Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Carlos Gardel and His Guitarists - Part 1

Carlos Gardel
We had an extensive article from Luis 'Tito' Liber discussing the influence of early jazz on the career of the famous Argentine tango singer, Carlos Gardel (1890-1935). The focus in Liber's article is put on the guitarists working with Gardel exploring their styles of playing and adding audio examples to illustrate from uploaded YouTube videos. The article points to a specific guitar tradition in the Argentine tango community and may indirectly have had an influence on the evolution of Oscar Alemán's playing style as well. Thus, the reason for publishing the article here is that the music discussed and illustrated in the article enlightens a historical context not often included in examination of the roots of Alemán's playing technique and musical environment. - Below follows the first part of Luis 'Tito' Liber's article, the second part follows later in another entry.

Carlos Gardel and His Guitarists - Early South American Jazz Records - Part 1
Luis 'Tito' Liber

We know Argentine Carlos Gardel as a tango singer, but he also had a repertoire that included some interesting foxtrots, shimmies, camel-trots, waltzes, rumbas and Hawaiian rhythms (I have counted 36 sides!!) that, in those crazy 1920-1930s days, were popular in South-America. It`s interesting to appreciate the parallel evolution of tango and jazz, a subject that must be further investigated by specialists.

For instance, tango and jazz have the same black-African roots, same ‘Red Light district’ origins, and other similarities (listen to ragtime composers Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and Guardia Vieja`s composers). Dixieland appeared in 1917, the same year Gardel recorded his first tango-song Mi noche triste. Much more, tango was a big success in Europe at the same time as jazz (see Camps, Pompeyo. Tango y Ragtime. Bs. As. 1976).
Jazz arrived in Buenos Aires around 1916 as an extravagant foreign fashion (funny black dancers, half-naked girls with exotic costumes, and merry tunes), presented by Broadway and Paris music-hall entertainers. But the true history of Argentine jazz begins in 1925, when the tango orchestras of Francisco Canaro (the most famous band of Argentina with the voice of Charlo) and Roberto Firpo played and recorded this style called jazzband, and the first argentine jazz orchestra of Adolfo Avilés was created. Later would appear the band of Eleuterio Yribarren. The genre became a massive success after the visits of pianist Sam Wooding and his Chocolate Kiddies in 1927, and the famous tapdancer Harry Fleming in 1928-1929 (we already know his story with Oscar Alemán).
During the 1920s and 1930s, two dances, the shimmy (feet quiet while shaking the rest of the body) and the foxtrot (smooth and sliding paces) became synonymous with jazz. By those times, in Argentina these were elitist dances (- the tango being much popular too), as it was an entertainment limited to the upper rich class who had spare time to spend in expensive nightclubs and cabarets.

The jazz records used to come to Argentina imported from Europe and the USA and were purchased only by the upper class. Notwithstanding, many Argentine records existed and were issued by local labels. In the 1920s, the advertisements of Nacional-Odeón, Victor, Electra and Brunswick (published in the Caras y Caretas magazine) showed us a lot of tangos, shimmies and foxtrots, together, even as sides of the same disc of the same artist. In fact, the jazz bands and tango orchestras (called "típica") shared the same stages and many musicians used to play both genres. For example: Francisco Canaro (La Virgen de Stambul. Shimmy. Jazz-Band / El Rocío. Tango. Típica), Roberto Firpo (El Viejo Vizcacha. Tango. Típica / My Love: Shimmy. Jazz-Band), duet Gardel-Razzano (La cabeza del italiano. Tango / Poupée de Stambul. shimmy). The international crisis of 1930 stopped the import of records, and then the radio occupied the role of musical dissemination with orchestras playing live (i.e. the auditions of Radio Belgrano).
 The records included here were all issued by the Nacional-Odeon company of Buenos Aires, Argentina. They are of historic importance, I think, because these sides are documentation of early jazz music from the 1920s played by South American guitarists, who didn`t copy any European or American guitar style. The featured guitar players played with an intriguing Argentine tango/milonga ‘tinge’, but a little "square" compared with jazz rhythm. These guitarists were essentially schooled in Buenos Aires’ creole country-music (milonga, payada, tonada, estilo, cifra, zamba), not tango, because in those times the guitar was not an instrument often used by tango musicians.
The guitar was a very expensive instrument, and it was made by local luthiers, purchased in Casa Núñez of Buenoas Aires, or imported from Europe. Gardel, for instance, didn`t have his own guitar in the begining. In Argentina, we call the Spanish guitar "guitarra criolla". The material of the chords were tripa (animal tissue) not nylon (as today).

