Julio Nudler

is name was Israel Kaflún and he was born in Balvanera, at a tenement house. His father, Leiser Kaflún, who had come from Besarabia, humbly made a living as an itinerant seller of caps and hats. He carried them in a big wicker basket. Clara Finkel, his wife, was also Besarab.

The first two children of the couple died of scarlet fever. The third one was Israel. Some black tenants, that occupied another room in the building, became fond of the kid. And they were responsible for the change of his name into Raúl. They thought that was the way Clara called him: «¡Srul! ¡Srul!» because that was the sound of his name Israel in Yiddish.

Besides sending him to the «jeider» (Jewish grammar school) of the synagogue on Paso Street, they made him study violin with maestro Marcos Sadoski. Later he would continue his music studies with José Fraga and subsequently with the prestigious German teacher, Edmund Weigand.

When he was about to finish grammar school he read an ad on a newspaper that a violinist was needed. When he arrived at the place he found around twenty applicants for the job queuing up. They all were older than he was. But after the audition he was hired. He was paid 125 pesos a month. So he began to play along silent movies at movie theaters. He played classical pieces with a small ensemble.

His encounter with tango took place only in 1926 when Julio Rosenberg offered him to join the jazz band at the Astral movie theater which would open on 1639 Corrientes Street. There at the tango orchestra pit was the sextet led by Miguel Caló. He soon joined it. The pianist was Armando Baliotti, aka Escombrito, who became one of the closest Kaplún’s friends. With Roberto Maida on vocals they premiered Enrique Santos Discépolo’s “Esta noche me emborracho”. Time later Caló went to Spain with Cátulo Castillo and Kaplún switched to a quartet that Baliotti formed to play at the Cine Moderno on San Juan and Boedo. As people liked this small group the impresario decided to transfer it to his best theater, the Cine Los Andes, also in Boedo, and suggested that it would become a sextet. This was around 1928, when the sound film era was coming with its terrible menace of unemployment for musicians. They would find refuge at cafés and cabarets and at the growing radio stations. His broadcasting debut was on Radio Prieto in 1928. In later years he switched to different radio stations.

Baliotti’s sextet played tango pieces at the Salón Imperio on Maipú and Lavalle. In 1931 they came back to the Los Andes under the name Típica Criolla Baliotti.

In 1932 and 1933 he joined the Trío Puloil that accompanied the contestants at the contest for vocalists sponsored by a cleaning powder and aired by the Splendid radio station. Caló on bandoneon and the inspired Luis Brighenti, composer of “Ensueño”, at the piano completed the trio. That contest consecrated Hugo Gutiérrez as winner and Andrés Falgás was runner-up.

Meanwhile, Caló reunited his sextet to perform at the café El Nacional. He had Kaplún and Pedro Sapochnik on violins, Brighenti on piano and the vocalist was Carlos Dante. The latter was not yet the outstanding singer that would later shine with Alfredo De Angelis.

Kaplún came back with Baliotti when the latter, teamed up with César Ginzo, put together an orchestra for the tango contest organized by the Crítica journal which was held at the Luna Park: The winner was “El mareo”, a tango piece composed by Julio De Caro.

In 1934 Raúl started a new decisive stage with Caló. The latter began to record for Odeon and released twelve discs up to 1938, but no instrumental. The orchestra was starred at the movie La vida es un tango, premiered in February 1939. Kaplún can be seen in one of its sequences.

During the 30s, so critical for Argentina and for tango, musicians like Aníbal Troilo, Alfredo Gobbi, Osvaldo Pugliese, Pedro Laurenz and Juan D'Arienzo, among others, were blossoming to pave the road to a new boom that dawned a few years before 1940. A key man was the violinist Argentino Galván, who towards 1935 began to write arrangements for a few orchestras. Among them was Miguel Caló's.

In his Libro del tango, Horacio Ferrer highlights Galván's preference for strings, with a tendency for «short, varied solos, generously designed». Oscar Zucchi refers, however, that the musicians stated that «the things that that slim dark-skinned guy could not be played». A great number of the players were not at the level that tango was beginning to demand from them. This was, precisely, the historical opportunity that allowed Kaplún to reach the hall of fame as the initiator of the violin virtuosity in tango.

José Gobello even goes further in his Crónica general del tango. When he wonders when the tango renaissance of 1940 really began, he poses several hypothesis, and among them this: «Why not in 1937 when Raúl Kaplún played the first arpeggio devised by Argentino Galván in the Miguel Caló Orchestra?»

According to Luis Adolfo Sierra in Historia de la orquesta típica, Galván exploited the notable technical aptitudes of Kaplún, «writing for him the solo passages with such difficulties that demanded the best of his great interpretative dexterity.»

