José María Otero

e might have been an excellent tango violinist and orchestra leader but he was tempted by other rhythms and so he put together an orchestra that was fashionable in Buenos Aires in the forties. That was the time when the típica-jazz team crowded the milongas at the clubs. In fact, those aggregations, with which we danced so many times on those unforgettable evenings, used to play everything: jazz, rhumbas, porros, marchinhas, Brazilian music and other genres.

Besides playing at balls they appeared at important venues like night clubs, cabarets, tearooms and downtown dance halls or at places like Olivos, Tigre and other cities. The Nobile’s aggregation was called Orquesta Panamericana, was much in vogue and sold large numbers of records in places like Colombia, Cuba and other countries.

He was born in Reggio Calabria, in the southern end of Italy, almost touching Sicily, and his parents emigrated to Argentina in 1904 and settled in the capital, following the steps of another relative. He arrived when he was one year old and when he was in grade school he already evidenced musical skills. Because of that his father sent him to study music and picked up the violin as his instrument.

Still wearing short trousers, he stood out and so he joined the rondalla (music band) led by the Spaniard Daniel Cauvilla Prim in which he would meet another promising kid with Italian roots: Juan D'Arienzo. They both played violin then.

Augusto Berto made him join his orchestra and he began to walk along the tango path even though his mother was not much pleased with that idea due to the bad reputation that music had at that time. His violin playing stood out and he was applauded at the well-remembered Bar Domínguez on Corrientes Street and the Café Central on Avenida de Mayo.

He improved his technique and began to be known. He switched to the no less than the triumphant orchestra fronted by Juan Maglio (Pacho) at the Teatro de la Comedia which was located facing the Mercado del Plata. By that time Eugenio Nobile was also featured playing the horn-violin (Stroh violin), which Pepino Bonano used to play and was made popular by Julio De Caro, in search of a bigger sound.

The next leap that consecrated his quality took place when he replaced Elvino Vardaro in the outfit led by Pedro Maffia. He did it on recommendation by Vardaro himself who was convinced of his level. He had even begun to compose and when he was only 20 he wrote “Cholita [b]” which was recorded by Juan Carlos Cobián or “Quimeras” which Julio De Caro with his Sextet committed to disc in 1928.

But he never paid much attention to this facet of his talent. My great friend Pepe Barcia, who was also his friend, told me about that. He also told me that he was a very happy guy, talkative and fond of jokes. But he as well told me that from time to time his Italian temper made him go mad when he thought that somebody was cheating him and he abruptly overreacted. In one of those brawls he got a blow in the middle of his nose which left a dent as if he were a boxing fighter. But he laughed at the change on his nose and used to massage it while talking about it.

Finally he furthered his capabilities as player when he joined as second violin the orchestra led by the violinist Agesilao Ferrazzano (they were close friends). He switched to the aggregation of Juan Polito for recording in Discos Brunswick. The pianist had been appointed art director of that company in 1930. With them he premiered his tango “Se finí” and the orchestra included: Juan Polito on piano; Fernando and Ángel Martín, Armando Blasco and Félix Verdi on bandoneons; Eugenio Nobile, Salvador Polito and Néstor Salvador on violins and Francisco De Lorenzo on double bass.

And finally, he decided to put together his own orchestra and, certainly, because of the members of it we think it might have been very interesting.

The personnel included: the great José Pascual (on piano), Eduardo Del Piano, Héctor Varela (bandoneons) and even Enrique aka Mono Villegas —who later would be a jazz star- on piano. They were enthusiastically clapped by the audience at the Café Germinal on Corrientes Street, at the Guarany, the Paramount movie theater and the cabaret Imperio. In 1935 he appeared in the Luis Saslavsky’s movie: “Crimen a las tres”.

With his orchestra he premiered other numbers of his, such as “Cocoliche”, “Cuando hace falta un amigo” (both with lyrics by Dante A. Linyera) and “El Lido”, dedicated to a cabaret with swimming pool in Palermo Chico where he used to appear with his orchestra. By the way, in the latter place I learnt to swim when I was in high school because it had become the Gymn number one, located on Avenida Figueroa Alcorta and was owned by the Municipality. It was beautiful, indeed.

He even played at the Fragata night club on Tucumán Street, between Florida and San Martín and there he premiered his tangos in European style: “Violino tzigano” and “Vivere”. His vocalist was Carlos Varela who had been in the Roberto Firpo orchestra. According to his comments he admired the latter aggregation. With the pianist Domingo Greco he also formed a quartet which had a short tenure.

Because of his style he was required to play with his group at parties in mansions of the high society. But one day he felt he very much liked the romantic melodies played by the foreign groups and orchestras that visited Buenos Aires and, without thinking it over very much, he started to change his direction due to the boom of this music in movies and radio performances.

So he put together his Orquesta Panamericana which had a feature different to the ones of his competitors. It was with less drive and sizzle and more melodic. I danced in a couple of milongas and at the Hotel Crillón with his aggregation. It left us less messed up than other orchestras and without the need to go to the toilet to recover our look for the time of the tango orchestra and to change our chip. Ángel Riera was his vocalist and Nóbile either conducted or played the violin.

In 1946 the Colombian bandleader Lucho Bermúdez came to cut recordings for the local RCA-Victor. There were only three Colombians in the orchestra: Bermúdez, the female singer Matilde and the singer Bob Toledo who was in Buenos Aires. The others were the members of the Armani and Nóbile orchestras.

Lucho was eight months in Buenos Aires, recorded around 60 numbers and even married his vocalist Matilde in the Argentine capital. Among the many pieces he recorded was the porro “Santa Marta” (“a city which has train but has not street car”), with music by Nóbile and lyrics by the Colombian Francisco Chico Bolaños. It was a boom in Colombia and Buenos Aires, and Enrique Rodríguez recorded it with Armando Moreno on vocals. Because of that many of the tropical numbers by Nóbile were successful in record sales but he did not care much about it, according to what people told me.

With Francisco García Jiménez he co-wrote “Rojo y negro”. With the accordionist and arranger of Carlos Di Sarli, Emilio Brameri, he wrote several pieces, among them: “Independiente campeón”, dedicated to the triumph of the Club of Avellaneda. With Lucho Bermúdez he composed “Buenos Aires [c]”, an unforgettable memory of the Colombian musician. With Héctor Varela and Rodrigo Martínez: “Soy el astro del colmao”. With Varela and Carlos Bahr: “Zumba zumba”. But there are about 60 more numbers he left forgotten somewhere or were recorded in Colombia.