Gaspar Astarita

urity and melodic richness, phrases of highly personal inventiveness and perfect development, clear inspiration and unaltered and unmistakable musical hierarchy are present throughout the prolific work of José Dames as composer. Since the time when he started his work in our popular music in the mid- 30s up to the present, his imagination has brought over 350 pieces.

But had he only written these three, “Fuimos”, “Nada” and “”, all the adjectives said in this paragraph would be widely justified. In those three tangos —truly everlasting masterpieces—, is the example of a manner of receiving, feeling and handling a musical theme through the influence of inspiration, and to express it later enriched with the emotional contents of the one who has that special sensitivity which means capability and attitude in true creators.

José Dames belongs —even though he began his professional work as musician much earlier—,to the famous generation of the 40s. Because his bandoneon and his inspiration started to give evidence of lasting events as of 1941 and because his creative labor, which was mainly limited to the field of tango to be sung, was closely linked to the great lyricists of that time: Homero Manzi, José María Contursi, Enrique Cadícamo, Cátulo Castillo, among others.

He was the perfect partner for the combination of music and words. The refined flow of language and metaphors by Manzi in “Fuimos”, the hopeful encounter of José María Contursi in “” or Horacio Sanguinetti’s sadness in “Nada”, found in Dames the correct musical phrases they needed.

José Dames was born in the city of Rosario (province of Santa Fe, 300 km north from Buenos Aires). Since early childhood he was attracted to music, even though he belonged to a humble home, his parents afforded his music instruction, and he learnt to play violin.

At the age of 18, with his family he moved to San Fernando (province of Buenos Aires, 20 km far from the capital). He began to study bandoneon with the maestro Gómez, later he polished his technique with Carlos Marcucci, and started his professional activity with trios and quartets.

In those early years of his career, he joined the bandoneon section of the Julián Divasto orchestra and he also played in the group led by the bandoneonist Carlos Tirigall.

Around 1934, he put together the team The Two D’s: Dodero-Dames, with the pianist Rolando Dodero, they played numerous seasons on Radio Excelsior and later on La Voz del Aire. Time later he put together his own group, José Dames y sus Paisanos, which disbanded but years later they reunited, and at this stage they recorded for the Philips label.

But he neither devoted himself fully to playing nor he had the ability so as to consider himself a leader, because he lacked the necessary disposition inherent in an entrepreneur. His devotion was always focused on composition.

Since 1940, Dames began a long permanent career as player joining the outfits led by Anselmo Aieta, Juan Canaro, Ricardo Pedevilla, Emilio Orlando, Rodolfo Biagi, Atilio Bruni and Francisco Rotundo, and was member of the accompanying orchestras for the singers Roberto Rufino, Roberto Flores, Andrés Falgás, Héctor Palacios and Alba Solís. Parallel to these activities he often put together some trio, having two guitars to back his bandoneon playing. His last trio was the one which played on Radio El Mundo in 1957, accompanied by the guitarists Vicente Spina and José Sabino.

His career as professional instrumentalist ended in 1982, at La Farola, a tango venue in Buenos Aires run by the Uruguayan singer Mario Ponce de León.

«I never sat down, with the bandoneon on my knees, to write a tango piece. The process of creation has had for me other features. Melodies came to me while walking in the street, on the streetcar, anywhere. I always had the precaution of writing down the theme that sprang up like that, spontaneously. Of course, later I developed it musically», comments José Dames.

Although in his beginnings he released tangos that already announced a musician with creative vocation and disposition, the major expression of his output would be born after 1940, when the important tango lyricists discovered his special melodic capabilities.

Out of his authoral association with Horacio Sanguinetti a successful series was released in the early forties: “Los despojos”, “Tristeza marina”, “Por unos ojos negros”, “Milagroso” and “Nada”, the tango piece that reached nearly 300 recordings of different interpreters.

With José María Contursi, these were released: “” (it was premiered and recorded by the Aníbal Troilo orchestra in an impeccable rendition with Edmundo Rivero), “Fulgor”, “Brindemos en silencio”, “Mientras vuelve el amor” and, always in the 40s, during the blossoming of tango, “Fuimos” appeared, a tango that according to our opinion is his most polished composition or, in any case, the one which best defines his style, with lyrics by Homero Manzi.

Also of that time are “No me importa su amor” with lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo, “Sin ti” with Abel Aznar, “Tan lejos” with Marvil, “Horizonte azul” with Héctor Marcó and a tango, beautiful tango, with lyrics by Cátulo Castillo titled “Detrás del turbio cristal”, that inexplicably did not transcend (or did not find the interpreter or the recording it deserved). Then followed, in later years, a series of compositions with the poet Julio Camilloni: “No era el amor”, “Otra vez arlequín”, “Canción del ángel”, “La vida que te di”, with Juan B. Tiggi “La luna cae en San Telmo” and with Mario Ponce de León: “Simplemente Laura”.

Among his instrumental pieces: “El buscapié” (recorded by Osvaldo Pugliese), “Muy picante” (recorded by Mario Demarco), “De muy adentro” (in collaboration with Héctor María Artola and recorded by Aníbal Troilo), “A bailarlo”, “Alma y violín”, “El cometa” and his series of milongas: “La coqueta”, “Sencilla y briosa”, “La luciérnaga”, “La juguetona”, “Chispeando”, “Vayan abriendo cancha” and “Repiqueteo de taquitos” (the latter in collaboration with Ernesto Baffa).

He also wrote a waltz in European style, “Canción de primavera”, and a short piece of sacred music that he dedicated to the church of his neighborhood: Nuestra Señora de Pompeya.

These simplified notes of his long career as instrumentalist and composer were narrated to me by José Dames on a peaceful morning in the summer of 1983 at his house in the neighborhood of Pompeya.

Excerpted from the book: Estos Fueyes También Tienen su Historia, by Gaspar Astarita, Ediciones La Campana, Buenos Aires, 1987.