In tango, heaven is found through the simple gift of grace.
IN MEMORY of my dear friend and dancing buddy Jon who loved Tango so much. He will be greatly missed especially by all the women dancers and his daughter whose name happens to be Grace. He was a kind and gentle man – a true gentleman.
Mesmerizing, sensual and intimate are just a few words you might use to describe the Tango. A dance of romance and passion, it is among the most famous genres of dance in the world and is currently enjoying a massive renaissance throughout much of Europe, South America and the USA.
In Argentina, its spiritual home, the tango is a way of life and considered as important as the samba is to Brazil or bangra dancing is to India. Music is absolutely key, essential, absolutely impossible to separate from the dance itself. It’s not just some initial inspiration; the intricacies and interplay within the music itself are the whole lifeblood of the dance.
Argentine Tango – some history: There is none. But really, The origins of Tango are obscure. There are many theories, each with its passionate advocates, but ultimately it is impossible to discover the facts because the records don’t exist. Tango sprang from the poor and the disadvantaged, in tenement blocks and on street corners, amongst people whose lives usually leave little trace in the history books. Nevertheless, we owe a great debt to the many dancers and musicians who gave shape to the Tango, though we shall never know their names. Well we do know one:
Astor Piazzolla (March 11, 1921 – July 4, 1992) – “In my head I had Bach and Schumann and Mozart and very little tango.”
Astor Piazzolla is best known for being the father and inventor of Tango Nuevo – a revolutionary new genre in which jazz rhythms and classical music were infused into tango. Tango Nuevo, at first, was strongly rejected in his home country Argentina, but eventually was appreciated and celebrated for the genius it was throughout the world. I happen to love Tango Nuevo the best of all the tango music.
So often music can reach much farther than any words.
Adiòs Nonino, was composed by Astor Piazzola in 1959 after his father’s death, Vicente (Nonino) Piazzolla. Monica (one of our best local tangueras) posted this one on Jon’s Facebook page.
My personal favorite is OBLIVION (this clip shows beautiful shots of tango & Buenos Aires).
Words from Piazzolla:
“My first bandoneón was a gift from my father when I was eight years old. He brought it covered in a box, and I got very happy because I thought it was the roller skates I had asked for so many times. It was a letdown because instead of a pair of skates, I found an artifact I had never seen before in my life. Dad sat down, set it on my legs, and told me, ‘Astor, this is the instrument of tango. I want you to learn it.’ My first reaction was anger. Tango was that music he listened to almost every night after coming home from work. I didn’t like it.”
“To give pleasure to the old man, I clumsily tried to learn, and I was dreadfully bad” (He got better).
Of course tango is a major influence on young Piazzolla, but one must be aware that he is much more multi-faceted than that. His dad said “If you want to change the tango, you had better learn boxing, or some other martial art.”
Whilst in New York his father buys him boxing gloves and Astor decided he wants to be a boxer no less! But this “career” is sharply curtailed after losing in matches against friends Rocky Graziano and Jake La Motta. However what Piazzolla takes from this is a resilience to endure the hard and very critical world of music.
Piazzolla meets Gardel (another Legend)
They say timing is everything! It is 1933, Astor is now 12, when his father – who is a huge Carlos Gardel fan – realizes that the icon is in town. Vicente has the crazy idea to make a wood carving to pay him tribute, and asks Astor to take it to Gardel. When Astor reaches the building where Gardel is living, who does he happen to run into, but Gardel’s musical assistant Alberto Castellano, who is looking lost.
Castellano has a small disaster on his hands – a most fortuitous one for Astor! He has left his key inside the room; but our youthful Piazzolla volunteers to climb the fire escape into the penthouse, through a window, to wake the sleeping Gardel. Inside Astor mistakes the sleeping lyricist Alfredo Le Pera for Gardel and wakes him. Le Pera reacts aggressively until he realizes Astor is a boy and not a thief. Eventually, Gardel is found, who accepts the present and even gives him a signed photograph.
One thing leads to another – Gardel and the Piazzollas became good friends, enjoying the cuisine and Latin musicians that meet in the Piazzolla household, allowing Gardel to feel nostalgic for Argentina. Eventually Gardel, because of his poor English, hires Astor as his interpreter; and after seeing his musical ability, also uses him as a bandoneón player, though only in private functions. Piazzolla takes part in Gardel’s movie El Dia Que me Quieras – who according to biographers was Gardel’s favorite – playing a brief part as a newspaper boy, for $25. Piazzolla considers this movie monumental to his life.
Gardel even offers Piazzolla to accompany him in his world tour as an assistant – but Astor’s father refuses this given the fact that Astor is only a boy of 14. This is a very fortunate refusal, for Astor is replaced by Jose Corpas Moreno, who along with Gardel is killed in the plane crash of 1935, on this tour. Timing, again.
There’s so much more but I will close with this quote from Piazolla:
“I learned the tricks of the tangeros, those intuitive tricks that helped me later on. I couldn’t define them technically; they are forms of playing, forms of feeling; it’s something that comes from inside, spontaneously.”