Carlos Inzillo

Díaz - Interview to Juancito Díaz

e said me: «I was born in a town of Santa Fe Province, Peyrano. My father was a railroad employee and was sent to that branch. There I graduated as teacher of piano, sight reading and harmony. Already at age 17 I began with gigs in Rosario and in 1940 Manuel Pizarro, veteran ambassador of tango to Paris, summoned me to join his orchestra.

«Soon afterwards I became the orchestrator of the group and then my cousin, Fulvio Salamanca who played with Juan D'Arienzo, called me to join the orchestra which needed two pianists because due to the great number of gigs it had need of capable replacements. But it turned out that D’Arienzo did not agree with the idea because he thought if I was a relative of Fulvio’s when some conflict arose I would be on my cousin’s side. The days passed and for some reason my cousin got angry, stopped playing piano and quit. The following morning they fetched me to appear on Radio El Mundo in order to play with the orchestra. We began the rehearsal, Juan entered and said hello to me. But five minutes before the radio show, Fulvio came in, so I stood up and gave my stool to him. Then I went to the control booth to see how the sound and the microphones were checked. Juan was amazed because I had been there to carry out my task with no other interest. Since then he liked me. For about two years I was his collaborator.

«How was my sobriquet born, the nickname Caballero Solista? Juan used to stay for the whole summer season in Montevideo. In the meantime four or five boys had become my fans and came home to pick me up. We went out to take a stroll and after walking along Paseo Colón, near the San Lorenzo dead-end street, we arrived at a local named Vieux Paris. My friends wanted me to play, “How would I play alone?” I answered. But they insisted and then I sat at the piano. It seemed that they liked very much what I played. The next day the boys came to Barracas to tell me that the owner of the venue wanted to hire me for five bucks per night. It was 1943, I had a white grand piano and they sent me a lot of whisky when they asked me to play tunes. The house paid me one peso for each glass and as it was a very good imported whisky I had no more than a couple of drinks, otherwise I’d get drunk and would be unable to go on playing. But my buddies encouraged me and had my drinks and the girls... what nice women! Someone, I don’t remember who, had the idea of calling me Caballero and so it went on till now.

«At the Teatro Politeama I had my opening evening. It was in September 1951, Buenos Aires consecrated me as the first tango concert player in the history of our music. The theater was full with many personalities in the boxes. The recital included forty golden pages, with tangos, milongas and some waltzes. On that evening Juan de Dios Filiberto said: “Juancito Díaz has tango in his bones”.

«One of my loveliest memories was appearing throughout the province of Buenos Aires, in cultural embassies, in Mar del Plata, Tandil and in many towns and cities. There the leading figure was Fernando Ochoa. Firstly he was on stage with his poems, later I played music for twenty minutes and thereafter Fernando appeared again playing the role of his character Don Bildigerno. As a finale we used to play an encore and I played some background folk music. It was a boom and we were pleasantly welcomed. When Ochoa died was replaced by a great actor, Santiago Gómez Cou.

«Many times I went abroad. When I was in Switzerland, in Geneva, I was lodged in a grand hotel. It was a snowy wintertime. I asked the hotel manager permission to enter the piano room so that I was able to practice. I didn’t like that anybody would come in ‘cause I wished to be alone with my tangos. Then two people appeared behind the door. I didn’t like that at all, but I said nothing. Soon later they talked to me in Spanish. «Maestro Arthur Rubinstein wants to congratulate you». He had become a tango lover since his stay in Buenos Aires. I took advantage of the occasion to tell him «Maestro, why don’t you play a Chopin’s waltz for me?» I was greatly touched and the first thing I thought was throwing away my piano. Later I thought it over and I laughed to myself, thankful.

«Being in Paris, I was invited by president De Gaulle to Montmartre, a neighborhood where the famous female singer Lady Patachou had a night club. We were sat at a table with some people and she began her show. By that time she had a love affair with Maurice Chevallier. After she had sung she announced me and from a table I heard a shout «¡Juancito Díaz, “La cumparsita”!» At least a voice in Spanish! I thought. And soon thereafter five Uruguayans yelled. I played for them “La puñalada”. From another table came: «Something for Chile», I played “Las dos puntas”. The Patachou didn’t charge anything to those tables. It was a nice gesture. A little bit later she told me: «I’d like you play here with me and later tour the Côte Azure, along with Chevallier, the three of us together». But my Buenos Aires did not let me. I had already signed contracts and even though some attorneys intervened, it couldn’t be.

«In Switzerland, when I appeared at the Cour St.Pierre Theater, of Geneva, just from the beginning they whistled at me. And in like manner the thing went on number after number. When I finished the first part, I had another whisky and was unable to understand anything. Later the Argentine ambassador came to greet me and several journalists asked me things about the milonga. Then they explained to me that whistling was an expression that meant great acclaim for them. The following day the mayor decorated me with an honor stripe.

«In 1942 I had a gig at El Chantecler until midnight and, later, I played at the Tabarís. One day when I was coming back home in Barracas, a guy approached me and asked me if I would like to play at a private party with a good pay. They picked me up with a large car on the day agreed upon. They crossed my neighborhood and went to Avellaneda. We were followed by a group of big automobiles. We reached a formidable mansion and they told me: «There is your piano, maestro». The party began and the room was growing hot with beautiful women. When the things were burning the boss appeared and told me «My chauffeurs will take you home». On our journey back home we talked about old times. Time later I came to know that the driver was Ruggerito, the famous gangster, and his escort was El Pibe Cabeza. And the person that had hired me was don Alberto Barceló, “the number one” of Avellaneda.

«Another tale of Europe: I didn’t understand anything of that language and I was in the French countryside where nobody was able to understand me. One awfully cold morning I awoke about ten and asked the waiter to bring me breakfast to the room. After a long talk and many gestures I thought that he had understood me because what I simply wanted was coffee with milk and croissants. Time later he knocked at the door: He had a tray with two bottles of cold champagne. I was so embarrassed that I was unable to say no».

He composed: “Ladrón de sueños”, “Pampa y güeya”, “Tango a Florida”, “Ya te hice el tango vieja” and “Lloré por los dos” (vals), among others. A curiosity was when he was starred in the movies as leading actor in Adiós muchachos. In a version that does not stick close to history he plays the role of Julio César Sanders, the author of the tango that is the title song. It was premiered on November 29, 1955. It was the first film directed by Armando Bo. The singer Alfredo Dalton is starred as a close friend of Julio’s (Juancito Díaz). Dalton had recently won a talent contest for singers whose award was precisely appearing in that motion picture.

Interview published in the "La Maga" magazine (6/28/1995).