Enrique Francini joined later, as second violin, the same group led by Caló. The former developed the virtuosity of Kaplún and polished it through a different road to the top level while the orchestra underwent an extraordinary transformation under the influence of the pianist Osmar Maderna. The latter would create the diaphanous style that identified it.

Raúl, admirer of Elvino Vardaro and Alfredo Gobbi, thought that the time had come to look for another place. In 1942 he found it in the orchestra led by the pianist Lucio Demare, who since 1938 carried out a style that blended rhythmic stress and sentimental mood in sympathy with the public longing for dancing and living or dreaming of romance. He counted on the talent of the bandoneonist and arranger Máximo Mori.

Besides his violin playing, Kaplún contributed to Demare with some tango numbers he composed, like “Canción de rango (Pa' que se callen)”, sung by Roberto Arrieta in 1942, “Una emoción”, recorded in 1943 with Raúl Berón, both with lyrics by José María Suñé. “Qué solo estoy” was also a hit; its lyrics belonged to the speaker Roberto Miró. Demare recorded it with Berón, and Carlos Di Sarli did it with Alberto Podestá. It became subsequently a sought-after piece in the songbooks.

Even though “Nos encontramos al pasar”, again with Suñé, is a tango piece of unusual value, it did not reached a lasting acclaim. Besides the recording by Demare with Horacio Quintana in 1945, it was committed to disc by Fiorentino with Astor Piazzolla in an anthological recording. Years later Kaplún accused Héctor Stamponi of having plagiarized this tango to compose “Quedémonos aquí”. SADAIC verified that there were six bars that coincided, but Raúl preferred not to sue him.

The first known piece by Kaplún was the waltz “Recordando a Musmé”, with lyrics by Manuel Ferradás Campos, published in 1935. Another waltz of his composed in 1942 was “Nunca supe por qué”, with lyrics by Luis Rubistein. With Víctor Lamanna he wrote in 1952 the tango “Casa de Carriego” which was sung by Héctor Mauré.

Up to April 1946 he had performed alongside Demare at the shows on Radio El Mundo, at the Palermo Palace and at the cabarets Novelty and Casanova, besides the recordings for Odeon. When the composer of “Malena” decided to travel to Cuba, Kaplún split with the group to put together his own orchestra in June that year. He teamed up with the vocalist Horacio Quintana as his trump-card and trusted the arrangements to Julio Ceitlin and, occasionally, to Máximo Mori, who sometimes led the bandoneon section which was lined up by Juan Kusta and the brothers Jorge and Mario Luongo. Another bandoneon player was the eccentric and undisciplined Ramón Acevedo, who preferred the sobriquet Robert Brigg. Their debut was at the El Nacional café, later they appeared at the Tango Bar and at the Sans Souci, simultaneously they performed on Belgrano radio station. But the relationship between leader and singer was not good and the team broke up.

He would only succeed in recording in 1950, consequently important contributions such as Hugo Duval's and Roberto Goyeneche's at that early stage of his career were lost like “Se lo conté al bandoneón” with which he made his debut or “Mi tango triste (Tango triste)”. With only sixteen years old El Polaco auditioned for Kaplún at the cabaret Montecarlo singing “Corrientes y Esmeralda”, and there was no space for doubts. «I can't miss this kid», the maestro thought and made him join his orchestra to appear on the radio and at the Ocean, a dancehall near the docks. After each show he allowed him to sleep on a sofa until the time of closing the local. Then he accompanied the boy to the streetcar stop as he had promised to the boy's mother. But some trouble in his throat kept him away for a time so he was replaced by Juan Carlos Jordán. The latter was the first disc of the four that Kaplún recorded for TK. On one side was “Audacia” written by Hugo La Rocca and Celedonio Flores, and on the other, “Tierra querida” the composition by Julio De Caro in one of the best of the many renditions made of this tango. Jordán had a very personal feature: his way of singing offkey was even. If from the start he missed by a halftone the intonation in a tango he kept that deviation constantly. That could happen at any time, on the raised platform of the Adlon tearoom on Florida and Tucumán, or even in a broadcast on Radio Belgrano or Splendid. Then Kaplún came closer to him to guide him with his violin, note after note, in spite of the arrangement.

Kaplún married Amelia Altman in 1933 when she was only 17. During the period when he worked hard, Berta and Lidia, the two daughters of the Kaplúns wept tearfully because she thought they had been forsaken by their father who was nearly always away from home. But when he came back home he brought them pizza from Las Cuartetas and ice creams from El Vesubio so that they would forgive him his absence. Perhaps he included in that pardon that night world where things he never talked about happened, things that were regarded as forbidden, indecent, that his family had to ignore even though it was taken for granted that he walked uncontaminated through all that.

Excerpted from the book Tango judío. Del ghetto a la milonga, Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires 1998.