Vicente Greco

Real name: Greco, Vicente
Nicknames: Garrote
Bandoneon player, leader and composer
(3 February 1888 - 5 October 1924)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Juan Silbido

e was born in Buenos Aires, in the candombe neighborhood of Concepción, son of Genaro Greco and Victoria Santo, at whose modest home they brought up eight children.

Fernando, the eldest son, was known by the nickname of Garrote. We take into account the sayings of his brother-in-law, the engineer Eduardo A. Tate. The latter recalled that Fernando, when still young, was watching a game of cards played by his father and other people. One of them stubbornly insisted on playing frequent and even rude jokes on him, maybe don Genaro’s patient temper favored a predisposition to do it; instead, Fernando, already out of his mind, solved the case by striking a superb blow to the clumsy offender. Since that occasion he was known, as we have already said, by the striking nickname of Garrote.

The quite poor income of the family demanded the collaboration of several of their children. So Vicente had to interrupt his elementary school studies.

About that, the authors Héctor and Luis J. Bates say:
«The lack of financial resources taught him how to work for a living since early childhood; together with Ángel he shouted selling newspapers in the streets and at that coming and going among the indifference of those who never were in need, he forged his soul in an anxiety of flights. The streets were his schoolroom, his books: any loose sheet of paper dragged by the wind like his own childhood.»

Francisco Canaro recalls in his interesting Memoirs the following:
«The Grecos were a family of musicians and studious people. We lived close to the house which was next door to theirs at the turn-of-the-century; they lived at the tenement house on 1356 Sarandí Street, and I on 1358. Vicente was a boy with certain knowledge, half romantic and fond of literature. His brother Domingo was a guitar player and pianist. Ángel was guitarist and singer, and composed a successful tango: "Naipe marcado". Elena played piano intuitively, but wonderfully. Fernando, the eldest, was butcher, and there was besides another brother, Emilio. María was schoolteacher and was the first Public accountant graduated in Buenos Aires.»

The journalist Félix Lima made us aware of Greco’s musical beginnings on the Fray Mocho magazine. The interview appeared in October 1915:
«He started his musical career in his teens, around 1903 he played guitar that he complemented by singing, just for fun.»

We transcribe below what maestro Julio De Caro said:
«One day, by chance, he found a box on the top of his parents’ wardrobe. When he opened it he was astonished with that instrument unknown to him (words that Vicente told me). He asked his mother, who answered: «It is a concertina given to us by a friendly family». Vicente began to explore that instrument, one month later he already played a Waldteufel’s waltz, a polka... Juan Tango! He studied night and day without going far from what he considered his treasury, assembling sounds of new songs.»

A picturesque character of Buenos Aires at the turn-of-the-century was the one who introduced him to the secrets of the bandoneon. We are talking of Sebastián Ramos Mejía aka El Pardo, whose work as streetcar ticket collector was no obstacle for him to play the fuelle.

We shall quote again Julio De Caro: «After listening to Greco’s playing a concertina, Ramos Mejía, amazed, suggested his parents into buying a true bandoneon for him. His relatives and friends raised some funds and after a long search, because then there were only a few available, they bought the so much sought-after bandoneon as a gift for the 14-year-old prodigy. Vicente soon got used to it, mastering it from the start.»

In the aforementioned interview by Félix Lima he added: »The first tango that Greco played was "La Tirana". Thereafter he made his musical debut appearing in San Pedro, San Nicolás, Baradero and Rosario, among other places.»

As for his stay in the locality mentioned firstly, we quote from La Historia del Tango:
«His permanence there was rewarding because, not only he came to know outstanding performers of the period, but also by being their sideman he polished his technique. He acquainted Prudencio Aragón (El Johnny), Ernesto Zambonini (El Rengo), Lorenzo (El Negro) and Juan Borguessi (El Taruguito).
«In San Pedro he had a very serious accident. While the orchestra was playing on a stage it collapsed making the musicians fall. We can guess that the injury that it provoked, caused the illness that later drove him to the grave.»

The abovementioned brother-in-law, engineer Tate, told us that Vicente had a harmonium, with which besides his practice of musical exercises, he created a great part of his work as composer. About it he always asked his brother Fernando's opinion, who enjoyed his confidence with no restriction.

Theater always interested Vicente, whose milieu he frequented, coming to know different authors; among them, Florencio Sánchez. Driven to express his ideas, he began to write for the stage a light jolly script. His early death truncated that purpose.

We shall try to describe his look: his face with dark eyes and sallow skin suggested an Arab origin, and his stature was somewhat short. As for his temper, he was inclined to show his frequent good humor.

