Confessions by Roberto Álvarez in Medellín
nterview with the bandoneonist Roberto Alvarez made in Medellín (Colombia), on June 27, 2015.
When were you in the Osvaldo Pugliese orchestra and who were the ones who wrote the arrangements?
—There was a time, in the maestro’s orchestra, when nearly all the members were composers and arrangers. By the time I joined it, in 1978, there may have been three or four arrangers: Arturo Penón, Daniel Binelli, Osvaldo Pugliese, of course, and I.
Why was there a change so substantial in the sound of the orchestra of Pugliese when the players that would put together the Sexteto Tango in 1968 quit?
—At that time he had a wonderful orchestra. I think that that period was the best of Osvaldo Pugliese, before the players that would form the Sexteto Tango split with him. At that time there were still clubs and people danced with the orchestra. It was more rhythmical.
In 1969 it was already a period when the clubs had begun to disappear and the café-concerts began to appear. They were smaller venues where people did not dance and the attraction had to be a bandoneon solo, which delayed a small note somewhere, a violin solo, and by then the danceable beat had been lost a bit. But everybody did the same because the admirer who went to see them remained at a seat listening, he was unable to dance, then a different sort of tango had to be shown. But I, especially, liked much more the 40’s and 50’s period.
Who writes the arrangements in the Orquesta Color Tango?
—The orchestra was founded in 1989. I was the founder, of course, and at that time was the bandoneonist Víctor Lavallén. We were both arrangers and there was a Uruguayan keyboardist who unfortunately died at a very young age, Juan Carlos Zunini, who was as well arranger. The three of us wrote the charts.
The violinist was Carlos Piccione, who had been lead violin with Troilo. Later we had the pianist Roberto Cicaré, who had been pianist with Caló, and with other great orchestras. That is to say that when Color Tango was born in 1989, nearly in the 90’s, it was an all-star group.
Also with a cooperative scheme like Pugliese?
—Yes, the same. And we go on like that until now.
Once I saw a Color Tango orchestra which was led by Amílcar Tolosa. Is it another Orquesta Color Tango?
—Amílcar Tolosa was also bass player for Pugliese and when Color Tango was put together, three musicians quit: Fernando Rodríguez (who still is with Color Tango and is the lead violin), Amílcar Tolosa (double bass player) and I, that at that time was playing as lead bandoneon. Then Color Tango was only one, and still is only one. But at a certain time, due to disagreements, he split with the orchestra. Each of us had the 50% of the name Color Tango, then there was no solution. We had to change its name or none of us had to use it. We turned to lawyers and we agreed that we both could use it but as Roberto Álvarez’s Color Tango and as Amílcar Tolosa’s Color Tango. But he was unable to continue because he was neither leader, nor arranger and had to depend on other musicians. He formed it with other players that had left Color Tango and who already knew the repertoire and that had rehearsed with me. They played some gigs but thereafter, naturally, they stopped appearing.
What’s the difference about style between Color Tango and the Pugliese orchestra?
—When Color Tango was born, Víctor Lavallén intended to do another thing that had a Pugliese’s flavor and something of the Sexteto Tango. Instead, my arrangements went straight towards Pugliese’s style. Later, when Lavallén quit, practically the whole orchestra began to work within Osvaldo Pugliese’s values. Hence I say that Color Tango is a branch of that tree which the Maestro meant. Logically, any one has always something to show. But we are based on the roots, which consist of a stressed beat. Some things that we play are from recordings of the orchestra and others are our own arrangements.
What did Pugliese possess that he left a school of sound? Why are there not orchestras that play a la Di Sarli or a la Troilo?
—Because for the young musician it was more attractive to recognize Pugliese’s stuff. It was not musically difficult but it was very complicated to be played because, on many occasions, it was impossible to write exactly what had to be played. The ‘rubato’ passages, the ‘staccato’ lines, etc.
