Oscar Zucchi

Pizarro - Remembers his beginnings in tango

e was a bandoneonist, leader and composer. Manuel Pizarro was born in Buenos Aires (neighborhood of Almagro, on Billinghurst 877) on November 23, 1895 and died in Nice, France, on November 10, 1982.

Since an early age he helped the family's economy by working as an apprentice in a mechanical shop located on Sarmiento and Laprida. As for his beginning and the first part of his career in music, he himself told us:

«One of my sisters, because it was customary at that time, studied piano. That instrument didn't mean anything to me. The greatest of my expectations was to become an experienced worker in the shop where I worked. But it happened that next door was Don Leonardo's barbershop and one day, when passing by, I heard a kind of music that cast a spell on me. I had a look and verified that it came from a strange instrument that a gentleman with big mustaches played smoothly on his knees. At once I found out that that gentleman was the famous Juan Maglio Pacho who lived in the vicinity, on Bulnes and Lavalle. Since then every day that I passed by the local I asked when Pacho would come.

«After having showed my interest many times, Maglio consented to teach me. I was 14 years old and I was challenging the firm opposition of my father who thought that musicians were lazy and not well occupied. Soon later with my grandmother's complicity I got my own bandoneon. Its price was very high for that time, $200.

«Pacho was for me a great teacher. He guided me and taught me the keyboard. I also liked his playing when he played alone. I was pleased by his sound and the nuances he achieved, at times, strong, at times, soft. He played well with both hands.

«A few months later I was becoming independent and I no longer went to see him so often. I used to take to him the piano sheet so that he would indicate me which chords were opening and which ones closing. By that time I had begun to study musical theory with Carlos Hernani Macchi, a great flutist in the old tradition who was as well a piano teacher. I began my career in a patio dance round the corner of my house. They paid me ten pesos. Then with my brother Domingo Pizarro that played guitar, we played at many balls of that kind and on the weekends we played at a cafe which was on Humahuaca and Agüero. It was the O'Rondeman. The owner was Yiyo Traverso and there very often Gardel had sang long before he became famous. I sometimes accompanied him with my bandoneon in some criollo pieces, but it was very difficult for me to follow him because of his phrasing, so peculiar, that he already used. It was around 1910.

«My debut was alongside my teacher Juan Maglio when he played with his quartet at the cafe Gariboto, on San Luis and Pueyrredón. He was accompanied by José Bonano “Pepino” (violin), Leopoldo Thompson (piano) and Macchi(flute). I was his substitute when he arrived late. This was by 1913. Maglio was very philanderer and if he found one girl that he liked he used to disappear for two or three days. This added to the money he lost in the races was his doom. Thompson was replaced by Luis Suárez Tapia. Thompson was also a guitar player and, of course, one of the first bassists. When the gig at the Gariboto finished Pacho bought a cafe on Paraná Street which he called Café Pacho. His producers, the owners of the Tagini house, helped him to open it and contributed with twelve thousand pesos. And Suárez Tapia was his partner. It turned out disastrous, because people would go to listen to him but he was missing every now and then.

«As composer I began in 1914 with the tango “Batacazo”. In 1915 I joined a trio with Francisco Canaro and Negro Ortiz on guitar. The patrons called Canaro “the cocktail shaker” because of the way he moved when playing and Ortiz, with the neck of the shirt so high and stiff, could hardly move his head.

«Soon thereafter, I was member of a quartet that included Tito Roccatagliata, Ernesto Ponzio and the pianist Nelson Paulos (his name was Niels Jorge Paulos, younger brother of Peregrino Paulos). Nelson, although he was almost a child, composed with a great facility things so pretty like “El distinguido ciudadano” and “Inspiración”. As he was so young he didn't care much about them, and due to this, they were signed by his brother.» (in this respect there were opposing opinions among the researchers, since they are pieces attributed to Peregrino but they are reliable data, considering the source).

«It was a disaster the way they got drunk, one worse than the other. And I, easy in the middle. Furthermore there was no discipline. Ponzio?... he was a bully. As a violinist?... he played very little, but he was audacious. Tito Roccatagliata, yes, he had schooling and musical knowledge and he was the creator of pizzicatti. Later, I played again with Tito along with Juan Carlos Rodríguez, a good pianist and author of the tango “Queja indiana”, as second violin was Esteban Rovati. With them we traveled to Huinca Renancó (La Pampa) to play in a school for the May 25 celebration. We were accompanied by the Ángel Greco-Ignacio Riverol duet. We were hired for three days but Tito's frequent intoxication and his flirts with the hotel maids, made that two days later the agent, known as El gaucho Casenave, told us: «The orchestra is very well, but you finish today». They paid us the three days all the same and they sent us back home.

«I had my military service in the Martín García island. Concluded that chapter of my life, I played at el Tabarín on Suipacha street with the orchestra led by Arolas. I teamed up with him; the pianist was Pascual Cardarópoli who, by then, was achieving a smash hit with his tango, “La sonámbula”. Also Rafael Tuegols and Julio De Caro, who was a kid, were on violins. There was a violoncello, The German Fritz.

«Arolas was not a great technician, but he had stamina, he was strong and that is evidenced in his orchestra that was more rhythmical than Pacho's. Later I played with El Rengo Ernesto Zambonini, violinist. It was at the La Morocha Cafe. Several times I played with Vicente Greco.

«In 1918 I went to Córdoba on a tour. I was accompanied by Humberto Canaro (piano) and the violinists Rovati and a boy of my neighborhood named Pizella. We appeared at a cafe with waitresses, Las Delicias. There I knew Ciriaco Ortiz, then with short pants, who played after my orchestra.

«On our comeback I played at the Bar Maipú. There I was two years along with five French musicians. One night one of them showed me how they played tango in France. Since then I dreamed of traveling to make them know the genuine criollo tango. Then one evening while walking along Corrientes street I met "Pirincho" Canaro. He told me that the Lombart company had commissioned him to look for musicians to go to play to France. It was 1920. Canaro asked me to put together an orchestra. I agreed and the following day I went to pick up Tano Genaro Espósito. The contract was to appear at The Tabarís, in Marseilles, for one year at fifty francs per day. Genaro accepted and then I proposed it to the French boys that played with me. Only one said yes, Victor Jachia. He was from Marseilles, he had his family there and he had been abroad for twelve years.

«We sailed on the Garona packet boat, on August 15, 1920. Fate wanted that amid the trip Jachia got sick and died. His body was thrown into the sea».

But dear reader, here another history that deserves a separate chapter begins and that, later on, he himself will tell us.