José Razzano

Real name: Razzano, José
Nicknames: Pepe El Oriental, Orientalito
Guitarrist, singer and composer
(25 February 1887 - 30 April 1960)
Place of birth:
Montevideo Uruguay
Horacio Loriente

n general, those who write about the genre, have been mean or omitted the true recognition of this figure of popular music.

José Francisco Razzano was born in Montevideo (capital of the República Oriental del Uruguay), a few steps from Plaza Independencia, at a house on 14 Policía Vieja street, on February 25,1887. He was only two years old when, after his father's death, his mother moved to Buenos Aires, neighborhood of Balvanera (then outskirts, now belonging to the downtown area).

Amateur singer, a graphic note from the book Carlos Gardel's Life Told by José Razzano, places him in the Compañía Dramática Nacional headed by Adriana Cornaro, in 1903 as cantor criollo. At the play Justicia Humana by Agustín Fontanella he interprets as actor the character Juancho and at an interval of the play he performs a payada of counterpoint with Damián Méndez of the work Calandria by Martiniano Leguizamón. He was member of the gaucho center Los Pampeanos, as he had belonged before to El Pacará.

His fame as good singer gave origin to his first contract to record discs for the Victor company between 1911 and 1912. They are ten folk numbers, the first of them: “La china fiera” that he sings in a duo with Francisco Martino. A couple of years later, he recorded his voice for ERA discs.

Later, the stage of his artistic association with Francisco Martino, Carlos Gardel and Saúl Salinas, from which would result the famous Gardel-Razzano duo.

José Razzano had a splendid tenor voice, of perfect intonation, that blended perfectly with Gardel's range. Mr. José Di Clemente said with absolute conviction that Gardel-Razzano were outstanding. At their personal presentations, that the records never evidenced with the then poor technical recording conditions, the true value of their interpretations. At the beginning of their recording work, started in May 1917, they were mentioned as authors of nearly all the songs, a detail not completely true. It can be said that, “A mi morocha” sung by Razzano as solo voice on the disc 18.001 was his exclusive composition, dedicated to Mrs.Cristina Chirinícola, his faithful wife.

Gardel-Razzano's success and popularity had no limits. They worked intensively. They traveled to Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Spain until, reaching 1925, Razzano, with his vocal cords seriously damaged, gave up singing.

He kept on with his work as a kind of private secretary and agent of his partner and friend and helping him in the selection of the repertoire.

Around 1928, José Razzano tried to take up his artistic activity. Mr. Humberto Giampietro, composer and Uruguayan pianist said, that «Razzano studied singing with the teacher Josefina Hols de Schusselin». So he came back to record, singing the tango Zaraza and several folkish songs. His voice was trained but different and those recordings did not have much impact. They would remain for history, of course, as two late recordings of the Gardel-Razzano duo of December 31,1929: “Claveles mendocinos” and “Serrana impía”.

In 1931 and 1932, José Razzano made some recording takes that would be the last ones. And so we arrived at a sad stage of Gardel's staying apart from from Razzano, to which, besides his own reasons, malice and the evil hearted gossiping contributed.

For many years José Razzano was artistic agent of the great Argentine singer Charlo and later he was an ever present attendant of the meeting of friends of the music business, among which Aníbal Troilo, Cátulo Castillo and the singer Antonio Maida were.

His tango “Ponchito de vicuña” is from 1932, a number recorded by the Francisco Canaro orchestra, that still remains unpublished, and after the 40s his works known are: “Soy un porteño”, milonga with lyrics by Celedonio Flores, later “Café de los angelitos”, “Tres seis diez”, “Camino del Tucumán” and “Diez años pasan”, all of them tangos with Cátulo Castillo, the milonga “Compadre que le va a hacer”, second prize of the genre at the SADAIC (Sociedad Argentina de Autores y Compositores) Contest of Popular Music in 1951, in collaboration with Aníbal Troilo and “Valsecito de patio”, with Cátulo Castillo.

In 1953, the composer José Cimarro dedicated to him the tango “Pepe (To José Razzano)”, that is in the recorded repertoire of the Alfredo Attadía orchestra.

Let us consider, finally, that the presence of Razzano near Gardel, represented an image of order, of a homely warmth he generously gave to his friend, contributing for his artistic career with the advise and his opinion about the places where to perform. In spite of personal differences, somebody heard Gardel saying in his last tour of Venezuela and Colombia, before appearing at a very open space: «Pepe would not have allowed my performance here».

José Razzano died in Buenos Aires. His house on Bonorino street is still a place of nostalgia and memories in the devotion of his daughter, Cristina Razzano de Airoldi, whom, we, the Uruguayans love very much.

Originally published in the book Ochenta notas de tango. Perfiles biográficos, Ediciones de La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. Sponsored by the Academia de Tango del Uruguay.