Julio Nudler

e was was born in Coronel Suárez, a small city in the Buenos Aires province that was not deprived of having a compact Jewish colony, its synagogue, its Hebrew library and its severe rabbi who used to hit the students with a ruler.

His father, José Soifer, married and with two children, that had arrived in 1902 from Kayanka, near Odessa, had a general store where he sold cheap brandy or harvesters, besides trading in fruits of the country. So he continued in the Argentine pampas with the same activity that his family had had in Ukraine.

Several of the seven children studied music: Jaime and Luis were violinists; Samuel, pianist. Abraham studied piano in a branch of the conservatory Santa Cecilia and he already played in the cinema houses of the Centro Español (Spanish Center) and in the Luciano Manara of the Italian Society. When the Great War in Europe finished, his father had to liquidate the business and they moved to Buenos Aires.

He wanted to be a soccer player but his parents and his older siblings tied him to the piano, an instrument that he hated very much until he was eleven. When he arrived in Buenos Aires and he continued his studies in the Santa Cecilia's main house a complete change happened: he began to adore music; and although he was focused on classical music, tango much attracted him, almost as much as women. And very soon he began his career in tango.

It happened in the early 20s in the Casino Pigall, where he replaced Humberto Canaro in the afternoon show playing with an orchestra that substituted for Francisco. In that group the violinist Rafael Tuegols played, butcher in Avellaneda and known as El Viejo (The Old Man). He was as rustic with his instrument as inspired when composing. “Zorro gris” is a good example. Tuegols meant a support and a guide for Soifer. The bandoneonists Américo Bianchi and Emilio Bianchi were there. Alberto was somebody special in that milieu because he went to the Colegio Nacional (high shool), because he read and wrote with ease and because he also read music.

Alberto joined the Francisco Canaro orchestra to replace the pianist Luis Riccardi that was ill. He admired, above all, two qualities of Pirincho: his musical inventiveness and his capacity as manager. As annotator of many tangos composed by Canaro who ignored how to write music, Soifer was angry at those who said that Francisco used to buy tangos from others, and he assured he was able to recognize by its style any piece by the composer of “Charamusca.”

Later he was with Juan Maglio (Pacho) (whose second violin was Mauricio Saiovich). He wore big moustaches and played a sort of tango that emphasized legato phrasing and had little rhythmic stress. Pacho returned him home at night to the house on Catamarca street in a carriage pulled by horses, he left him in the vestibule and closed the door.

He played in a large number of orchestras until he joined in 1928 the one led by the bandoneonist Carlos Marcucci. Soifer would always remember the latter as a rare bird in the milieu: silent as a nun, absolutely introverted, with big short-sighted eyes that he covered with glasses even bigger. Marcucci didn't play the bandoneon: he was coupled to it after spreading, as if completing a rite, a velvet apron on his knees. Alberto was his businessman, because having those matters been in charge of the prodigal Marcucci, in a few months all the musicians —among whom was the stevedore and bandoneonist Salvador Grupillo and the violinist Luis Gutiérrez del Barrio— would have been reduced to mendicity.

They were about to accompany Gardel in a tour, but they didn't allow him to travel because he was a minor and Marcucci did not travel either. Of those years it remained, among so many memories, that of the strange way they recorded “Mi dolor.” The RCA-Victor studies were located then on 100 Suipacha Street but when they arrived there, the recording technician, an American, led them to the backyard of the large house. «Outdoors it sounds better», he told them but nobody believed him. But they were later convinced when they heard the recording. The peaceful Buenos Aires of that time allowed those experiments.

They performed at the American Dancing, at the Paramount cinema theater, competing in the same block of the Lavalle street with the sextets led by Carlos Di Sarli and Juan D'Arienzo. When around 1930 the sound cinema spread, many tango orchestras had to disband and no longer had where to appear so Alberto went to Mendoza to do anything, from selling radio announcements in districts near the Andes range to running with two friends a gas station. But that parenthesis didn't last too long.

Success could also be a curse, as Soifer came to know when after his return he composed “Suavemente”, a foxtrot that everybody sang and he found harrowing and tawdry. Another hit he made was the milonga “Negrito”. Fernando Ochoa introduced him to Luis Bayón Herrera and Manuel Romero in the Porteño, an important revue theater that later disappeared. In that way began the twenty-two years in which Alberto musicalized the movies -generally forgettable- of those two directors for the Efa and Lumiton studios. The first one was Noches de Buenos Aires, with the homonymous Soifer's tango that Alberto Gómez, Charlo and Alberto Vila, among others, recorded. He also began to write for revue theaters, an anodyne genre in which he accumulated thirty-two premieres between the Maipo and El Nacional theaters.

In 1933, Soifer carried out on Radio Belgrano all the imaginable tasks: artistic director, auditioner, pianist, member of the classical quartet of the radio station and conductor of the symphonic orchestra. «I don't make you sweep because you don't handle well the broom», Jaime Yankelevich told him . As advisor in Molinos Río de la Plata, Soifer, together with Pedro Barbé, created in 1942 Ronda of Aces that was aired by Radio El Mundo from an always overcrowded Teatro Casino. In the coffee houses, when they broadcasted the program the cup costed five cents more. On that radio show the most renowned orchestras played, and Soifer took advantage of this to include his. That same year he created on Radio Belgrano a large aggregation of symphonic tango, with arrangements by Bernardo Stalman.

From 1941 to 1945 he led his own orchestra, in which he had the bandoneonists Julio Ahumada and Héctor Presas, Bernardo Stalman as lead violin (Luis Stalman only played as substitute). Firstly Soifer was on piano, but soon José Basso replaced him and stayed a long time. Their singer was the later very popular Roberto Quiroga, whom Soifer discovered in an incredible way. He had taken to fix a fountain pen to Tailhade & Cía. on 445 Cangallo Street. The boy in charge of the task sang tango after tango while he carried out his job. «Do you want me to hire you?», Soifer asked him jokingly, knowing that that employee had recognized him. The following day he auditioned him on El Mundo radio station, and a few days later he made him debut with the orchestra. Soifer finally fired him in 1944 so that he could start as a soloist with his Gardelian whims.

The orchestra rehearsed in the room of the house where the Soifer brothers lived in Liniers, on Ventura Bosch and El Rastreador. They opened the blinds and on the sidewalk all the vendors of the neighborhood and a number of neighbors gathered to listen to them.

Of Soifer as leader we have the scarce discs that his orchestra, delicately rhythmic, of arrangements very transparent and polished sonority recorded for the Victor. The instrumental “Alondras”, composed by Soifer himself, recorded in 1942, and two tangos sung by Quiroga, “Solo y triste como ayer” (Alone and sad as yesterday) written by Alberto San Miguel and Homero Expósito, and “Sin salvación” by José Basso, Héctor Presas and Francisco Manfredi, both of 1943, are the most noteworthy.

In 1941, already married and with two small daughters, Soifer traveled to Europe for some months but he stayed in Spain twenty-three years, absorbed by the cinema. His first job was with the producer of the legendary and extremely Franco-biased No-Do news. During his long absence he traveled thirty-six times to Argentina.

In his latter years, already definitively returned, he composed with Cátulo Castillo the ten numbers of Los inquilinos de la noche, and, with Horacio Ferrer, the tangos of the series La ciudad de los reos. When he died, in 1977, in his apartment there was a trunk full with music, pictures and clippings that were thrown to the garbage. His wife called the porter, and the latter did his best so that everything disappeared.

Excerpted from the book Tango judío. Del ghetto a la milonga (Jewish Tango. From the ghetto to the milonga), Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 1998.