Ricardo García Blaya

cannot write about Leopoldo without reminiscing my house on Sunday mornings when my old man used to read the newspapers listening to music in the living room. Then there was a parade of Charles Trenet, Bing Crosby, Carlos Gardel, Ángel Vargas, Aníbal Troilo mixed with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Vivaldi and Gershwin. But one day a singer that attracted my attention turned up, he was Julio Sosa.

Thanks to Dad I had developed a taste for tango, especially a liking for Gardel and Edmundo Rivero but I have to admit that that appearance touched me. It wasn’t only the singer, it was everything, the music, the lyrics, the orchestra. Those were the early times of high fidelity and that had a different sound, another punch. Dad used to tell me that Federico was a great musician and that he was a perfect foil for the singer’s work, «Really a luxury» he told me.

Time proved it true, Leopoldo is a gem that deserves to be in the hall of fame of the greatest bandoneon players of tango alongside Pedro Maffia, Pedro Laurenz, Ciriaco Ortiz and Troilo.

His finesse as interpreter and his oeuvre as composer make him stand out among the musicians of his generation. Nowadays he is, undoubtedly, the greatest and most talented one, and possesses the humility of the true virtuosi, either in music or in his behavior in life.

A couple of times I had the chance to chat with him about his career and his projects in his office of the Asociación Argentina de Intérpretes (A.A.D.I.), and institution he presides. He told me that in his beginnings he played in an orchestra in his neighborhood. He learnt harmony with Félix Lipesker and Carlos Marcucci, and he further studied with Francisco Requena. He recalled that he had recorded some tango pieces with the Juan Carlos Cobián Orchestra, back in 1944.

He joined briefly the orchestras led by Alfredo Gobbi and Víctor D'Amario and in 1946 he joined the Osmar Maderna Orchestra as lead bandoneon.

The following year, Alberto Marino put together his orchestra conducted by the violinist Emilio Balcarce and invited him to join the bandoneon section. At that time only a job was not enough and this forced Leopoldo to swap with other orchestras: Mariano Mores, Héctor Stamponi and some other one.

He tells me about his brief but profitable stay in Carlos Di Sarli Orchestra, which left in him an everlasting footprint; about his pilgrimage through the aggregations led by Osvaldo Manzi, Lucio Demare and Horacio Salgán until reaching his first experience as leader, teamed up with his friend, the pianist Atilio Stampone.

That was back in 1952 and the Tibidabo cabaret and Radio Belgrano were filled with his music. The team Stampone-Federico played the remarkable arrangements written by Argentino Galván and its vocalists were the legendary Antonio Rodríguez Lesende and Carlos Fabri. That year they recorded two numbers for the TK label: “Tierrita” and “Criolla linda”.

The fifties would still surprise him more than once. In 1955 he is called by Astor Piazzolla to replace Roberto Pansera in his mythical Octeto Buenos Aires with which he recorded memorable versions of anthological pieces of the genre; later, in 1959, he recorded his first 78 rpm disc conducting his own orchestra, and in the late 1955, in spite of his well deserved prestige and his solid career, he teamed up with Julio Sosa in his new character of soloist and put everything aside to accompany him.

Far from starting a decline in his musical career, the association with Sosa places him in the top rank of tango show business and he realized that when he says that he never had so much responsibility, so much work and so much success. They recorded 64 numbers for CBS Columbia. The first two: the song “El rosal de los cerros” and the tango “Madame Ivonne” on November 8, 1962. The last two: “Siga el corso” and “Milonga del novecientos” on November 18, 1964.

Undoubtedly the Uruguayan singer is greatly in debt with this outstanding musician who, besides providing for him an excellent orchestral background, made “El varón del tango” approach material he had not previously taken advantage of. Consequently romantic numbers like “Nunca tuvo novio”, “El último café” or the well-remembered recording of “Que falta que me hacés”, one of the greatest hits of the team, were launched.

A detailed description of his professional career after this stage which came to an end because of the unexpected death of the singer would result very long, but we cannot omit his association with the guitarist Roberto Grela in the Cuarteto San Telmo, a kind of reminiscing of the legendary Troilo-Grela quartet, but with its own style. Out of this partnership unforgettable recordings sprang out: “Amurado”, “A la Guardia Nueva”, “El africano”, “El Pollo Ricardo”, “A San Telmo” and an excellent rendering of “Danzarín”, among others.

The following singers passed through the ranks of his orchestra: Carlos Gari, Roberto Ayala, Laura Esquivel, Aldo Fabré, Mariano Leyes, Carlos Alcorta and, as guest singers, Yoichi Suigawara from Japan and Eino Gron from Finland.

His oeuvre as composer is magnificent, with instrumentals that deeply touch me like his “Bandola zurdo” or “Capricho otoñal” and others that already are classics like “Cabulero”, a number that Piazzolla renamed as “Neotango”, and “Sentimental y canyengue” recorded by, none the less than, the orchestras of Horacio Salgán and Osvaldo Pugliese.

We can as well mention: “Pájaro cantor”, “Retrato de Julio Ahumada”, “Milonguero de hoy”, “A Héctor María Artola”, “Minguito Tinguitella” with Roberto Grela, “El Polaco”, “Preludio nochero”, “Alma de tango”, “Siempre Buenos Aires”, “Diagonal gris” and “Cautivante”, among over 50 compositions.

He was a hard traveler, very often invited to play all over the world. He was in Japan in 1976, 1985 and 1991, in France in 1980, in Finland in 1990. In South America he performed in Brazil in 1986, in Chile in 1971 and in 1991, as well in Colombia in 1983 and in a hundred of scenarios throughout the world.

There are no more words to praise this remarkable artist that represents the best tango of all times. Besides his musical gifts he has a noteworthy human quality. We will simply remember him and we are very grateful for so much music and so much beauty.