Gardel’s guitar at Museo SADIAC
As it was common, the guitarists played in a Spanish/classical style, with the nails of their fingers. The exceptions were Aguilar, who played with plectrum, adding a remarkable strong picking -- the "trademark" of Gardel´s guitars --, Ricardo played fine introductions primarily with the thumb in the lower strings (the bordona), a technique taken from guitarists of the West of Argentina (San Juan and Mendoza counties). They tuned in A 412 (not A 440). Maybe they sometimes tuned the 6th string in D, not in E (as Argentine guitarists Atahualpa Yupanqui and Eduardo Falú later used to do).

Gardel`s guitarists were:

José "El Negro" Ricardo (b. BA March 19, 1888 -- d. Atlantic Ocean, on board of a ship from France to Argentina, May 2 1937). Played with Gardel from 1916 to 1929. He began his career working with Muiño-Alippi theatrical company at San Martín theatre along with Pettorsi. He was the guitarist of the historic Gardel record Mi noche triste, the first tango featuring vocal and lyrics. He abandoned Gardel during his performances at the Avenida theater, Madrid, in 1929. Later, he formed a group with his brother Rafael "Bronce" Ricardo -- Los hermanos Ricardo -- ; they together made a tour through Cairo, London and Rome.
Guillermo Desiderio "El Barba" Barbieri (b. BA September 25 1894 -- d. Medellín aircrash June 24 1935). Played with Gardel from 1921 to 1935. He began his career at popular dancings, accompanying bandoneonists Eduardo Arolas, Arturo La Vieja, Vicente Loduca and Julio Vivas (later Gardel`s guitarist). He is the father of great argentine comedian Alfredo Barbieri.
José María "El Indio" Aguilar (b. San Ramón, Canelones-Uruguay May 7th 1891 -- d. BA December 21, 1951). Played with Gardel from 1928 to 1930. He began his career accompanying singers Enrique Maciel, Rosita Quiroga and Ignacio Corsini. Having a strong character, he quarreled many times with Gardel, leaving and returning to his group. Aguilar was a survival of the Medellín crash.
Ángel Domingo Riverol (b. BA October 1 1893 -- d. Medellin, two days after the aircrash June 26 1935). Played with Gardel from 1930 to 1935. In his begining accompanied singer Ignacio Corsini and others. He knew Gardel by Aguilar.
Julio Domingo Vivas (b. BA May 12 1895 -- d. June 15 1952). Played with Gardel from 1931 to 1935. He began his career as bandoneonist; his friend Guillermo Barbieri convinced him to change to the guitar and to accompany Carlos Gardel.
Horacio "El Marqués" Pettorossi (b. BA October 21 1896 -- d. December 25 1960). Played with Gardel in 1933. He began his career in creole groups and theatrical companies (famous Muiño-Alippi company in San Martín theater along with Ricardo), and conducted his own orchestra, making an European tour.
Gardel and his guitarists, 1933
Below follows a complete list of recordings of interest in this context, click on song title to listen to the music that has been uploaded at YouTube (- the link opens in a separate window):

01. Michina (Luis Roldán - Juan Carlos Rodríguez) (Nacional-Odeon 1920. a222, 18021). "Estilo campero" in a fado or foxtrot style. Gardel (1st vo), José Razzano (2nd vo), José Ricardo (g).
02. De mitierra (Eduardo Manella - Francisco Lozano - Pedro Numa Córdoba) (Nacional-Odeon 1921. 450, 18034). "Estilo campero" in a fado or foxtrot style. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (g).
03. Mi bien querido (José Ricardo) (Nacional-Odeon 1922. 790, 18055). "Estilo campero" in a fado or foxtrot style. Written by the guitarist Ricardo. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).

