Interview to Lucio Demare
he journalist and writer Osvaldo Soriano made a long interview which was published on the cultural section of the disappeared newspaper La Opinión, it took place on January 27, 1974.
Demare´s fingers run on the piano keyboard with the same feeling with which he composed tangos of touching melody. Man and his expression through music were the same thing, without differences, his bonhomie was evidenced in his music. He was a romantic as no one else when playing his instrument.
He was born on August 9, 1906 in Buenos Aires and also there he passed away on March 6, 1974. Among his compositions we can highlight "Dandy", "Mañana zarpa un barco", "Sorbos amargos", "Pa mí es igual", "Negra María", "Malena", "Lupe", "Mañanitas de Monmartre", "Tal vez será su voz", "Mientras vivas", "Más allá de mi rencor", "Hermana", "Telón", "No nos veremos más", "Milonga en rojo" and others.
I was born in the area of mercado de Abasto, near the corner of the streets Gallo and San Luis. It was the heart of town. I always liked what has features inherent to the city of Buenos Aires: the neighborhood, our friends. At five my parents moved farther on, to Colegiales. I did not play games in the streets at that age, I played piano. But it was an authentic piano playing because I felt it so.
We lived with all the family in two rooms. My mother used to call me telling me that the meal was getting cold, and as I did not go to eat, she threatened me by saying that she would throw it, if I kept on playing the piano. Those things in me were sincere, that was my way. I think I was born for music. But if I wonder where it came from, I don´t know.
Daddy was a musician, Galvani´s alumnus at the Santa Cecilia conservatory, a good violinist. I don´t know if music was a gift I inherited from him. He taught me a little theory, sight-reading and keyboard. Later I had a teacher for two years. After that period, the teacher told me: «I don't have anything else to teach you».
My old man played with Francisco Amicarelli´s father and the latter one day told him: «Look, if your son have the abilities that you say, I have a teacher for him». The teacher was Scaramuzza, who had a peculiarity: if you did not fulfill the requirements he thought were necessary, he sent you to practice until you were ready with his wife or his sister, otherwise he would dismiss you. I was lucky that he accepted me. The teacher corrected all the vices I had and that needed time to be modified. He taught me the right position for my hands, the relaxation of my arms and other things. I understood him and he loved me very much.
When I was six I sat for the first time at the piano and at the age of eight I earned my living with music. I was paid forty pesos a month at a cinema near home by accompanying the projection of silent movies. I played from two in the afternoon until midnight. Even when this was a job I did it with love, this was around 1914, since then I haven´t stopped working.
At that cinema, once a man came with his daughter to make her rehearse.
The girl was precocious as well. He waited until twelve at midnight
when the movies were over. He put the folders with music sheets on
the piano and asked for the maestro. When he saw me, wearing knickers,
he picked up the folders and intended to leave. He did not accept
any explanation until the owner arrived and suggested to him: «Listen
to this boy, he's quite good». The man thought it over and agreed
to listen to me. I began to play. Soon afterwards he came closer to
me and started to turn the pages, and when I had played six or eight
tunes I told him: «Look, sir, I guess your daughter sings well,
but I don´t rehearse twice». He was Imperio
Argentina´s father, she was then a little girl. By that
time the little girl was called Petit Imperio. Soon thereafter he
was much enthusiastic, he was crazy about me. He wanted to take me
on a tour down south and began to deal with my father, not about numbers,
but about round trip tickets in hand, but finally I did not go with
Later for me jazz came. I started playing with Nicolás Verona, a banjoist that conducted an orchestra, it was at the cine Real on Esmeralda street. I stayed with him about three years. At this cinema, like at others, they used to present three orchestras. A "classical" one in the pit, a jazz band on a small stage and a tango orchestra on another one. This lasted until Adolfo Carabelli came and drove me out of the cine Real to take me to a cabaret: "El Tabarís". The problem was that I was near to be sixteen years old and I was not allowed to work at that place as a minor. Of course, they could not see much of me, I was not tall, so I told my mother that I had to wear long trousers because I worked at the cinema with the "shorts", and my Mom, like a good "Italian" she was, would allow me to wear the "long ones" only when I was 18. Then I told her: «But, mom, this is a cabaret, I can´t go like this, it´s ridiculous!» So I wore the "long trousers" to play at the Tabarís.