Vicente Greco can be regarded as a self-taught musician, the result of a constant hard effort. In his beginnings he did not know how to write music, so in his early work he had to make use of the help of fellow musicians to commit his music to paper.

We again turn to Julio De Caro, who recalls the following about his childhood:
«My father, the teacher José De Caro, in 1910 run a conservatory and music store on 1020 Defensa Street. Very often Greco used to visit him, who on a certain occasion arrived while I was having my violin class. It was interrupted to receive the visitor. Soon thereafter, I heard, coming from the music room, the notes of a bandoneon. Surrounded by a crowd he played his tango "La Infanta", a homage to Isabel of Bourbon who was then visiting Buenos Aires. According to the insistent applause he ought to have played several encores.

«Eager to express my admiration, I caught my violin and began to play his tango "El pibe", of which I had a sheet music, and had learnt it without my father's knowledge. Such attitude was not welcome by the latter, but I managed to hear Greco say: «This kid will get far with his vocation. Who says he's not going to be a tango master?». But he answered: «Never, I have planned a different destiny for Julio!».

«Even though he was sympathetic with the major tango players, to whom he offered his friendship, my father was old-fashioned, he demanded a rigid discipline, not allowing deviations in our music studies.»

It is worthwhile mentioning the café La Turca, located in the neighborhood of La Boca, among the venues where Greco played; he was accompanied by his brother Domingo and the composer of the tango "El chupete", Ricardo Gaudencio. Café El Estribo (Entre Ríos 700), accompanied by Lorenzo Labissier (bandoneon), Domingo Greco (piano), Vicente Pecci (El Tano) (flute) and Palito Abatte or, on occasions, Francisco Canaro (violin). Rodríguez Peña Saloon, in which -according to the information given by Héctor and Luis J. Bates-, «one evening, in 1911, "Rodríguez Peña" was premiered with an extremely warm acclaim by the audience, who not fully satisfied with the applause given to the composer, carried him on their shoulders victoriously along Corrientes Street.»

Let us highlight Greco's performance at the ballroom house run by María La vasca (Carlos Calvo almost the corner with Jujuy). About his shows in houses of the Buenos Aires society, here's an excerpt of the weekly paper Fray Mocho (October 1915):
«Greco has wide acclaim among the classy people. He is the overindulged child of the well-bred families. He played at the Plaza Hotel, at the residence of doctor Lucio V. López (Callao almost corner with Quintana avenue), at Green's, at Lagos García's place, at Lamarque's, among others. Such gigs meant for him no less than $ 200 per show.»

The interview further points out:
«He is in the top level among those who made recordings and the one who opened the Armenonville.
«22.000 copies of his tango "El morochito" were sold, without taking into account fake editions.
«His tango "Rodríguez Peña": sold 12.000 copies. "El flete" sold 6.000 copies in three months.
«El tango "Popoff" will be released in mid- November.»

Let us add about his recording work, that it began towards 1911, hired by the enterprise Taggini. He was accompanied by the same instrumentalists with whom he appeared at El Estribo.

After more than half a century has passed since that period, we can appreciate Greco's personal style when listening to his existing recordings.

We have come to know that different dates, either of his birth or his death, have been published. That has brought a certain confusion that we shall try to clear it out.

Admitting that February 3 were true for the former, after the examination of the copy of the death certificate it appears that:
«... thirty-six years old, single, Argentine...». The document is dated: «... on this sixth day of October in the year one thousand nine hundred and twenty-four...». It is unquestionable that he was born in 1888.

As for the exact day of his death, we transcribe from the abovementioned document, according to the above said date:
«.. Yesterday at eleven thirty P.M., on 1823 Humberto Primero Street, Vicente Greco died of uremia...»

Then his demise took place nearly at midnight October 5, 1924.

Vicente Greco has achieved well deserved recognition: numbers such as "Rodríguez Peña", "La viruta" or "El flete", unarguably classics of the genre, made his author be included at the top ranks in the hall of fame of popular composers.

The numbers below confirm his fame: "Ojos negros", "El pibe", "El morochito", "El perverso", "El estribo", "El cuzquito", "Ki-Ki", "La paica", "Tiene la palabra", "Popoff", "Estoy penando", "La muela careada", "María Angélica" "Pachequito", "La chicha", "Barba de choclo", "Tita", "El eléctrico", "Racing Club", "Pueyrredón", "La canota" and one of the last ones we wrote, the song "Argentina".

Published in the book: "Evocación del Tango", Buenos Aires, 1964.