Let’s continue shedding light on some inconvenient statistics: there’s about a 70% chance that any reader of this blog has willingly or unwillingly and during long periods of time filled his life with over 85% of tango. Yes, you, strange creature, you cannot but admit many a weekend in your life has been utterly consumed by encuentros milonguero, marathons, festivals, or simply several local or regional milongas, that demanded all the energy you had during those treasured two days of fleeting freedom. And worse, you have most likely spent the lion’s share of your weekdays working unhealthily hard, simply to try to hasten the arrival of Thursday, that blessed, redemptive day you could hurryingly take just another questionable RyanJetWizz flight to <random European city>. Or, you just couldn’t wait until that local evening milonga that always starts way too late, even though you knew you needed to get up at an unrelenting 6 AM, but you “choose” to indulge in it anyway. Welcome to tango.
However, there’s you, but there’s also Osvaldo Fresedo. I am pretty sure Fresedo loved tango at least as much as you do now, but unlike you, he also realized there’s more to life than just tango. In an interview from an important era in tango music history, the early- to mid-30’s, our sugary sound maker not only declares his love for jazz music, but even sees it as an example for the further evolution of tango music. And now, please forgive me my abrupt transition into a deadly serious tone – but that interview needs some important context before we can proceed to analyze what’s actually being said in it. Other than somewhat more conventional accounts that the Golden Age of tango music just ”happened” from one day to another, my personal theory is that we can already see a gradual evolution in the years before the official start of it (1935, which by the way is also an opinion, considering there are a lot of Argentines who seem to think that the Golden Age is synonymous with the 1940s… <note to self, not supposed to be read by anyone else: don’t forget to put in a drawing of a cute kitten making a shrugging gesture with its entire body, or if there’s not enough time left to grab a pencil, just copy paste the following code: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ >)
author: not me…
In case we, just for the sake of getting our definitions right, consider that the Golden Age officially starts with the “D’Arienzo revolution” in 1935 (the year he started recording with his new style) we have to consider that we can see a similar, but earlier maturation of musical styles in other orchestras already. For those who are not familiar with the concept of the D’Arienzo revolution: it is generally considered that D’Arienzo created the basis for Golden Age tango music with his renewed focus on rhythmical, uncomplicated danceability, arguably a kind of virtue of older tango music that was at danger of being ”lost”, and yet, paradoxically, his new orchestral style sounds way more crystallized and mature than anything that came before it. I will explain this paradox further in a future article, but for now, I need to emphasize a separate point that will also be elaborated in specific case studies on this website.
“Emphasize?” “elaborate?” “specific case studies”? Have you been drinking again, Lucas? Well, that’s quite a mouthful of complicated words, so let’s try to … elaborate… a bit. Like I stated above, some other orchestras than D’Arienzo’s were already going into the direction of musical maturation, as well as developing a more distinct, “own” sound, during the years before 1935. In two previous articles, we have already tracked this development for Fresedo’s orchestra – one that describes the differences between his various musical ”eras”, and another which builds on that knowledge by imagining how a ”lost” song from 1935, that was never recorded, could have sounded like. However, just to recap, in the case of Fresedo we can see that he was moving away from his traditional ”guardia vieja” style, similar to many other orchestras from approximately until 1931-1932, a style which you can still hear in this song.
Before everyone starts to become angry (there are quite a lot of people rather angry nowadays, just kidding), this does not mean his previous music was literally the same as other orchestras. I even think you can already see/hear certain signs of Fresedo’s future “romantic” style in the early music, but it is subtle, and a lot of tango dancers nowadays loathe the many elements that ARE quite similar across old orchestras, such as the way the violins sound… or maybe I’m already assuming too much, many don’t even think about those elements, they simply don’t like the general sound which is much less sophisticated than what they are used to. Anyway, now compare what you just heard with Araca la cana from 1933. To me, it’s a mind-blowing change into the direction of what we generally celebrate as Fresedo’s Golden Age sound, which I could explain in words but prefer to let you listen to.
In just a few years, Fresedo had built an entirely new style which is completely signature and unmatched by anything else we have in tango music by how romantic, sweet and sometimes even diabetes-inducing it is. Sure, the benevolent listener can already hear traces of this in the earlier years, but the huge gap in popularity between these two types of “sound” at least suggests a big difference in quality. And if we can agree that a rather stark evolution did happen as described, it’s also interesting to think about the reasons why it happened. Of course, musicians are probably always interested in “improving” their work, and musical genres often have a kind of trend of rise and fall, considering that the “Golden Age” concept is definitely not unique to tango music.
In the case of tango orchestras, all we can often do is assume things about what drove those musicians to create the music they created, or look at broad trends and construct history from there. However, this time we will use some actual archive material to move beyond merely assuming things about a musician’s motivations. Now that we have established some foundations about Fresedo’s music, I will invite you to look at an interview together and analyze that interview material in a broader context of what we discussed above and other facts about Fresedo’s long career. In the second part of this article, to be published soon, we will see how an opinionated Fresedo was actively looking for musical evolution and was influenced by jazz music in the process. Or, as the provocative title says, “Staying with the tango from the past would be like killing it”.
In conclusion: on this photo below, Fresedo is smiling – but right now, you aren’t, because you are left with this horrible cliffhanger. All I can say is: see you next time, it’s going to be worth the wait.
This image is a just a bit of a teaser… let’s analyze the rest next time!