At the Tabarís I had been trying some tango pieces, with enthusiasm because I liked it very much. But by then I didn´t see it as my exclusive music for the job, because one thing is what it is written and a different story is the swing, the licks, the phrasing you have to master to play it, like in any popular music.
My teacher in tango was Minotto (Enrique Di Cicco). He was the one who told me what I had to do. All this he did when Canaro left, at three o´clock in the morning because the latter did not like his orchestra working with other members not belonging to his lineup. Some months later, I asked Canaro to take me to Europe. He asked me what I wanted to do and I answered: «Tango». «You don´t know how to play tango», he answered. I, from the opposite stage, the jazz bandstand, answered him that I was learning, that I liked it. He replied nothing. Some time passed and one day he asked me if I still was feeling like going to Paris. I spent two years with him, it was 1926. I was around 19 years old.
In 1927 I met Gardel, it was the time when, with Canaro, I only played tangos and composed some but I don´t remember if I gave them titles, at least from the start. One of them was later "Mañanitas de Montmartre". We used to call Canaro by the nickname "Pirincho", but his brothers called him "Kaiser", because he was a very rough guy. With him I shared many pleasant things, like the trip to Europe, where I saw him as a serious, responsible person, with a vision for things.
I premiered "Mañanitas de Montmartre" in front of an audience when it still had no title and I did not announce it. Then from several tables I was asked about the name of the tango. I was enthusiastic because of the recognition it achieved so I composed "Dandy". Of course, that was not its name, it had no name. Thereafter lyrics and title were added to it and Gardel premiered it.
The opening night I was playing the piano and, all of a sudden, I saw Gardel by my side. We were at the "Ambassador", in Paris, at la Place de la Concorde, a place somewhat like the "Armenonville" in Buenos Aires, a distinguished restaurant. There I witnessed Paul Whiteman´s debut. I was unable to believe it. I held a chart-book of his and placed it on my chest as if I were holding a child. His music stands, his music charts were there, and he arrived for a rehearsal with the full orchestra and his vocal quartet that included Bing Crosby.
There I saw as well a company of the Folies Bergere, but composed by blacks, something I had never seen before. I also saw Rudolf Valentino. I didn´t talk to him, but it was the first time I saw a person with a tuxedo completely white. I remember when Lindberg crossed the ocean with his plane and Paris did not sleep that night. It seems to me an incredible thing to have lived at that time.
Everything was at hand. Our money (peso) equaled ten francs. When I arrived in Paris I saw a number of musicians, they played with Canaro, with Bianco-Bachicha, with Manuel Pizarro, all of them owned an automobile. For me it was possible to get a car only after eight or ten months, because I had traveled only with my father and I wanted to take my mother and my two brothers as well. I didn´t stop until I achieved it. I paid for my first car 23.000 francs. Once I got it, I did not know what to do with it, I had no time to drive it, because I worked from five in the afternoon till four in the early morning. Only at that time I was able to have a walk around but nothing else.
Canaro was quite a character. I remember that he had a beautiful "voiturette" and he had decided to buy a pair of gloves for driving. One day, he met my "dad" and asked him if he should go with him to a shop. The vendor was a very pleasant girl. "What do you need?", she asked them. "A pair of driving gloves", answered Canaro. The vendor asked "Quelle mesure?" (What size?), but Canaro understood "Quelle voiture?" (What car?). Then he was proud and answered: "Renault". The woman looked at him bewildered. Then, Canaro added: "Ten H.P. and some other things". When the misunderstanding was cleared out Canaro was deeply ashamed. He turned around and told my father in a low voice: "I'm sick and tired of these foreigners".
