, we are also listening to him as a successful orchestra director. And it’s an almost entirely lost orchestra! Lost forever!

There are so many aspects of this genre tango fans today (including me) have absolutely no clue about, because luck has not always been on our side. Another reminder to celebrate how much material we actually have, even though it’s quite limited in comparison to what was actually being played, throughout a fervorous Buenos Aires in tango’s best years. A photo like mine below, at least shows a tiny bit of how that ”lost” music was created, by whom, with in this case a proud Roberto Flores standing next to his violinists in the studios of Radio Argentina. They too, were a part of the magic you are (partially) still dancing to, today.

robertofloresviolins

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