Feliciano Brunelli

Real name: Brunelli, Félicien
Nicknames: Jean Bontamps
Acordeonist, pianist, bandleader and composer
(7 February 1903 - 27 August 1981)
Place of birth:
Marsella (Bocas del Ródano) France
Emilio J. Pichetti

e was composer and player of tangos, milongas, waltzes, candombes, rancheras, pasodobles and other different beats which brought him a wide popularity which lasted almost 40 years. He recorded no less than 763 numbers, nearly all for the RCA-Victor label.

In the headquarters of this recording company, in the United States, his photograph is on a wall alongside other musicians. He was awarded by being among the top ten selling artists of that enterprise.

He was born in Marseilles, France, but his parents were Italians. His father was an accordion tuner and luthier. In 1908 they moved to Argentina, to the city of Rafaela in the province of Santa Fe, apparently for commercial reasons.

Quite soon he began to study piano with professor Luis Ricci and, while still a teenager he had achieved command of the instrument and, of course, he also had facility with the accordion. In the latter case, by lessons given by his father from whom he inherited, thanks to his excellent ear, the secrets of tuning musical instruments.

From a very young age he used to appear at cafes and saloons as accompanying pianist and, soon thereafter, he teamed up with a couple of friends to make tours of the neighboring towns. Once his father told him something that he never forgot: «Look, even though the piano may be your instrument in the future because you're studious and a good player, the accordion may be your way to getting money». And so it was.

He was well-known in his hometown and somebody recommended him for recording in the Odeon label as soloist. Between 1928 and 1930 he cut a series of recordings from which the following tangos stand out: “Por mal camino”, “Esclava rica”, “El gran triunfo”, “Aquel palquito” and “Cuidado con la morocha”. They were all composed by him but they did not reach public acclaim.

In 1933, he started a new stage in his life and it was the beginning of his popularity. Elvino Vardaro passed by his town, got acquainted with Feliciano and took him to Buenos Aires. For a time he lived in Elvino's family house. It was in his kitchen where he composed the later famous waltz “Ilusión de mi vida” that on the sheet music he dedicated to Margarita Vardaro, his friend's sister. People thought she might have inspired it but it was not so. According to Osvaldo Vardaro, nephew and dweller of the house, the title was suggested by the girl's boyfriend.

It was by that time that the Feliciano Brunelli's outfit and his Cuarteto Criollo, along with Vardaro (violin), Vicente Spina (guitar) and Vicente Fertonani (second accordion). The latter would later lead the Orquesta Característica Continental. They appeared at the Café Lombardo and the El Nacional. But later an event that showed his personality and confidence took place.

One day he went to the Victor house, without previous invitation, for an audition when he came to know that an accordionist was who had called it. Till then the accordion was an instrument not very popular. So he was turned down before being auditioned. As he had carried the instrument with him he began to play it in the corridors of the recording company. He drew everybody's attention, including the members of the board. The following day, September 9, 1933 with the quartet he recorded four of his compositions: the waltzes “Ilusión de mi vida” and “Sueño mío”, the ranchera “La enana”, and the tango “En la vía y bien varao”.

Soon thereafter he was hired by Radio Splendid. Later he formed the Cuarteto del 900, always with Vardaro but with Brunelli on piano, Aníbal Troilo (bandoneon) and Enrique Bour (flute). The latter also was their agent. They appeared on Radio Mitre and they only recorded two numbers: “Amalia”, mazurka by Brunelli and Vardaro, and the tango “El pillete”.

As from then he formed his 15-piece orchestra (orquesta característica) and included his early singers, Oscar Valeta and Fernando Torres and, soon later, Alberto Radamés. The adjective característica was to single out a group that played all the musical beats. Jaime Yankelevich, with a keen eye to foresee hits, hired him for Radio Belgrano. There he had a 25-year tenure.

It is impossible to mention all the venues where he appeared. His style achieved a wide acclaim throughout the country and his greatest hits were constantly heard on ther radio. To such an extent that it was impossible for us not to learn by heart at least the refrains of the songs. Kids and teenagers included them into daily speech either as a humorous trick or as a customary crooning.

The ones who were kids in the forties, I guess, still remember the following: «Cae, cae, no se puede levantar...» (It's fallin' and can't get up), «Se va el caimán, se va el caimán, se va para Barranquilla...» (The alligator's leaving for Barranquilla), or about that milk cow which was not a common cow because it produced milkshake. A much later, that of «Deben ser los gorilas, deben ser» (The gorillas are to blame), in collaboration with Delfor for his successful radio show La Revista Dislocada.

In his latter years, in the 60s, he switched to Music Hall and in his recordings he included three electric accordions manufactured by the Hohner house of Germany at his request.

In 1964, he returned to the Victor label with orchestra and a new quartet led by his son Carlos. His latest recordings date back to 1966: the tango “Jueves”, the milonga “Campo afuera”, the waltzes “Serenata campera” and “Palomita blanca”.

He was one of the founders of the Asociación de Directores de Orquesta (Bandleaders Association), along with Francisco Canaro, Héctor and Francisco Lomuto and Pedro Maffia.

A large number of vocalists joined his groups. To the above mentioned Valeta (the first), Torres and Radamés, we have to add Fernando Raymond, Héctor Juncal, Roberto Lescur, Roberto Morales (the one most recorded, around 160 numbers), Alfredo Luna, Renato Sormani (drummer of the orchestra) who, like Eberto Donizzetti, (trumpeter) appeared to add some humorous gags, Omar Ceballos, Nino Veri, Dino Lotti and Carlos Duarte. Surely, there are some with brief tenures that are missing.

His two renditions of “La cumparsita” are standouts. The first in 1949 and the other in 1965. To conclude let us say that he composed the pasodoble “Amor gitano”, music tune of the renowned Glostora Tango Club.

During his career he had some followers and, even, imitators of his style, but when he retired, that simple and merry way of creation completely disappeared.

Based on a note published in Cuadernos de Difusión del Tango.