Laureano Fernández

he pianist Roger Helou says: «This article is based on my own experience with him, also on a recorded interview which was handed to me by the singer Omar Fernández, but mainly on the testimonies that generously Patrick Vankeirsbilck, Michel Van der Meiren, Carel Kraayenhof and Juan Masondo gave me».

Alfredo Marcucci was born in 1929 in Ensenada, a locality in the province of Buenos Aires. At a very young age he lost his father and, after settling in the Capital, his uncle Carlos was responsible for Alfredo’s honorable way of making a living. His uncle, Carlos Marcucci, a notable bandoneon player, creator of a famous method for studying the instrument, introduced his nephew to the art of bandoneon playing. The bandoneonist Guillermo Destaillats says «Alfredo used to tell us that when he went to visit his uncle Carlos if he did not hear his bandoneon from the sidewalk it was because Carlos was not at home. He practiced all day long».

In his early years Alfredo joined children’s orchestras and learnt guided by his uncle, and also became a member of the latter’s orchestra in 1943.

He passed through the ranks of many orchestras, either as staff member or as substitute, in Buenos Aires or in aggregations that were put together for tours. Among the groups he joined in the period that goes from the mid- 40s to 1956, we find: of course, the one led by his uncle Carlos Marcucci (his first professional orchestra); Eduardo Bianco, Raúl Kaplún, Julio De Caro, Juan Canaro (first tour of Japan in 1954) and Enrique Mario Francini (1955-56).

Alfredo told us that when he played in his uncle’s orchestra, they shared the bill with Aníbal Troilo and his orchestra at the Marabú, the famous tango venue. He recalled how Pichuco, before the performance, used to practice the variation of his waltz “Romance de barrio”.

In 1949, with Eduardo Bianco, he traveled to Italy and later to the Middle East, ending up in Istanbul. By that time, tango was also in vogue at the luxury hotels of cities like Beirut or Cairo.

Also as substitute player he played in some recordings of the Alfredo Gobbi orchestra.

He played in bandoneon sections with great instrumentalists, many of them also his close friends, like Julián Plaza, Leopoldo Federico (whom he admired above them all), Mario Demarco, Arturo Penón, Roberto Di Filippo, Julio Ahumada, Marcos Madrigal, Luis Stazo (with whom he shared the section in his first children orchestra) and José Libertella, whose artistry he as well admired. Alfredo told us that the latter was who gave Osvaldo Montes his nickname “Marinero” (Sailor).

In 1954 the Julio De Caro orchestra was disbanded due, partly, to Alfredo’s decision of quitting the aggregation (according to his version) when he decided to travel to Europe with another group. For some reason Alfredo, apparently, favored traveling on many occasions. So it was that, in like manner, he turned down the proposal of his great peer Leopoldo Federico of joining no less than the much sought-after Horacio Salgán orchestra. According to his words: «It was a thorn I have stuck forever, because Salgán’s was the orchestra that all the musicians admired. What an elegance, what clever arrangements!»

Furthermore, along with Julián Plaza, Atilio Corral and Ernesto Franco, he put together a bandoneon quartet, he joined the orchestra conducted by Argentino Galván for recording sessions in the TK label and collaborated with Héctor Stamponi.

In 1956 Carlos Di Sarli put back together his orchestra with young personnel. The bandoneon section included no less than Julián Plaza, José Libertella, Leopoldo Federico and Alfredo Marcucci. Alfredo told us that they disputed over for «not playing» the part of the lead bandoneon. None of them wanted to do it… and they decided that Libertella would do it because, according to Alfredo, he was the one who played best.

Among the recordings of the last period of Di Sarli there are gems like: “El abrojo” (the only tango in which Di Sarli allowed the use, in a passage, of a minimum of virtuosity for the left hand of the bandoneon players), “Una fija”, the latter renditions of “Champagne tango”, “La cumparsita” and “Bahía Blanca”, among others.

In the late 50s, once again free and with nothing to lose, he embarked on a tour of the Middle East in which he replaced his colleague Arturo Penón. This time is with a jazz orchestra in which Alfredo played not only bandoneon but also double bass. The tour lasted for three years and it is in Istanbul where Marcucci met the famous Paraguayan musician Luis Alberto del Paraná.