I got an apartment for my mother, with kitchen, bathroom and some fairly good furniture, for only 750 francs a month. I earned 600, a day. It was possible to live that way. By that time there were many people who went to Paris for the sake of going, they wandered along the streets trying to get some "bucks" somewhere. They were unsuccessful singers or musicians with an erratic conduct, who used to remain at a job no more than 15 days and thereafter they held out for two months doing nothing. These people always tried to approach Argentine compatriots to beg them. Some considered themselves as singers and, in fact, they were nothing, or they thought they were musicians and they did not even read music. They belonged to that kind of "smart" guys, those ones that waited for the chance when someone was not paying attention to "cheat" him.
They were all based on la Rue Pigalle or at Notre Dame. Those were the "anchored in Paris". By that time, Gardel had just made his debut at the "Gaumont", which was a music-hall where international attractions performed. He succeeded, but the ovation came from women. For them, Gardel was a sort of being of the other world.
With us he behaved like an easygoing fellow, he enjoyed sharing the sincerity of the man from the city of Buenos Aires, but as soon as he saw a strange thing he was upset. On one occasion, he came to know about a singer who imitated him, his friends told him about that. He said nothing, but when he got hold of a record in which the recording was by Gardel but the record label was superimposed by the imitator´s, he went to see the latter and simply told him: "No, boys, now this is a jerk". Those guys were a plague. Anyone capable of playing an instrument or singing a little went to Paris to take advantage of the fame of others.
I was not much in contact with Gardel. When he stood by my side at the "Ambassador" he asked me what "Dandy" was like. Then we arranged a rehearsal at home. Like a gentleman, he came at the time we had agreed upon. Later I invited him to eat a puchero (boiled dinner) and he told me: "Is your mom Italian or Spanish?". "Italian", I answered. "Then I want to eat pasta". So we made an arrangement for the following day, to eat some ravioli. And while my mom was in the kitchen getting the ravioli ready he sang for her "Dandy" and told her: "Look, this piece is by your song and with it I´ll score a goal".
He was a serious person of few words. A great individual as far as I knew. And I tell you this without the intention of mystifying more someone who nobody find fault with. Probably he had defects, but it was not easy to see them. He helped people and asked nothing in return. By then he was at the peak of his fame, but for him it was no burden.
He told me that Caruso had praised him, that after becoming a friend of his, he warned him: "Never do what singers do, they use a scarf to protect themselves from cold. Get out onto the street like anyone else. When I finish singing an opera act and get out all sweated, I place myself in front of a cooling fan". And as for sore throat he explained: "Do not have pills, don´t have anything. When you feel bad about your throat, cut a piece of ham, as if it were a die and chew it. The salt it contains is what makes you good".
After "Dandy" I spent two years with Canaro and I had become encouraged with Irusta and Fugazot to put up a trio. We alone made our debut at a theater, and we achieved three successful months. But I was a boy that regarded myself as a musician, I liked what we were doing, but for me the little piano and the singers were not much fun.
Then they asked me what I would like to do. I told them that I longed for joining a group, that I wanted to have musicians, to write tangos. "There are no Argentine musicians", they told me, and I answered: "I´m going to find all the Argentine musicians I can". The fact is that I worked hard all by myself until I reunited them all. Among them Héctor María Artola and Antonio Polito were.
Out of this interest of mine of having musicians, of putting up an orchestra that could have another dimension, a half-an-hour show sprang up, with it we toured the country (note: Demare refers to Spain, the debut took place at the teatro Maravillas, in Madrid). Of what I am most proud of is what I did for my brother Lucas, whom I love. He says that he would have never shot any film had it not been for me (He is talking of his brother Lucas Demare, one of the most important directors of the Argentine cinema, with several dozens of movies in his career).
When he was a young boy he came to Europe following Mom, he played a little piano. Later he came back to Buenos Aires and, soon thereafter, he was sorry for having left. He started to study bandoneon. As my aggregation was lined-up by 15 members I might as well include him.
Lucas went to Pedro Maffia's place to study with him. "I play piano, he told him". "Piano playing has nothing to do with bandoneon", answered Maffia. Then he learnt something and came to work with me. And so the things went until we started the movie "Boliche". We spent eight months in making it. We used the over-dubbing system, so my brother spent around fifteen days watching the shooting between take and take and he was turned on by film making.
