José Martínez

Real name: Martínez, José Julián
Nicknames: Gallego
Pianist leader and composer
(28 January 1890 - 27 July 1939)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Salvador Arancio

n 1890, in the early days of tango and still in the period of struggle for reaching a definitive form, several figures that in a short time, fifteen or twenty years, had an outstanding importance in the later development of our music were born. Of all those names we choose José Martínez, a name of a truly remarkable importance.

This musician was known in the milieu with the nickname of El Gallego, about which he used to say: «That is ridiculous, I am porteño. I have a Spanish family name but my parents, my grandparents and great-grandparents were Argentine».

He attended up to the third year of high school. For three years he worked in a notary’s office. Parallel to that, because he was self-taught, he practiced piano at the place of some friends of his despite he had no previous music instruction.

He entered tango through the main hall in 1911 when as pianist he joined the trio comprised by Augusto Berto (bandoneon) and Julio Doutry (violin). They played for six months at a café on Centroamérica Street (today Pueyrredón).

According to what he told Héctor Bates in an interview made in 1934, they switched later to a café known as De los Loros (Parrots’) located on Corrientes and Medrano, so called because most of its patrons were drivers and ticket collectors in the famous Lacroze streetcars which were green. They had a tenure that lasted one year there. From there they switched to the Castilla café and added the flutist Vicente Pesce (called El Tano Vicente) to the group, so becoming a quartet.

Thereafter they came back to the De los Loros café but now with Francisco Canaro as violinist, because Doutry had split with their outfit. After working together for a time, Canaro joined Vicente Greco and Doutry rejoined the quartet.

José Martínez was member as well of the renowned Quinteto Augusto that Berto led and which included the flutist Teisseire. They recorded for Atlanta records (1914).

Another venue where they worked until 1916 was the Canessa café of Corrientes and Montevideo and, since then Martínez changed his way of working for a living.

Here we have to highlight something very important for this portrayal: Eduardo Arolas, the one capable of playing weeping sounds in a bandoneon, called him to replace no less than Agustín Bardi in his group to play at the Royal cabaret which later became the Tabarís.

Six months later he decided to withdraw from the music business, tired of that activity. He worked in Bunge & Born as cereal receiver but when the harvest ended, he could not resist the spell of music and returned to tango.

He put together a trio in which he played piano, Osvaldo Fresedo was on bandoneon and Rafael Rinaldi on violin. Those were hard times and they had to play for a popular pot located in the neighborhood of Once, Viamonte and Larrea, where they were paid 10 cents for each piece. The experience lasted eight months.

Then a gig at the Montmartre cabaret of Corrientes Street sprang up, so the Martínez–Canaro quartet was born by adding Canaro to the trio. When the engagement finished, Canaro formed his orchestra. With the latter they returned to the Royal cabaret where they had a five-year tenure.

In 1917, Martínez was member of the Firpo-Canaro Orchestra, regarded as an awe-inspiring orchestra due to the level of its members. It was a boom in the carnival season that year in the Colón theater of Rosario. José Martínez doubled Firpo and the rest of the line-up was as follows: on the bandoneon section, 0svaldo Fresedo, Eduardo Arolas, Minotto, Deambroggio and Pedro Polito; violins, Francisco Canaro, Julio Doutry, Agesilao Ferrazzano, Tito Roccatagliata and Scotti; flute, Alejandro Michetti; clarinet, Juan Carlos Bazán and on double bass, the legendary Leopoldo Thompson.

Some chroniclers place José Martínez, according to the opinion of musicians of the period, as an heir to Roberto Firpo, Luis Riccardi, Samuel Castriota, Agustín Bardi, etc.

Martínez who was born in the Federal Capital on January 28, 1890 and died in the neighborhood of Belgrano on July 27, 1939 had an important role in the meetings held in the underground floor on 300 Florida Street in 1918 to shape an organization that would defend their rights. He was alongside Francisco Canaro, Vicente Greco, Rafael Tuegols, Antonio Cipolla, Luis Teisseire and Samuel Castriota. This association later became the present SADAIC and he was member of its first board in 1920.

Constantly putting together and joining outfits, he as well appeared in theater plays: with the Vittone-Pomar company (1922); as well with the Arata-Simari-Franco company at the Smart Theater and at the Maipo with Morganti Gutiérrez, among others.

In the late 1928 he withdrew from the musical activity and worked as employee in the enterprise Louis Dreyfus y Cía for five years.

Francisco Canaro, in his memoirs, said words of praise for the talent as musician that Martínez had. The latter, a few years before his death once again formed groups with different results.

The most valuable heritage he left for us are his numerous works as composer: “Yerba mala”, dedicated to Bardi; “Samuel” and “El pensamiento”, to Castriota; “Canaro” to Canaro; and “Pablo”, to Pablo Podestá.

Furthermore he composed the music of: “Pura uva”, “El cencerro”, “La torcacita”, “De vuelta al bulín”, “El palenque”, “Olivero”, “Calma chicha”, “Punto y coma”, “Lepanto”, “El matrero [b]”, “Expresión campera”, “El acomodo”, “La correntada”, “Carbonada”, “Pedacito de cielo [b]”, “Tengan paciencia”, “Polvorín”, “Marianita”, etc.

Undoubtedly, José Martínez since early age much contributed with his musical talent to our tango. Because of that we think it's fair to remember him on his centenary.

Published in Cuadernos de Difusión del Tango, nº 5, directed and published by Salvador Arancio.