There a new era for him started alongside the group Los Paraguayos with which he shared 15 years of tours around the world. At that time Los Paraguayos meant the South American cliché all over the world. Their repertoire included widely known popular songs like: “La cucaracha”, “El cóndor pasa”, “La paloma”, “Quizás, quizás” and “La bamba”. They sold over a million copies. In this group Alfredo played not only bandoneon but also electric bass, guitar, maracas, he sang and he was also the arranger.

He moved to Belgium in the 60s. It was during this successful time when he came to know the one that would be his wife. They say that one morning Alfredo went out to buy bread and fell in love with the woman who worked at the bakery. She was Dutch and they decided to stay in Belgium.

Years with many trips along with Los Paraguayos followed but in 1974 Luis Alberto del Paraná suddenly died at a hotel in London because of a brain hemorrhage. It was when they were coming back after a tour of Russia. The group went on with their appearances and Alfredo too. But responsibility did not wait long to knock his door and his new family with four children made that Alfredo had to change his way of life. That was in 1976. Then he opted for a job that he kept for two decades as a specialized worker in a factory of plastic forms.

In the 80s in Belgium there was a duet devoted to Argentine folk music. Their songbook included chacareras, zambas, estilos, tangos and Pampean songs which they sang in Spanish and Flemish. The guitarists/singers of the group were the Argentine Juan Masondo and the Belgian-Argentine Dirk Van Esbroek. The latter, regretfully, died in 2007. We owe them the re-discovery of Alfredo Marcucci.

According to what Juan Masondo says, they had vaguely known about the existence of a retired bandoneonist who lived in Belgium. Then Masondo wanted to look for him. They found him and persuaded him. His artistry had remained unaltered and had not been influenced by the music trends of the 70s and 80s because of that long break in which he devoted to working in something different.

Alfredo joined several groups of people that invited him to play. Among those groups we have: Tango al Sur, comprised by the two musicians mentioned above, the Marcucci-Benítez Duo (with a great Uruguayan guitarist), Orquesta A Fuego Lento, Sexteto Veritango (a group led by Marcucci with which he most often appeared in Europe. He formed it in 1991 with his alumni), Trio Veritango (trio setting, with the guitarist Masondo), Ensamble Piacevole (chamber group with strings and bandoneon), Orquesta Típica Silencio (led by Roger Helou), Orquesta Alfredo Marcucci (group formed in Italy by those latter years).

Roger Helou goes on: «Marcucci, besides playing, carried out a great task as educator. He gave courses about bandoneon playing and also of ensemble practice in tango interpretation for different situations: he began with a summer course in the south of Belgium, which, among others, was attended by the famous Carel Kraayenhof. In 1994 he began to give current courses of interpretation at a conservatory in Brussels where there was a sort of School Orchestra for which Alfredo wrote original charts in the style of the legendary tango orchestras with the only aid of his memory. Out of this group of interested students his Ensamble Veritango was born. This was followed by a long stage of intensive courses in the south of France which started in Toulouse in 1998.

«Thereafter his activities led him to the city of Tarbes, whose tango festival invited him for five consecutive years. This became his «classic course of Orquesta Típica». In 2004, when Alfredo was tired of so much teaching and the hot weather of the Pyrenees, he had the idea of choosing me as his substitute at that place, which meant a great open door for me. I owe Alfredo the fact of having discovered the wonderful world of teaching and, especially, teaching the music I really love. It was a change in my life. When I called him in 2006 to invite him to teach again in the same framework, he told me he was even more tired: he described me his illness that kept him all day long tired because of shortage of red blood cells. It was sad to hear his complaint. But he would not surrender easily. Alfredo went on appearing throughout Europe, playing with everybody, traveling for thousands hours on the truck of his dear colleague Michel for four years more until our beloved Alfredo, exhausted, decided to put an end to therapies and medication to devote himself to spending his last days at home with his closest relatives. And so it was».

His bandoneon is now at the Museum of Instruments in Brussels, as the homage paid by Belgium and Argentina to his memory.

Alfredo passed away in June 2010 but he gave us a lot of lovely memories. This homage is for the great musician and great person.

Excerpted from a note by Roger Helou published in the magazines La Salida (France), Tangodanza (Germany) and La Cadena (Holland).