Interview with Gabriel Clausi
|Bandoneonist, leader and composer
(30 August 1911 - 17 February 2010)
was born in Buenos Aires, we were twelve children and several of us devoted ourselves to music. My first teacher was my elder brother Pascual, who played by ear, I also learnt with the brothers Pepino and Toyo Marmong, that today hardly appear in some history about tango.
Somebody lent me a bandoneon, back in 1922, and when I was playing at a grocer's shop at the corner of Deán Funes and Independencia, one day that a quarrel arose they stole that instrument.
I worked for a time as a butcher, still today the cuts I made on my hands due to clumsiness can be seen. My brother, seeing I had no instrument, suggested me to study with the maestro Criscuolo, who played flute and violin, but my mom realized I did not like it. We lived in a extreme poverty. I never knew how she did, but one day she gave me 160 pesos to buy a bandoneon. I went to "Casa Nuñez" with my brother, it was a black plain instrument. Years later Pascual was unemployed so I gave it to him, and I bought one with mother-of-pearl inlays. I managed to buy sheet music at a lower price at the publishing company led by the Ortelli brothers.
My first professional gig was as member of a quintet in 1924. It was led by the pianist Andrés Dáquila, who was Piazzolla's teacher. I was around places today regarded as "prehistorical", like the café "Benigno" on Rioja Street, at "La Fratinola" on Patricios Street and I had as partners important musicians of the period: Arturo Severino "La Vieja", Luis Adesso "Pucherito", Bernardo Germino, Arturo Abrucesse, Juan Carlos Ghio, among others.
As well I joined the Milano-Ropi orchestra, one of the leaders was flutist and the other, violinist. On piano was Gaetano Grossi, who after Ortelli's recommendation became my teacher, I wanted to improve. And even, at the beginning, he told me he only played piano and violoncello, I answered him that my wish was to learn music, "learn" some classics, "Il trovatore", for example, I still have its sheet music with the corrections by maestro Grossi.
The bandoneonist José Antonio Scarpino, a neighbor, told me that Francisco Pracánico was looking after me to make me join his orchestra for a season at the Astral theater. It was in 1926, his brothers Domingo and Alejandro were there, two good bandoneon players; Miguel Caló, Domingo Precona and the singer Carlos Dante were also members of the orchestra. I was on nearly all the recordings made by Pracánico.
I remember that on an occasion the guitarist Juan Caldarella, composer, together with the Scarpino brothers, of the famous tango "Canaro en París", told me that its melody belonged to an old Italian mazurka, collected by the Scarpinos. The famous variation was composed by Caldarella himself, who also told me that he was inspired one evening when playing with a comb wrapped up in cellophane at the backyard of a cheap local.
One afternoon I was playing with several kids on the sidewalk of a barroom at the Caferatta neighborhood and I realized that someone was looking through the blinds of a window. The next day the guy came home, he turned out to be an excellent guitarist, uncle of Carlos Vicente Geroni Flores "El Negro". The latter had asked his uncle to get a bandoneon player to join his orchestra to play at the San Martín cinema theater of the neighborhood of Flores. I went to his place and there I met Antonio Rodio and Arturo Bernstein, who listened to my playing to check my proficiency. Then I knew that I was about to replace Roberto Dolard, a bandoneonist that did not satisfy Geroni. I did not like those things, so I picked up my bandoneon and left. Finally they persuaded me to stay and when Dolard came to know about the story, he laughed at the stubbornness of my principles. We became close friends and were fellow sidemen in several orchestras.
Time later I moved to the neighborhood of Flores and at a barbershop where several musicians used to meet, I saw Juan Maglio "Pacho", who already knew my brother Pascual, because he had recorded his tango "El pueblo te reclama", dedicated to Hipólito Yrigoyen. Two days later I was already recording with his orchestra, it was in the mid- 1928.
"Pacho" used to come to my place every afternoon, and on Sundays he arrived with his Studebaker to go to the horse race track. He recorded several pieces of mine: "En un rincón del café", with lyrics by Francisco Laino, the refrain was sung by Carlos Viván and years later "Mi linda chirusa". With the Trío "Pacho": "Lluvia de penas" and "En capilla". By that time the Trío "Pacho" was comprised of Ernesto Di Cicco, Federico Scorticati and I, and Maglio was the conductor. The maestro had realized that he had been surpassed by the younger players.
