Norberto Chab

Pontier - Chatting in Armando Pontier’s house (1979)

f there is a man who is preoccupied about going on evolving as long as time goes by, that one is Pontier. If there is a musician that is self-demanding, that is looking for new paths but sticking to traditional tango, that one is Pontier. There is a creative elf inside him that never forsakes him.

«There cannot be an explanation about tango. But, certainly, it is not an accident in somebody’s life, it comes with us. I, for example, attended high school as a boarder at the Instituto León XIII. And there I was punished for singing tangos in class. It’s a mystery, because with other beats the feeling is not so rooted. We’ve got tango under our skin, for that reason, abroad when Argentinians hear a tango they feel like weeping. Despite I like many other musical expressions, I don’t feel like playing them. The worst disease I went through was not being able to work. Why? Because I have the need of expressing tango music.

«I recall that at age six, in Zárate, my hometown, I already studied guitar playing. I would have liked to play piano but my family was humble and could not afford to buy one. Anyhow, I wanted something with a keyboard. One day my father went to Buenos Aires and on Libertad Street saw a bandoneon that was for sale at forty pesos and gave it to me as a birthday present. It was the best thing I got. After six months of studying —I did it with maestro Trizzi— I was so in love with the instrument, that I made my debut at the Teatro Coliseo, in Zárate, by playing alone at a school party. I was not twelve yet.

«I also remember a series of records by Juan Maglio that were at home. Out of all them I always remembered: “El apache argentino”. Maybe because of that, when I made my debut the first tango I played was that one. Apart from that, in my family there was no other musical background.

«At a school party Juan Ehlert, a great music teacher, came to know me. Then I began to study harmony and composition with him. He also was the teacher of Enrique Francini, Cristóbal Herreros, Héctor Stamponi. All that people came from Zárate. We used to study at the Conservatorio Iberoamericano, and also we were members of an orchestra that Ehlert himself had put together. So we arrived in Buenos Aires.

«Encouraged by one of my aunts, in 1939, we started to appear at “La Matinée de Juan Manuel”. By that time, there was much advertising for Ana María Pugliese, under the slogan “La muñequita de la Casa Roy”, which was an enterprise that sponsored the radio show. We made the audition for Juan Manuel and, by chance, Miguel Caló was in the studio accompanying Elena Lucena. He heard us play and immediately wanted to talk to us. I was in the military service then, but he told me that as soon I was released he wanted me to come to Buenos Aires because I already had a place in his orchestra. Because of that Francini joined him before I did it.

«By that time, with a buddy in the military service, when we were on leave we went to hear Aníbal Troilo. Then Jorge Argentino Fernández was in the bandoneon section. We listened to them and returned in the evening.

«Curiously, Caló formed an orchestra that included nearly all members from the provinces. I played in that aggregation until 1945. Out of the three that came from Zárate, the first one to awake was Héctor Stamponi who went to Mexico accompanying Amanda Ledesma.

«On September 1, 1945 the Francini-Pontier orchestra made its debut at the opening of the Tango Bar house on Corrientes 1200. That period of co-leadership lasted exactly ten years. Because on that same date but in 1955 I made my debut as sole leader.

«Was that a good period? I think it was. And I always remember those pleasant times when I lived in the boarding house on 321 Salta Street. That was the shelter of all the musicians that came from the provinces who, curiously, succeeded in becoming something in the milieu.

«The boarding house had a quite large hall and, around three or four in the morning, Emilio Barbato used to play some sort of prelude on the piano. Suddenly, the players were joining him until it became a big orchestra. Thereafter, everybody came from outside to listen because it spread widely.

«One day a friend came to tell me that Troilo was about to premiere my first tango: “Milongueando en el cuarenta”. I nearly got angry. I told him that he had not to play those jokes on me because I didn’t like them. Troilo, according to me, was so big that I had not seriously thought on that possibility. But it was true. Things like those were the prettiest things that tango gave me. Being the admirer of an artist and that the latter would also recognize you is wonderful. The “Gordo” was greatly gifted and he also had good chops.

«Another one I admired was Elvino Vardaro. One day, before I came to Buenos Aires, I wrote to him asking for a photo. When I got it the best frame at home was for his picture. I was mad about him. His way of playing, of saying, he talked the same language as I. I loved him, I admired him. These are the things we have when we are so sensitive.

«Tango gave me a lot, and I think I’ll never be able to give it back, especially, as composer. “Qué falta que me hacés” has 300 recordings worldwide. And this is not being boastful, but when you arrive in a country and you are recognized, you feel small because you think: How can I be so far from my place and this is known by everybody?

«Comparing it with what is happening now, in 1979. I’m unable to say that in the forties were either better or worse orchestras. But there was something that the groups today don’t have: personality. Today on the radio you cannot tell what orchestra is playing. No one dares to say this is mine, I have created it, it’s new. Everybody follows the customary patterns. The last one who stepped forward in tango’s service and has talent and personality is Astor Piazzolla. But after him, no one.

«I’m tied to an idea and I’ll be all my life: tango enters your ear and runs through all your body until it touches your feet. Because of that the 40s was the best epoch, people went to dance. Now rhythm was put aside and rhythm is what conquers the world. We’ve lost ground. But little by little we are recovering it. There is one Héctor Varela that sells thousand of records.

«There is a youth, I see them when I work, but we have to conquer them back. We only need to find the element that may attract people and to recover the market».