José Arturo Severino

Real name: Severino, José Arturo
Bandoneonist, guitarist, bandleader and composer
(16 March 1892 - 30 January 1934)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Oscar Zucchi

e was born in Buenos Aires, in the neighborhood of Parque Patricios. In his time he was known as one of the bandoneon players with most polished musical instruction and many ones think he was the first to use embellishments with the left hand.

His first instrument was the guitar. He started to play it because of his friend El Pardo Ágape, who used to light the primitive gas street lamps for a living and to strum a guitar in his spare time. He studied this instrument by music and seriously.

Together with Arturo Bernstein, Juan Maglio, Genaro Espósito and Eduardo Arolas in his last stage, he was part of what is regarded as the first advance party as far as bandoneon is concerned in our tango. He did not reach the spread and popularity his abilities deserved because of his attachment to his neighborhood which had consecrated him as the local idol.

It was Sebastián Ramos Mejía who persuaded him to switch guitar for bandoneon. The latter taught him all he knew, which was not much, because he played by ear. But once he mastered the button-board he applied all the technical knowledge he had to achieve a highly developed style for that time.

In 1908, he made his debut as professional backed by the guitarist Marino García, composer of the melody of “Mis harapos”, at a café on Garay and Deán Funes. The duo became a quartet when Luis Adesso (violin) and Félix Camarano (guitar) were added. They appeared at another similar venue on Garay and Rincón. The same venue where Ricardo Brignolo had been showcased. Later they switched to another on 2300 San Juan Avenue and thereafter at the renowned Almacén de Benigno, on La Rioja 2177, with large audiences when they appeared.

Towards 1911 he settled on Pavón between Jujuy and Alberti and there he established his teaching academy for bandoneon playing. His first disciple, ahead of the rest, was Juan Bautista Guido. He learned so quickly his teachings that soon later he played as his second bandoneon. He was only eleven years old.

When at that time small groups prevailed, they were quintets at the most, he introduced a ten-piece orchestra and generated an important innovation: 3 bandoneons, 3 violins, 3 guitars and a flute. And it was Guido's debut. They played at nearby neighborhoods and they had a performance at the Teatro Cervantes. From time to time they appeared at the Pabellón de las Rosas, then on Avenida Alvear and Tagle. And also at the Petit Parissien, on Alvear and Sánchez de Bustamante.

He had a short tenure at the Francisco Canaro orchestra, but he felt at home as a leader. Later he was successful at the café El Caburé, on Entre Ríos 1253. It was then when the Victor Company suggested him being part of its staff. But his recordings were few: eight numbers in four discs.

He made some appearances along with Guillermo Barbieri, before the latter played with Carlos Gardel and in 1918 he was one of the first ones who formed the primitive Sociedad Nacional de Autores, Compositores y Editores de Música.

In the late 60s I made an interview to the pianist and composer Vicente Demarco. He told me the following: «The first bandoneonists I heard were Maglio, La Vieja, El Negro Eduardo and José Rebollini who used to practice in the second courtyard of my grandparents’ house located on 1326 Luca Street. La Vieja lived then on the same street but under the number 1644. El Tano Francisco Famiglieti was the boss of Boedo and had a healthy rivalry with Severino. The latter had composed a tango that turned out a boom; it was “El trompito número 2” and, Famiglietti as a response, after a voyage with troubled waters on a steamer from Montevideo, as soon as he arrived he wrote “Mar revuelto”. It did not matter that his fright had taken place on the river but it was a difficult tango in C sharp major with a third section with sextuplets for the left hand».

In the twenties he joined the staff orchestra of the Teatro Nacional in which, among others, were Nicolás Primiani (bandoneon), Juan D'Arienzo and Alfredo Mazzeo (violins) and Ángel D'Agostino (piano). In 1923, he began to play at the Rodríguez Peña dancehall along with Mario Brugni (violin), Fidel Del Negro (piano) and José Galarza (flute). The latter, time later, was refrain singer in some recordings of several groups.

In 1924, he made his debut on radio, LOY Radio Nacional (later Belgrano). Nicolas Blois —composer of the waltz “Idilio trunco” and his alumnus— was his second bandoneon.

Technically he was among the best of his time and, according to Gabriel Clausi, he was a great first-sight reader.

Zucchi, Oscar: El tango, el bandoneón y sus intérpretes, Tomo II, Editorial Corregidor, Buenos Aires.