Bandoneonist, leader and composer
(25 July 1892 - 16 March 1977)
life under the spell of tango led with effort, dignity and focused in self-improvement.
He was born in San José (Uruguay). When he was a child his family settled in Buenos Aires. He had to face bitter times when an epidemic outbreak of smallpox caught them and killed one of his sisters.
He was newsboy like his brothers Francisco and Rafael when they were neighbors of the Grecos in the neighborhood of San Cristóbal. Around 1903 Francisco Canaro was playing mandolin and Vicente Greco, bandoneon. They were joined by a room neighbor known as "Papanova" who played guitar. Juan, listener of those rendezvous, used to serve them mate.
In 1905 Francisco Canaro had switched to violin, while Rafael, another brother, used to accompany itinerant singers with his guitar.
One day a friend of the Grecos' arrived at their house located on Sarandí Street. He was the bandoneon player Ricardo González, known by the knickname "Mochila", composer of the tango piece "La rosarina". He then was then selling numbers for a raffle whose prize was a 65-note bandoneon. Ten cents a number. Juan Canaro had no money then but someone lent him the sum to buy a number. A few days later "Mochila" told him that he had won the bandoneon. At first he failed to get any sound out of the instrument. He was quite disappointed and the instrument was kept for two years under his bed.
Around 1907 his neighbor and good friend Vicente Fiorentino, who already played violin in small groups, urged Juan to study bandoneon. He even taught him some simple chords by a symbol notation system. After much effort he finally learnt two pieces. He kept on studying but he did not dare to play before an audience. At last he made his debut at a party with Vicente Fiorentino (violin) and Luis Martínez "Papanova" on guitar. After that experience they played in Junín and Pergamino.
Since then he continued working with the most popular musicians of the period. In 1913, together with his brother Rafael, he made a long tour throughout the interior of the Argentine Republic. When they came back to the capital, he and his brother followed different roads.
One year later, summoned by Samuel Castriota, he played at the carnival balls in Santos Lugares.
Thereafter he went to Montevideo to replace Genaro Nerón Domínguez in the trio led by the pianist Pascual Cardarópoli. The violinist was Federico Lafémina and they played at the cabaret "Pigall".
Cardarópoli, the composer of the tango tune "La sonámbula", was his real teacher. He taught him solfegge, theory and music reading that enabled him to carry out his profession very well. This training as well made him proficient to compose and arrange music scores.
During his stage in Montevideo, when he split with Cardarópoli, he substituted for José Quevedo at the Carlos Warren Trio in which the third player was the violinist José Bondino. He later switched to the quintet led by Enrique Delfino, with the violinists Eduardo Monelos and Miguel La Salvia and the bandoneonist Alberto Rodríguez. The latter was replaced by Ernesto Di Cicco later.
Back in Buenos Aires, in 1916, he did stints in small outfits until the carnival of 1917 when he joined the Manuel Pizarro's group.
When Francisco Canaro returned from Rosario, after the balls held at the Teatro "Colón", he reappeared at the cabaret "Royal Pigall". There for the first time Francisco and Juan Canaro played together. The other members of the orchestra were Julio Doutry, José Martínez, Osvaldo Fresedo and Leopoldo Thompson.
Juan Canaro's tenure in the orchestra led by his brother lasted until the carnival of 1922. Then he split to put together his first outfit. That line-up was: Humberto Canaro (piano); Juan Canaro and Roque Biafore (bandoneons); Rafael Tuegols and Antonio Buglione (violins); Rodolfo Duclós (double bass). After he fulfilled his engagement, Juan Canaro traveled to Brazil, alone, to join an orchestra with international repertory and returned to Buenos Aires in the late 1922 to put together another aggregation to play at the "Casino Pigall".
In 1924 he again joined the orchestra led by his brother Francisco for the opening of the "Tabarís" and to record for the Nacional Odeon label. At the "Tabarís" his tango piece "Ahí va el dulce" was premiered.
The following year they traveled to Europe where they appeared to great acclaim and, after a short stay in Buenos Aires where he married in August 1926, he returned to Paris. Thereafter he traveled with a group of musicians to appear in New York. He came back to France to take over the leadership of the orchestra along with his brother Rafael, because Francisco Canaro returned to Buenos Aires.
In 1928 he returned to Buenos Aires and once again he appeared at the "Tabarís" with the pianist José Tinelli, the violinists Adolfo Muzzi and Ateo Dapiaggi and the bassist Hugo Baralis. Alberto Cima accompanied him in the bandoneon section.
Two years later, after playing for a time with Francisco he definitively split with his brother. Since then he led different orchestras with excellent musicians.
In 1931 he performed at the opening of the "Casanova" cabaret and later, the "Maipú Pigall". He recorded for the first time as leader in the "Victor" label. In 1932 he performed for a season at the "Tabarís" and switched to the "Armenonville" prior to its definitive closure. That was his last appearance as bandoneon player, from then on he would devote himself to conducting only.
The Juan Canaro Orchestra made a tour of Brazil and Uruguay in 1935. In Montevideo it appeared at the "Carlos Gardel" contest at the SODRE Studio Auditorium (formerly Urquiza) with the vocalist Aldo Campoamor. Later he was hired by the brand-new Radio El Mundo and thereafter he teamed up with the singer Fernando Díaz.
Up to 1939 he went on with his show business activity but it gradually began to be less frequent. In February 1940 he started a long tour of the American continent that lasted until October 1942. He premiered two lasting tango pieces: "Copa de ajenjo" and "Cantando se van las penas".
Opening a new road that became a profitable market for tango artists, he made a tour of Japan in 1954. It's worthwhile to mention that qualified embassy: Osvaldo Tarantino (piano); Alfredo Marcucci, Arturo Penón and Ramón Torreira (bandoneons); Hugo Baralis, Emilio González and Henry Balestro (violins); Rufino Arriola (double bass); María de la Fuente and Héctor Insúa (singers) and the dancers Julia and Lalo Bello.
Four years later Juan Canaro repeated the trip that turned out the culmination of his career. After that he settled in Mar del Plata.
Finally, we must highlight his oeuvre that began with the arrangement as a tango piece of "El pangaré " (1917) and his popular "Mano brava" dedicated to Minotto. "Ahí va el dulce" was his most renowned work; among his forgotten pieces are "Delirio" of great melodic beauty, and "Los Treinta y Tres", with lyrics by Jesús Fernández Blanco. Among his successful and beautiful waltzes we mention just one, that stands for them all: "La noche que me esperes" of 1937, whose dedication says: "To my beloved mother, with the love she deserves. Juan".
Juan Canaro by far deserves to be placed among the seminal figures of tango. His death took place in Mar del Plata but his smile and his bonhomie are still with us.
Originally published in the book "Ochenta notas de Tango. Perfiles Biográficos", Ed. La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. Sponsored by the "Academia de Tango del Uruguay".