With Aníbal Troilo, a musician who had to substitute another player, if he read well the music parts, he was capable to go on any evening and play. That is to say, it was a normal orchestra. The one led by Pugliese, instead, was totally atypical and the musician who had not rehearsed would never be able to play. He would be surprised because there are times when one thing is written but it is played in a different way. That way of playing a ‘rubato’, etc., cannot be committed to the music staff.
The Pugliese orchestra and the ones which stem from its style, do they touch a today’s youngster more than orchestras like the ones of Troilo or Di Sarli? Would an orchestra like those ones sound anachronistic?
—I wouldn’t say that much. I’m specially fan of Di Sarli, but what Di Sarli had, who was so personal in piano playing, made impossible even to make a re-recording with the orchestra and transcribe the things he used to play. It was impossible. Pugliese, instead, even though his playing has also difficulties, it’s easier to transcribe his piano part. But Di Sarli’s playing was very personal, furthermore, it was an orchestra which had no solos of any instrument. The arrangements were different to the ones of all the other orchestras, they had an extraordinary richness. Pugliese’s way has the appeal that one can devise other things in the same style. This constantly surprises us with his ‘yumba’. It’s a sweet sound, with romantic melodies, but also, at times, aggressive. It has both things: passion or sweetness and aggressiveness.
The Pugliese orchestra clearly had a social aspect, given the political affiliation of the maestro, there were subjects that dealt with social affairs, anti-establishment matters. Does the Orquesta Color Tango also have it?
—In fact, even though we agreed on many things that Osvaldo thought -Penón and Tolosa shared his ideology- I did not personally share many things.
But I did listen to him very attentively because he was a person that proved with facts what he said: money. What he said was consequent with what he did. There are many who talk but when we put in danger their money, they forget all about communism. In the case of Osvaldo that did not happen.
He had no notion about money. On occasions, when we were in a barroom at a rest, he invited his musicians to have a coffee and when he had to pay he realized he had only two pesos in his pocket. He didn’t care much for money. He always had that objective and nobody was able to deviate him from it. He had many difficult times, it was a hard effort to hold that ideology. He was sent to jail or when he arrived in a city he was soon banned. But he kept that thought until the time of his death.
That also helped very much to his personality, because when one is sure about something, he follows that path against all odds. And when you have doubts, you don’t know what road you have to take. He knew what his path was and that, sometimes, helped him as a professional. Sometimes the Party also guided him.
Has Color Tango had any connection with Beba Pugliese?
—She’s no more in activity. But when Roberto Cicaré, the pianist, quit, we talked to her and she was very enthusiastic so much so that we handed her the folder with the piano parts so that she would have a look at it. Two days later she phoned me and told me it was impossible. She had been in his father’s place and told him I had called her. Osvaldo liked the idea but Osvaldo’s wife told her it was no way, because she was angry because we had split with the orchestra. But we didn’t forsake it, we only left on a summer when the orchestra was on vacation.
Fernando Rodríguez and I traveled to Mar Del Plata, where Osvaldo was on vacation, to ask him permission to travel to Holland, on a tour —and there we made our debut— and he allowed us to quit the orchestra. We had a farewell drink.
He told us: «I don’t want that you make a tour and disband when you come back, like most guys do». So I’m unworried because the orchestra is now 25 years old, which means that I didn’t let him down.
His wife did not speak to us, but we met him many times and, always in good terms. And years later we made many tours paying homage to Osvaldo Pugliese. But I understand him and, on many occasions, that had happened when a musician quits to play in another orchestra, it hurts very much.
What happened with Analía Goldberg?
—With Analía Goldberg and Diego Lerendegui, another violinist of the orchestra, there were also some internal problems.
What happens with musicians? I followed Osvaldo Pugliese’s example: I never included a famous or well-known musician. I always included musicians that played well, but who were unknown.
Analía was a complete stranger. Even when I auditioned her, my partners told me: «No, this girl still has a long way to go», but I told them that we had to give her a chance. Later she turned out a great pianist. Thereafter she was called from other places when she showed that she played well. But there were complications, she failed to appear several times, and then she had to step aside.
They both had put together another sextet, they played the same things we play, with the same arrangements of ours.