When we went to Cuba after having made two movies, Lucas finally told me he wanted to quit the orchestra. I returned to Buenos Aires in 1935. But he stayed in Spain and was caught by the Spanish Civil War early skirmishes. He was then in Barcelona and he told me that in order to go out to fetch food he had to wrap himself up in a mattress to avoid the possibility of a stray bullet.
He was assistant on several films, until our consul was ordered to repatriate all the Argentines. But here he got no job, until Canaro suggested shooting a film for him. So he shot "Dos amigos y un amor", with Pepe Iglesias. He was then 22 years old, later he shot some others but the hit came with "Chingolo" with the actor Luis Sandrini. Later came "El viejo hucha" and "La guerra gaucha", then he was already famous.
While in Barcelona with the music group, our youngest brother died, a golden boy, I could not forget him. In 1930 we went to Havana and spent a year there. Argentines were welcome there. Cubans were very friendly, and much joyous. We played at a very small theater, also at the "Sans souci", that was a cabaret far from downtown, here we played a danceable tango.
But in Cuba, tango did not interest much. I realized that things were not getting along very well so I decided to go back south towards Argentina, we were a great number of people and it was becoming hard to earn for a living. I was getting ready to quit my partners. Each one on his own could get along much better. We went to Haiti, but we found no enthusiasm. We had to play at the Argentine embassy, we played some tangos but nothing happened. Later we invited them to dance, but to no avail. Finally we had to play pasodobles (Spanish dance music), then they did dance.
We went to Puerto Rico and Venezuela. In Caracas I decided to split with them. I told them I was afraid of running the risk of a failure. We still have to go to Perú, and later to Buenos Aires. I asked who was for that route and who was for going back to Europe. Nearly all of them chose Europe. Only the trio stayed.
In Buenos Aires we made a successful debut at the Broadway Theater, but unfortunately Roberto Fugazot had an accident on an elevator that fell down from a third floor. He was with Juan Carlos Cobián and Enrique Cadícamo, but only he was hurt, he broke his leg. Four months with a plaster cast and our success was interrupted. When he recovered, we worked at the Monumental, but things were not the same.
It was 1931, and we were wondering what we were doing. We agreed to travel again, as the Paramount in Paris that hired Gardel was interested in us, but Fugazot -who was very peculiar- said no: "No, no, not we. The Americans hire us for weeks, they´re gonna cast us on four or five movies, they'll pay us some dollars and ...bye bye. Instead, we shall shoot the movie we like and we shall also produce it". So we went to Spain to shoot "Boliche".
We started to work hard. The shooting lasted around 8 months, a Spaniard, Paco Elías was the director. Antonio Graciani was the scriptwriter. I was in the role of a blind musician, and my partners played the role of singers. The eight or nine songs included were all "hits" of mine. The movie worked well at the box office, but we got no money, because the distributor kept all the profits for himself. The film was exhibited at a cinema placed in front of the one exhibiting "Luces de Buenos Aires", starring Gardel, so we had the chance to interest those people who had just seen Carlos. What a lot of women! They were crazy about him, but he, personally, was extremely discreet.
He had his women but he was never boastful. Later we made "Ave sin rumbo" and nearly the same happened. We, that were considered almost idols, had not found the way to make money. Our youth needed a more experienced person to handle our business. Each time we arrived at a theater, the owner told us: "Fifty per cent, the half for the trips or nothing." And so it always was!
By that time there were musicians that much struggled after their interests, like Cobián, that often played in high-class salons. But the outstanding star of that period was Julio De Caro. I personally had a special admiration for his brother Francisco. I very much liked "Flores negras" and "Loca bohemia", I followed that trend. What I greatly regretted was not having continued studying music in Europe, due to the lack of time because of our work.
In 1935 I was back to Canaro´s group. I was his collaborator in musical comedies for two years. I orchestrated and conducted them. After that I put up my first orchestra with which I debuted in 1938. I think it was the happiest time in my life as a musician, that one was a well rehearsed, precise team.
