By
Horacio Loriente

e is included in the brilliant generation of the great pianists of the 20s like Francisco De Caro, Juan Carlos Cobián, Enrique Delfino, Vicente Gorrese, Carlos Vicente Geroni Flores, Luis Riccardi and Eduardo Pereyra, among others.

He was born in 1897, in the neighborhood of San Cristóbal of Buenos Aires. His father was a prestigious musician, leader of the Police Band and he influenced his son to study piano and sight reading when he was still a child. So his inclination for tango music was born. In secret he practised “El apache argentino”, the first tango piece he played. In his neighborhood he had three friends with whom he started a friendly competition in order to improve: Victorio Pierre, Fidel Del Negro and Humberto Canaro.

In 1917, after he graduated as bachelor he persuaded his father to let him play as pianist in orchestras, promising in exchange to follow university studies and formal music training.

His debut was at the Bar Los Leones, located on Montes de Oca Avenue and Australia Street, in the neighborhood of Barracas with the group led by the bandoneon player Juan Bautista Guido. The violinists were Agesilao Ferrazzano and Alberto Kernusky and the flutist José Galarza. Still living in this neighborhood, Rizzuti replaced Ángel Pastore in the small orchestra led by Ricardo Luis Brignolo at the T.V.O. café.

The violinists were Federico Lafemina and Bernardo Germino, sometimes replaced by Julio De Caro. There a lifelong friendship was born between Rizzuti and the composer of “Buen amigo”.

He again joined Guido to debut at the Cabaret Tabarís, on Suipacha Street. When Roberto Goyheneche split with the orchestra led by Eduardo Arolas, after Julio De Caro’s suggestion, Rizzuti switched to the famouso group, which in 1919 went to Montevideo to appear at the Parque Hotel.

On his comeback to Argentina, Arolas and his orchestra began a long tour throughout the province of Buenos Aires. When they were in Tres Arroyos, due to a serious argument with their bandleader, Rizzuti and De Caro immediately returned to Buenos Aires.

An encounter with Pedro Maffia —who had temporarily split with Roberto Firpo— made De Caro and Rizzuti think they would perform together, adding José Rosito as second violin. The quartet made its successful debut at the Café El Parque of Plaza Lavalle. One evening Osvaldo Fresedo went there. He had excellent references about Rizzuti and was longing to hear him. He soon invited him to join what would be the first orchestra under his name. The pianist agreed but only on condition that Julio De Caro would also join them. That was also accepted.

The orchestra’s debut took place at the Casino Pigall on July l, 1919. Fresedo (bandoneon); Rizzuti (piano); De Caro and Juan Koller (violins) and Hugo Ricardo Baralis (double bass).

Then Fresedo traveled to the United States. The orchestra continued under the same name and Pedro Polito took over the leadership of the aggregation. Even though he was not pleased with it he agreed to carry on with it until the composer of “Sollozos” returned. When the latter came back and as he had decided not to continue at the Casino Pigall, then Rizzuti, De Caro and Baralis left him.

For some time he was idle until Luis Petrucelli summoned him to return to the Casino Pigall. By that time he had already written his first tango: “Carpincho”, committed to record by Roberto Firpo.

In the Petrucelli’s orchestra he played along with Maffia, Bernardo Germino, José Rosito and Humberto Costanzo. There he premiered his beautiful tango “Cenizas”.

He joined Fresedo again to replace Cobián for a short time and appeared at the carnival dances in the late 1922. In the summer of 1923, Cobián quit for good and Rizzuti joined the aggregation until 1928. It is the time of his charming number: “El cisne”. Save for some exception it is included in all the Victor discs that Fresedo cut between 1922 and 1925 and in the Nacional-Odeon discs, 1925/29.

In 1926, he succeeded in recording two discs, today not available, as piano soloist, that included the tangos “Meditación”, “No llores más”, by Alejandro Gutiérrez del Barrio and his own “Olvide amigo”; and also his waltz “Tentación”. On October 2, 1928 he cut “Como un sueño” which was unissued.

In October 1928, the Fresedo Orchestra sailed for Paris. It was lined up by its leader, Alberto Rodríguez and Luis Minervini (bandoneons); Adolfo Muzzi and Juan Koller (violins); Rizzuti (piano); Humberto Costanzo (double bass) and Ernesto Famá (vocalist). They had a successful debut at the Cabaret Nouvelle Garrón, and also appeared at the Les Ambassadeurs.

Months later with the singer Ernesto Famá he returned to Buenos Aires while Osvaldo Fresedo summoned other professionals and continued in Europe.

In the early 1929 he decided to form his own group. He was accompanied by José Della Rocca and Francisco Della Rocca (bandoneons), José Cacopardo and Francisco Orefice (violins) and Humberto Costanzo (double bass). They played at the movie theaters Medrano, Argos and Fénix and at the tango cafés of the time, Nacional, Germinal, Richmond.

When this orchestra was disbanded, he joined the one led by Carlos Marcucci, replacing Alberto Soifer at the Richmond Suipacha and he recorded some discs with the Petrucelli Orchestra.

In 1932 he was invited by De Caro to play in a big orchestra at the Ástor movie theater on Corrientes Street. He shared his work as pianist with Francisco De Caro.

Once more Fresedo summoned him in 1933. He was beginning a new series of recordings for the Victor label and he was featured star of the cast of Radio Nacional. In the early sound movies the orchestra was part of the cast of ¡Tango! and of the Los tres berretines. In the latter Rizzuti was showcased in close-ups. He also appeared at the Teatro Cómico in the musical Diez postales por un peso. All the numbers were composed by Fresedo himself.

Surprisingly, Fresedo split with the cast of Radio Belgrano in the late 1938 and switched to Radio El Mundo to make his debut in the New Year celebrations. But before the beginning of the official season, in March 1939, several Fresedo’s musicians were offered a contract for reuniting an orchestra under the Rizzuti-Ray heading by the directors of Radio Belgrano, taking advantage of the big popularity of the singer Roberto Ray. The aggregation was comprised by Adolfo Muzzi (lead violin), Félix Verdi (bandoneon) and (double bass). They appeared at night venues and dancehalls until Ray split with them to appear as soloist.

Then he teamed up with Daniel Álvarez with a new cast for a short season that would be the last one. Thereafter he quit his showbusiness career and devoted himself to teaching.

He died in a road accident when he was in a taxi cab in 1953. So one of the most important musicians in the history of tango prematurely disappeared. He was a delicate interpreter with a strong personality and style. His oeuvre amounts to over fifty tangos recorded and among them “Cenizas” and “El cisne” stand out but the following are also worth deserving: “Bésame en la boca”, “Desilusión”, “Hollín”, “Canción de cuna” and “Volvé mi negra”. Together with them there are “Pasión”, “Queja melodiosa”, “El torta”, despite its arguable lyrics and “Adiós para siempre [b]”, recorded in 1936 which was his last number committed to record.

We think it’s right that, when remembering Rizzuti, the lovers of the genre say that he was «the Fresedo’s pianist» so permanently connecting two partners and friends. But our intention was to demonstrate that José María Rizzuti was something more than that. A great figure of our popular music.

Excerpted from: Loriente, Horacio: Ochenta notas de tango. Perfiles biográficos, Ediciones de La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. With the auspices of the Academia de Tango del Uruguay.