Through Ernesto Di Cicco I came to know his brother Minotto with whom I began to record and he paid me 600 pesos a month for playing at the "Armenonville". One day Roberto Firpo turned up and offered me 19 pesos a day to play with him at the "Palace". When Minotto knew that I had accepted, he advised me to go on with it and that, when the show with Firpo was over, I would take a cab so that I would also could play with him.
In September 1929 I joined the Pedro Maffia orchestra, until 1934. I recorded with him for Columbia and Brunswick, where I was on all the recording sessions, except at the fist one on which Alfredo De Franco plays.
After Maffia, Julio De Caro came, I was with him until 1940. The first thing I did was to play on Radio Splendid, within a combo lined-up by: Francisco De Caro (piano), Carlos and Rolando Marcucci, Félix Lipesker and I (bandoneons), Luis Guitérrez del Barrio and Mauricio Saiovich (violins), Francisco De Lorenzo (double bass) and Juan Carlos Otero (singer).
I split with his orchestra not in the best terms, even though later we reached a kind of friendship, until his death. De Caro was hard to deal with, once he got angry because other leaders offered me more than twice the sum he paid me. The true engine of the orchestra was his brother Francisco. Julio did not possess a great ability to write music, he was an entrepreneur, a businessman. His tangos "Viña del Mar", "1937"; "Ja, ja, ja" and others written by him, do not have the level of the ones he signed together with Francisco or with Laurenz and those, in fact, are theirs. Years later Laurenz told me: «You see what tangos I gave. Now they would mean much for me!» He was then retired and badly needed a few pesos more. The comment referred to "Tierra querida", "El arranque" and "Boedo".
Around 1940 things started to change, selfishness among musicians increased. If an orchestra played a certain piece another orchestra would not play it. As I had grown accustomed to gentlemen like Maglio, Firpo and Canaro, I did not understand those attitudes.
I had a great chance that I did not take advantage of, when a man called Barros, in charge of spotting orchestras for Radio El Mundo, offered to me joining the station staff. By that time I got a telegram from D'Arienzo, offering to me join his orchestra for a very good sum of money. For that reason signed with Barros and I went to the studio where D'Arienzo was rehearsing. I was waiting that they would call me to play, but that order never came. I asked Héctor Varela who was the manager of the orchestra but he gave me an excuse. Finally I got nothing.
After this episode I joined Juan Canaro for a tour of Central America. Time later Juan returned to Buenos Aires and I became the leader of the orchestra, then I went to Chile performing with great success.
When I came back, in 1942, I joined the Arturo de Bassi orchestra that played on Radio Splendid. At the same time, I reorganized my orchestra on the suggestion of the director of Radio El Mundo, Pablo Osvaldo Valle, who invited me to sign a contract. But soon later he resigned, before I could join the station staff. It was written that that broadcasting was not for me.
It was then that I received a telegram from the brothers José and Alberto De Caro to travel again to Chile and so I left. I had thought I was leaving for a year but and I stayed ten. Since 1944 until March 1953 my career developed there, with much work and much success. The violinist Antonio Rodio -who stayed to live in Chile-, and the singers Ricardo Ruiz and Héctor Insúa traveled with me.
In Chile I recorded around 150 recordings and had the most important Chilean singers as vocalists: Pepe Aguirre and Chito Faró. Other Chilean singers were: Carmen Carol, Víctor Acosta, Arturo Roa, Carlos Morán and the sisters Sonia and Miriam, daughters of the then famous composer Cora Santa Cruz, among others. Also recorded with me: Carmen Idal, Roberto Rufino, Andrés Falgás, Ricardo Ruiz, Raúl Garcés and Armando Arolas, a boy from Mendoza, almost an amateur.
When I returned from Chile I joined the orchestra that Pedro Maffia and the singer Alberto Gómez had put together. Later I had the pleasure of recording on my own, for my own label: "Chopin", where, among others, Jorge Falcón recorded with his true name, Luis Iglesias.
Why does everybody call me Chula? It's because when I was born my Daddy exclaimed: «He looks like a chula!». I was born with a very long hair and with a flequillo on his forehead, what reminded my father -who had lived in Brazil and knew the countryside very well-, of a type of monkeys called "Chula".