My orchestra was popular for ten years. It was a very good aggregation, I was not commercially interested, we had a style and a repertory. That brought as a result that I had my public. Our work began to decline in 1948. We were losing space on radios and musicians realized that a music stand was not a promising way of living. Then I started working with the piano, I alone. I wrote music for movies as well.
For me, the golden age of tango was after 1935, it did not began exactly in 1940. Today the Buenos Aires citizen (1974) does not keep the features of that tango fan of my time. Tango has to be understood and that happens at least when you are 45 years old. It is the time when you begin to see that tango has something, things that you are experiencing and start to hurt you.
I always composed my pieces alone. I recall an evening in 1931, we three (Roberto Fugazot and Agustín Irusta) were together. I got up because I could not sleep and went to the music room. I began to poke among the books and I found "Por el camino adelante", by Joaquín Dicenta, Jr. I musicalized it at three o'clock in the morning.
In Spain we achieved a remarkable success. There they knew Dicenta´s poems, they said they were Spanish poems with music from the Pampas. I liked to compose after texts previously written, I had that facility. Most things I did with Manzi were like that.
I composed the music of "Malena" in no more than 15 minutes. Manzi had given to me the lyrics about ten days before. I said to myself: "Tonight Manzi will come and at least I´ll tell him how the tango begins". Then I sat at a café and wrote it from beginning to end, neither polishing it nor changing anything at all. It was in the summer of 1942, at "El Gran Guindado", a barroom on Acevedo Street and Libertador Avenue, facing the zoo, a time later it was demolished.
Manzi was a great perfectionist, he was like a musician writing. He did not write a standard thing. Something very peculiar in him was that he first put the title and later he developed the poem. With the title in mind the rest easily worked. But he had another distinct feature, for instance, if today he had written the lyrics for "Sur", tomorrow he would forget about it, he had to do another thing. Homero had that tenderness, that warm image, he was a man that always enthralled women, he praised them, when he started to say things to a woman you had to wait for a very long time before he finished. I first met him when he was devoted to politics, with the Radical party in 1946 during the campaign for Crisólogo Larralde. Much later he switched to Peronism. Sometimes we regret that things are beyond our reach, that someone gets sick, or dies. But we are satisfied for not having taking advantage of those people.
With Discépolo I never succeeded in doing anything. One day I told him: "When shall we make a tango together?". He answered: "Right now, bring me the music." I told him that he had to bring the lyric first but he answered to me: "No. If I do not have the music first I cannot". Then he hummed "Chorra" and added: "Do you image I made the music first ...". I was either unsuccessful in doing anything with Celedonio Flores.
Besides Gardel tango had outstanding singers. For example, Corsini, I found faults in him, but he had a great personality. As soon as he opened his mouth you knew it was Corsini. People argued about Gardel and Corsini, as fans of a soccer team (River or Boca). The fans of the former did not stand hearing about the latter, and vice versa. The same happened with Magaldi, they were really the monsters of singing. Some of them were left behind, as it happened with Rodríguez Lesende, he was good at phrasing tango, but he was neither given the chance with mikes, nor he appeared on television, but when you hear him you had to say: "Here there is a singer".
When I disbanded my orchestra I played at many venues. I realized that I was surrounded by people that followed me but I did not take commercial advantage of that. I opened "Cambalache", with Tania, I had my friends and she had hers. I played until five in the morning as if the local were mine, but I was only an employee there. Two years later I tried to run my own tango local, on Cangallo street (now General Perón) and Libertador Avenue. I went with Mercedes Simone. A few months later she got ill, so I and some partners bought her share. But they let me down. Later "Malena al Sur" was born, in 1969. I was much satisfied after the hard work it meant to me. I did the job of a bricklayer, I was just another worker. From the start it worked OK, up to now. People come to hear me and also to talk with me.
For me, the Paris period, my first steps, now seem as if they were a dream and nothing else to me. Also the ten years of my orchestra. I think that among my things there are some that are most noteworthy: "Mañanitas de Montmartre", "Sentimiento tanguero", "Sorbos amargos", "Malena", "Solamente ella". I keep on writing and I have a lot of pieces unpublished. I shall never leave music and I am happy for that.