Roberto Selles
| Néstor Pinsón

t was in the 1910s. The phrase used to be commonly heard at the record selling shops: «Give me a pacho». The vendor understood with no further explanation; he was just requested a disc.

Seen from the present days, it would seem a strange jargon, but on those days it was the most usual way, such was the boom in sales of the recordings made by the orchestra led by Juan Maglio, who was called by his nickname Pacho, that this little word became a synonym for record.

Undoubtedly, Juan Maglio (Pacho), was one of the most important musicians who followed the Guardia Vieja, together with Eduardo Arolas, Genaro Espósito and Vicente Greco, all pioneers in spreading tango and responsible for its popularity.

He was the first bandoneonist who committed to disc bandoneon solos with the tango “La sonámbula” by Pascual Cardarópoli and the mazurka “La morocha [b]” by Gerardo Metallo.

Gifted with a polished technique, he stamped his orchestral units with a delicate style, with a rhythmic cadence, which made him be the choice of the public at the time of buying records.

Juan Félix Maglio was born to a home placed in Palermo where residence had been taken up by Pantaleón Maglio, Italian, and Carmen Dodero, Argentine, with a kinship with the famous navigators of Italian origin. The descendants were completed with Tino, María Juana, Roque, Justina, Carmen and Carlos, who was called Pucho as nickname and was also bandoneonist, composer of tangos like Quilmes and La Paternal.

The bandoneon appealed Pacho since early childhood, when the family had already moved to Boedo and he heard his father play that German instrument which had nothing to do with an Italian immigrant, but which soon would become the most typical instrument of tango. Sometimes, he used to play it secretly, and this was not his worst mischief, so much so that don Pantaleón called him Pazzo, mad in Italian.

«My playmates, he told at an interview by Héctor Bates and Luis Bates, could not pronounce correctly that word and they uttered pacho. Little by little my nickname was being known and so they kept on calling me, until time accomplished the mission of confirming it, becoming more known than my true Christian name.»

Maglio started with a small 13-voiced instrument, a gift from his father. Later, when he began the formal training on the instrument, he switched to one with 35 voices. His teacher was Luis Almeida, who was known under the nickname of El Negro Cototo. Successively he was switching to instruments of 44, 52, 65 and 71 keys, up to reaching the 75-voiced one in his consecration.

In 1898, when he was 18 years old, he began taking lessons with Domingo Santa Cruz — the Unión Cívica´s composer — and a year later he debuted at the café El Vasco, in Barracas, with a trio completed by Julián Urdapilleta on violin and, on guitar, Luciano Ríos, a name linked to Pacho´s line-ups for many years. Around 1903, he assembled a quartet with Luis Guerrero (violin), José Guerrero (flute) and the ever present Luciano Ríos plucking his bass line-drawing guitar.

In 1910 he played for the first time at the legendary café La Paloma, on whose sidewalk (Santa Fe avenue facing the arroyo Maldonado (a brook), today subterranean and piped and over which the Juan B. Justo avenue was built), «on the foggy nights, the shadows of Tito, Arolas and Bardi walked to and fro», as Cadícamo imagined in “A pan y agua”.

With less poetry, let us say that the local was so much visited by rats, that Pacho and his musicians seemed a modern and augmented version of the Hamelin's flutist. When the members of the group refused to go on playing under such conditions, the owner made the rodents flee, and then the musicians succeeded in bringing an interesting quantity of public.

From La Paloma, the quartet moved to the café Garibotto (Pueyrredón and San Luis streets), to Ambos Mundos (Paraná near Corrientes street), to La Morocha (Carril and Corrientes streets) and surely to other venues, until returning, in 1912, to La Paloma, already now with an astounding success, and without rats. It was there where the outfit was hired to record for Columbia and turned into what was, pompously, called Orquesta Típica Criolla Juan Maglio Pacho; composed of just four musicians —but what kind of musicians!— José Bonano, (Pepino) (violin-cornet), Carlos Hernani Macchi (flute), Luciano Ríos (seven stringed guitar) and, of course, Pacho on bandoneon. The records sale and the bandoneonist fame, one of the greats of those days, were then impossible to be stopped.

It was in that same year when Pacho made his first attempts in composition. His first tango was titled “El zurdo”. Later these others would come “Quasi nada” (subtitled “El combate”), “Armenonville”, “Jeanne”, “Un copetín”, “Adelita”, “Sábado inglés”, “Royal Pigall” (re-titled, with a later lyric by José González Castillo, “Qué has hecho de mi cariño”), “Cielito”, “Tomá mate”, “Chile”, “Ando pato”, “La Guardia Vieja”, “Tacuarí”and many others belonging to his early stage.

To them it should be added those composed in the days of the tango-canción: “Llegué a ladrón por amarte” (with his own lyric), “La chacarera” (in collaboration with José Servidio and with lyrics by Juan Andrés Caruso), “Tango Argentino” (with Alfredo Bigeschi), “A media noche”, “Copen la banca” (both with Enrique Dizeo), “El curdela” (with Jorge Luque Lobos), “El llorón” (early tango he collected and made versified by Enrique Cadícamo), and others. Extremely popular as well were his waltzes “Orillas del Plata”, “María Esther”, “Horas de hastío”, “Copo de nieve” and “Violetas”, among others.

In 1920, he put together his new orchestra more fitting with those times, lined up by him, Rafael Rossi and Nicolás Primiani (bandoneons), Benito Juliá, Salvador Viola and El Pibe Rossi (violins), Juan Carlos Ghio (piano) and José Galarza (flute and drums). In 1929, at the bandoneon section appeared a young boy who was scarcely 15 years old named Aníbal Troilo, who some time later would be one to be talked about. However, Pacho's days of glory were gone, like that brave and canyengue tango of the guardia vieja (old stream) that he used to interpret as the best ones. Anyhow, in his late years he went on performing with the same zeal as in his youth, fronting his final outfits, a sextet in the old style —one of whose violins was played nothing less than by Elvino Vardaro— and the Trío Pacho, formed by three bandoneons, he together with the brothers José and Luis Servidio. Later, in 1929, the trio is put together again with the bandoneons of Federico Scorticati, Gabriel Clausi and Ernesto Di Cicco, being Pacho only its director.

A curiosity took place from 1930 when he organized a line-up to play Paraguayan music, exclusively polkas, most them with titles in Guarani and were signed by Maglio himself, or with the nickname Oglima, which was his last name spelled backwards.

Throughout his career he recorded nearly 900 numbers, most them instrumentals, when he hired singers, the latter only performed as estribillistas (refrain singers). Carlos Viván's work is excluded, the most outstanding voice in his orchestra. The remaining voices were of no consequence, but we can mention the names of the bandoneonist Angel Ramos, of the drummer and flutist José Galarza and some participation of Luis Scalon, a famous vocalist who performed for many years in Europa widespreading our tango. Three months before his death, on April 17, 1934, he managed to record for the last time for the Odeon label. He recorded the ranchera “Que esperanza”, a composition of his and the waltz “Recordándote [b]”, by Gerardo Metallo.

His last presentations were on Radio Belgrano station in 1934. Soon afterwards, he was taken into the Hospital Ramos Mejía, where the Bateses succeeded in interviewing him for their Historia del tango almost by miracle; three days later, he passed away. An unrepentant smoker, he used to smoke between five and six black tobacco cigarettes a day.

On July 14, 1934, back home in his place, 948 Bulnes street, lost all hopes, his lungs said it was enough. On his working table, several unpublished tangos remained, still untitled, as if he would not have liked to put a stop to an existence devoted to tango. And it may be said that tango made him immortal.