Roberto Selles

e was an authentic innovator of tango, either as player or as composer. As a pianist, he was the first to fill in the bass line with embellishments when the melody rests -a procedure that later would be systematized by Francisco De Caroa, besides his subtlety in the interpretation.

As a composer Juan Carlos Cobián is, alongside Enrique Delfino, the creator of the so-called tango-romanza; in 1917 the latter composed "Sans Souci", and Cobián wrote "Salomé", with which they paved the road for avant-garde tango. To such an extent, Cobián was an evolutionist that the publishers did not accept his early tangos because they regarded them as «wrongly composed». The truth is that they were far beyond the popular music of the time.

He was born, far from the city that consecrated him, in Pigüé (province of Buenos Aires), on May 31, 1896 -son of Manuel Cobián, a Spaniard, and Silvana Coria, an Argentine- and since an early age he was irresistibly attracted by the piano of his house, played by his sister Dolores, when the family was based in Bahía Blanca. In admiration of what the fingers of the little boy managed to get out of the keyboard, Dolores influenced their parents to make him study music. So Juan Carlos entered the Conservatorio Williams of that town, where he had Numa Rossotti as teacher, who had instead, been alumnus of Vincent d'Indy, in Paris, where he even premiered Debussy's "Berceuse heroïque".

In 1913, already graduated, Cobián arrived at the city of Buenos Aires, and started to earn his first bucks as a piano player in a dark stint at a German beer shop and at several cinema theaters, where he provided the musical background for silent movies.

After that he switched to play with one of the best-paid bandoneonists of the time, Genaro Espósito, at a trio completed by the violinist Ernesto Zambonini, "La clavada"´s composer and a man who used to carry a dagger in his belt. Juan Carlos was on the opposite side of the street: he was the typical cajetilla (high life) to whom his precise blows were all he needed, generally for the sake of women, because he was always a stubborn woman-chaser.

In 1916, he joined a trio with Eduardo Arolas on bandoneon and Tito Roccatagliatta on violin, at the stage of the cabaret Montmartre, shared with Pepita Avellaneda, the first woman who sang publicly tangos.

That same year he had to comply with the military service, but he postponed it on his own decision and had to inevitably serve three years later, generally under arrest; what gave him good reasons to compose then his later famous "A pan y agua". But by then his early tangos were already known: "Salomé", "El motivo", "Mano a mano" (which later, due to the success of the one with the same title written by Gardel, Razzano and Flores, he retitled "Viejo bandoneón"), "El orejano", "El botija", "La catanga", "Sea breve", "El trino", "El gaucho" and may be some others.

Subsequently, he switched to the Arolas orchestra and later he put together a trio with Ricardo González (Muchila) (bandoneon) and Julio Doutry (violin).

After over a year serving in the Infantry Regiment 2, he got the discharge he was longing for and went on with his normal life, that is to say, the one he led protected by night shadows, among good tangos, good whisky and beautiful girls.

In 1922, he joined the Osvaldo Fresedo´s sextet, with which he premiered his extremely beautiful Mi refugio, at the Abdullah Club. Months later, when Fresedo withdrew from that stage, the manager of the place suggested him to put together his own sextet. And so he did, with Pedro Maffia and Luis Petrucelli (bandoneons), Julio De Caro and Agesilao Ferrazzano (violins), Humberto Constanzo (double bass) and, of course, he himself on piano. It did not last long: in 1923 he left everything to run towards the United States after a lady .

A short time before, Julio De Caro had split with the outfit because of a misunderstanding with the leader, and so he left together with Maffia and Petrucelli, that is to say, the half of the group. De Caro added his brothers Francisco (piano) and Emilio (violín) and Leopoldo Thompson (double bass) to give birth to the famous sextet that would definitively revolutionize the playing of tango.

In that way up north country he had no other choice but playing jazz -alternating it with some other little tango- with his Argentine Band; he backed the crooner Rudy Vallée and put music to the sophisticated dancing steps -or whatever they had been- performed by Rodolfo Valentino.

At those distant places he composed the tangos "Me querés", "Ladrón", "Vení vení" -the three with lyrics by the Mexican Luis Spúlveda-, the well-known "Nostalgias" and the son "Yes or no" (Sí o no), with lyrics by Al Stillman.

Other of his tangos are "Biscuit" (lyrics by F. Warley), "Los dopados" (Raúl Doblas and Alberto Weisbach, later renamed "Los mareados", with lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo), "La casita de mis viejos", "Gitana", "El cantor de Buenos Aires", "Shusheta", "Dolor milonguero", "Piropos", "Pico de oro", "Niebla del Riachuelo", "Hambre", "Rubí" (these ten with lyrics by Cadícamo), "Es preciso que te vayas" (Celedonio Flores), "Volvé a mi lado", "No me cortes las alas", "Has cambiado por completo" (the three with Enrique Dizeo´s lirics), "La noche de los dos", "Monedita de plomo" (both with his own lyrics) and many others.

Furthermore, Cadícamo added lyrics to the abovementioned "Salomé", "Viejo bandoneón", "Nostalgias" and "A pan y agua"; Pedro Numa Córdoba, "Mi refugio" and Pascual Contursi, "El motivo" (which also had unpublished verses by Cadícamo).

Tired of whisky forged by gangsters and of having to switch between jazz and tango, he returned from the United States in 1928.

He put together an orchestra that had Francisco Fiorentino as vocalist and with which he recorded again a few tracks for the Victor label. In 1936 he put together a new orchestra to appear at the Charleston cabaret on Florida and Paraguay. Its members were: Cobián (piano), Cayetano Puglisi and Claudio Cassano (violins), Ciriaco Ortiz and Juan Miguel Rodríguez (bandoneons), Valentín Andreotta (double bass) and the singer Antonio Rodríguez Lesende.

Later he led a jazz group; he played in the Trio Nº 1, with Ciriaco Ortiz (bandoneon) and Cayetano Puglisi (violin); he organized again his typical orchestra; he returned to the United States -where he stayed until 1943- and continued here, leading his orchestra, with which he played on Radio El Mundo.

Later, «withdrew from musical activity voluntarily, confining himself in his humble little apartment placed on Montevideo street», according to the late Luis Adolfo Sierra, a teacher of historians.

On December 10, 1953, he passed away. He was 57 years old, but he had known life as if he were just a century old. «Was there anything to be done on Earth after having known all?», said about him Enrique Cadícamo, his collaborator of always.

Originally published in the fascicle 12 of the collection Tango Nuestro issued by Diario Popular.