Osvaldo Montes and a deserved homage
n October 2007 the Academia Nacional del Tango held a meeting as homage to maestro Osvaldo Montes. On that occasion the academician Alberto Romeo had an interesting chat with him.
There we came to know, among other things, that his nom de plume was first heard of in the years of his military service —which Montes complied with in the Navy— and, especially, because he and his bandoneon had embarked in the battleship Bahía Thetis and had toured throughout the world.
This note transcribes excerpts of that talk and of the motion picture we made for that event:
«I was born in Rosario (province of Santa Fe) and at age eight my father was in the hospital and my mother that had to go to help my father everyday, once she told me:
—You’re wasting a lot of time, would you like that I buy a musical instrument for you?
—Yes, mom. A piano.
—Son, you know we’re broke how do you want to get a piano?
«A few days later my mother turned up with a bandoneon she had bought to pay in instalments: thirty ten-pesos-a-month. Therer were months when we couldn’t pay.
«I was born on 732 Garibaldi Street. My main fatherland was the Hertz club of Rosario. As for the boys in my neighbourhood, that were older than I, I recall Avelino Sánchez, Petete, their mother, Aurelio. They used to take me to the movies and I was a little kid and liked to buy a fried cake with five cents.
«I must very much thank the people who helped me, like Atilio Peceti who was the first one that taught me to play bandoneon. Later Don Pedro Caifano who polished my playing. And I don’t want to forget that, when I was member of the orchestra led by Raúl Bianchi, Don Miguel Martino helped in everything he was able to, as if I had been his son. When I had to go to the military service, they came to Retiro to say goodbye to me. It was January 1, 1955.
«I used to go to Radio El Mundo because Víctor Lavallén invited me and he used to say: “Here comes the sailor (El Marinero), he wants to play”. And I played but one day a navy officer appeared and he scolded me. It was Miguel Caló Orchestra, later it was the one led by Joaquín Do Reyes.
«The peak of my career was playing with Leopoldo Federico and with Julio Sosa. I much admired that singer, he was a worker in the stage. Playing alongside him was an honor for me as it was playing with Federico, with Rossini. They were heavyweights, greats. They still are now.
«I recorded a lot with singers: with Néstor Fabián in the Atilio Stampone’s orchestra. He’s like my brother. I recorded with Alberto Marino, with Floreal Ruiz, with Edmundo Rivero, with Roberto Goyeneche. I played with Alfredo Gobbi, with Miguel Caló, with Mariano Mores and his son Nito. Also with Pedro Laurenz, with the Quinteto Real, with Horacio Salgán. A great number of gigs with Libertad Lamarque and with Mercedes Simone. I don’t know who I haven’t backed in a recording session».
He recalls with Romeo his contribution to Concepto, that beautiful long-playing record recorded by Atilio Stampone.
«Well, I lived many years with Alfredo Belusi, vocalist with José Basso and Osvaldo Pugliese. When Alfredo died the greatest friend of all my lifetime was gone».
Leopoldo Federico remembers: «With the orchestra we went to Rosario to play with Julio Sosa. We were dining, I don’t remember where, when somebody said that in Rosario there was a boy that played quite well. He was brought to our table and he was indeed a kid. I don’t remember how old he was but they handed him an instrument which nearly was falling from his knees and, before us, he began to play. He amazed us. I would have never wondered that he, time later, would be my lead bandoneon player.
«And we have a quite similar style, the one which means going to and fro with different aggregations. In many ones he played I also did. He had a similar destiny: going to a venue all of a sudden to play with an orchestra with no previous rehearsal because there was a contract to comply with. And he always faced his responsibilities bravely and humbly. We spent very happy times, we played together, and now with Aníbal Arias he’s doing things that are more than beautiful. I’m very happy to participate in this homage that you have well deserved».
Osvaldo goes on: «Is there anything in the world better than traveling? I was fortunate to play in thirteen cities of the thirteen capitals of the Socialist Republics. It’s incredible that even though they did not know my language, a large number of letters were sent to me to thank me.
«But there’s no doubt that despite all the tours and things I’ve done nothing struck me as hard as being alongside Julio Sosa. Thereafter I continued with the tours. We went to Holland, Belgium, Denmark. In Copenhagen I taught to play tango. You can’t believe it, in a quite beautiful music school». Furthermore he highlights his appearance at the Smithsonian Museum of Washington.
«OK, Japan is like my home. I have a large number of friends there. We have played a dozen times there, most them with Aníbal Arias. I also played with Antonio Agri, with Nestor Marconi, who is one of the greats in the world. In Japan someone shouted at me: “¡Maestro, it’s an honor to have you here!”, and then I remembered when my mother helped me to study bandoneon at three o’clock in the morning».
Horacio Ferrer, addressing the bandoneonist, tells him: «Osvaldo, dear sailor. Your name is a symbol of the bandoneon in our time. Your nickname, so funny and so true, is the living representation of the prestige you have won for tango around the world. Thus this Academia regards you as an Académico de honor, honoring itself with your appointment and wants to express its satisfaction for your success and for this homage that is absolutely justified and deserved. Brother, dear sailor».
Again Osvaldo speaks: «For twenty-three years I have been playing in the Orquesta de Tango de Buenos Aires and with Aníbal Arias, who helped very much. We put together a duo sometime ago when somebody in the orchestra was absent and we played ad lib, with no rehearsal. With Arias we have some possible beautiful gigs: we’re going to Paris, to make three or four recitals and a trip to Japan for the tenth time. Aníbal is my music mate and my friend.
«I almost omitted a musician I have loved greatly: my father. He knew nothing about music but he used to tell me: this is right, this is wrong, and he never failed.
«The new disc of the duo is available. On the disc cover we included a saying by Carlos García: “It’s very, very difficult to play easy.” The disc is dedicated to him.
«I was lucky to have a family. I owe it to the bellows. My wife Beatriz, and my daughters Marina, Paula and Celina, they are all siblings of my bandoneon, in a way».
Aníbal Arias, noticeably moved, told the Marinero: «I’m proud of being part of this homage. You deserve this and much more. I wish the best for you and I’m very obliged for being your friend. I form a duo that when we play we are in a very special mood, we’re out of this world, and we are carried by the tango spirit. By the spirit of those tangos that you play so wonderfully».
Finally, maestro Montes, as a last remark, confesses: «What I liked most in all my life was playing bandoneon». And so the evening ends with a bandoneon solo, “Silbando” and later, in a duet with Arias, a series of classics that ended with “La cumparsita”.