Norberto Chab

Verdi - The “Disarlian” paradigm

erdi is one of the most typical examples of rapport with a certain style. Of his long career, he spent 26 years alongside Carlos Di Sarli, and so he achieved a total adjustment to the peculiar way of playing of the bandleader. But before and after that some other things happened to him.

«I’m a musician because my father, like a true Verdi, had in mind that I had to become one. Because of that he made me study music since an early age. When I was six I already played violin with Darío Grassi, a great teacher. Soon thereafter tango fascinated me. I began to play it even before knowing its language.

«I started when I was very young. By 1930 I was sent to see Ernesto De La Cruz who was playing at the El Nacional café because he needed a violinist. By that time Juan Cruz Mateo was about to quit so I joined them as second violin. Then I began to be acquainted with some musicians but, frankly, I did not frequent the milieu. Curiously my father was delighted with the fact that I played. He did not mind if it was either tango or classical music.

«One evening José Lorito, who played with Osvaldo Fresedo, turned up to invite me to the opening of the Ricordi house on Florida Street. As I finished playing at half past seven in the evening, I had time to arrive on time. Julio De Caro was expected to play and he wanted me to listen to him. I didn’t even know who De Caro was but he insisted because he was to play with his special violin and, that he thought it would interest me.

«At the time of our arrival the six members of the group were getting off a cab. They were the brothers Emilio, Francisco and Julio, Pedro Maffia, Pedro Laurenz and Negro Leopoldo Thompson. I ought to have paid attention to the violin. But I was after the bandoneon. There was such an attraction for me in that man which later grew when I heard “Buen amigo”, the first tango of the evening. On one hand, the incomparable style of the orchestra and, on the other, the Maffia’s influence. This made me quit violin playing and I began to study bandoneon.

«I had a bandoneon at home because my sister was engaged with a boy that played. But he finally gave up. Then I asked him if he would leave the instrument to me and so I started playing. At the beginning it was very hard for me because I was not acquainted with the keyboard. Finally I learned two or three pieces and that afternoon I went to De La Cruz’s place to ask him if he would teach me to play bandoneon. I played “Amadeo”, one of his tangos, and he soon noticed that that was the instrument for me. So he wrote some scales for me to study. When my tenure with De La Cruz came to an end I switched to the Richmond Suipacha. There I found an orchestra with a bandoneon player somewhat weak, then I had the responsibility of driving even though I knew very little. But in a few months I was getting used to that.

«Soon later I approached Maffia, who played with his orchestra at the Richmond Lavalle” and I asked him to teach me. He accepted delighted but I only was one month with him. As we used to play soccer in the Argentinos Juniors field, each time I went to his home he spent all the time talking about soccer. “You play well” —he used to tell me—, “Maestro, I want to learn”, I replied. “Yes, yes, of course”. But soon later he paid no attention to the bandoneon and went on with soccer. I was unable to learn anything that way, I regretted it very much, but his other passion was stronger.

Orquesta Típica Novel«I had the chance to join the Roberto Firpo Orchestra and nearly made my debut at the Teatro Casino but Nicolás Pepe, also summoned by Firpo, talked me into joining the orchestra led by Roberto Dimas Lurbes to appear at a cabaret. We thought it over and we chose the cabaret (1929). So I became acquainted with Dimas with whom I daily used to have dinner. Also I played along with José María Rizutti and at the Orquesta Típica Novel.

«One day Dimas told me that there was an orchestra at the Café Guaraní on 900 Lavalle Street which he wanted to listen to. We went there and when I reached the venue’s door I heard something different that I had never heard before. I liked the style, the way, the strength. Sure, it was Di Sarli. To such an extent I was touched that after my gig at the cabaret I stayed practicing that kind of style.

«Time later Pepe came with the news that Di Sarli needed a bandoneon and that he would come to listen to me. That evening I was really on edge. When we finished playing he came closer to me and made an appointment. That was the way how he summoned me to join his orchestra. A few days later I made my debut and he was surprised because I was soon adjusted to his style.

«That orchestra had something that made it different from the others. It had something that it is now hard to find which I call “sacred fire”. I liked all of it: the drive in the crescendi, the strong stacatto with the right hand, that way of beginning very lightly to reach the forte and stopping in a chord, while the violins begin. I was absolutely identified with that style. Since 1932, when I had my debut, I have been admiring that way of playing.

«I split with Di Sarli twice. The first one was in 1941. By that time he had put together the orchestra but he did not summon me. Then I decided to form my own outfit. I was about to make my debut with a schedule of dancehalls and appearances on Radio El Mundo when one evening, when I was at the radio station door with Aníbal Troilo, Di Sarli approached me, talked to me in private and told me that he needed me. At that time I was very proud of it and did not care about all the things I had to do. By that time my sidemen were Ismael Spitalnik and Ricardo Cannataro. I recall that when we finished playing at the cabarets right away we used to go to play soccer in the Argentinos Juniors stadium. We were nuts!

«Years later, in 1948, we had an argument and I quit again. The fact is that the maestro was very demanding and exacting and it was easy for him to get angry when there were some mistakes. “Boys, you are professionals”, he used to say. But it was not a question of technique but of interpretation. Time later I met Leopoldo Federico who had joined the orchestra to replace me and he told me: “I respect very much your maestro, but I think it’s better that you come back because you’re the one who understands him best”. I told him that it was only a question of time, of adjusting himself to the style and I suggested him to go on until he felt comfortable: “No, I quit tonight”, he replied. I did not pay much attention to his words, but in fact he soon quit and the orchestra disbanded. In 1950 the maestro phoned me. He told me that he wanted to return. I replied that I thought it was all right.

«I returned and my tenure was until 1956. It was when the musicians split with the bandleader. They were Freddy Scorticati, Ángel Ramos, Luis Masturini and Juan Carlos Matino. I told my friend Di Sarli that I was quitting together with the boys. So the aggregation Los Señores del Tango was born. We started at the Richmond Suipacha, and I recall that the new members of the Di Sarli Orchestra came to listen to us in order to learn our style. According to them, the maestro, instead of giving them instructions, told them funny stories and jokes.

«The truth is that when he definitively abandoned the idea of leading an orchestra, I also quit playing as a professional. There was no orchestra for me then. When Di Sarli passed away, my only resource was devoting myself to teaching the instrument. And so I went on up to now».

Possibly he has forgotten it but in 1958 he returned to the aggregation where he was accompanied by José Libertella, Julián Plaza, Alfredo Marcucci and Domingo Sánchez. They were over two decades together and Di Sarli influenced him completely and Félix Verdi was a faithful expression of the personality of his teacher.

Excerpted from “Tango, un siglo de historia 1880-1980” Editorial Perfil.