At this time, Gardel -- although he had already recorded some tangos -- sang creole songs, in a gaucho payador style. He sang the first voice, and Razzano did the second (a third lower). Note the similarities and differences between these three estilos camperos and early foxtrots.

04. Yo nopuedo vivir sin amor (Je ne peux pas vivre sans amour) (Fred Pearly - Charles Gabaroche) (Nacional-Odeon 1922. 1069, 18060). French shimmy, with Spanish lyrics by Antonio Viérgol. The chansonier Randall from the Madame Rasimí`s company, had popularized the song in Argentina, and Viérgol adapted it in spanish for his review "Paris qui vient" played at the Teatro Marconi in 1922. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
05. Ladanza de las libélulas (Franz Lehár) (Nacional-Odeon 1923. 1353, 18074). French foxtrot composed by Hungarian musician Franz Lehár (Chanson des gigolettes is the original title from the 1922 opereta; lyrics by Carlo Lombardi and Alfonso Maria Willner) (spanish lyrics by Gardel). Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
06. Nerón (Emilio Iribarne - Mario Valdéz - Cancio Millán) (Nacional-Odeon 1923. 1572, 18083). Shimmy. Also recorded by Francisco Canaro Jazz-Band (Nacional Odeon, Bs As, 1923. Matrix 6944 A). Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
07. Tutankh amon (José Bohr - Cancio Millán) (Nacional-Odeon 1924. 1810, 18094). Camel-trot. The author is hungarian-chilenian composer and filmaker José Bohr, by that time famous for his foxtrots and shimmies. Francisco Canaro`s orchestra had recorded this song with Bohr playing the "musical handsaw” in 1923; this weird instrument became a trademark of that kind of tunes. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
08. Eltemplo de Venus (Emilio Iribarne - Mario Valdéz - Cancio Millán) (Nacional-Odeon 1924. 1852, 18100). Shimmy. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
09. Poupéede Estambul (Yes, We Have No Bananas) (Frank Silver - Irving Conn) (Nacional-Odeon 1924. 2127, 18106). Shimmy, with spanish lyrics by Pedro Numa Córdoba. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
10. Oh!Paris (José Bohr - Juan Caruso) (Nacional-Odeon 1924. 2289, 18111 and 18114). Foxtrot. With Francisco Canaro orchestra, and other version alone with two guitars. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
11. Lasulamita (Francisco Canaro - Juan Caruso) (Nacional-Odeon 1924. 2291, 18118; Nacional-Odeon Barcelona 1928. 4635; Nacional-Odeon 1928. 2834, 18243). Shimmy. Three versions: two recorded in Buenos Aires, the other in Barcelona. Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).
12. Perohay una melena (José Bohr) (Nacional-Odeon 1924. 2436, 18115). foxtrot. This tune was a big hit. Also recorded by Francisco Canaro Jazz-Band (Nacional Odeon, Bs As, 1924. 4034A). Gardel (vo), José Ricardo (lead g), Guillermo Barbieri (g).

To be continued in a second entry!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a tango researcher and we discuss a lot about tunings, but in relation to the bandoneón and the change from A=435 to A=440 which occurred around 1940. In this article you say that Gardel's guitarists played at A=412, a massive change - can you expand on this please?! Any references?
It's also very interesting to hear that the playing of las bordonas (the three lower strings) with the thumb comes from the western provinces - San Juan & Mendoza. Again, any references for this?

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Michael Lavocah said...

An excellent and valuable article, full of relevant information, thank you so much. Regarding the previous comment: by A=412, I guess that Tito means E flat tuning, i.e. tuning the guitar down a semitone. I'd be interested to hear Tito's further comments on this - perhaps it was to better suit the range of Gardel's voice? This would probably have been referenced to the standard pitch of the time, i.e. 435 rather than 440, in which case the tuning would have been a bit lower still, around 411 Hz.

10:27 AM  

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