Ángel Olivieri

My friend José Razzano, Carlos Gardel’s soulmate

t was 1895 and José Razzano, still a kid, was coming from his Montevideo hometown with his illusions and his guitar. He was going to Buenos Aires to travel along a difficult road, deep in his heart there was a goal he was eager to achieve: to become the protagonist of his own destiny through singing, to build the future of his life, to triumph in Buenos Aires.

His restless, pushing spirit led him to get through any hindrance on his road towards the goal he was sure he was going to reach.

Razzano was a predestined man because he himself would not have even foretold or dreamed at that time that someday he would link his art life to Carlos Gardel’s and that he would keep a sincere friendship with anthological personalities of popular art, such as Andrés Cepeda or José Betinotti. He was a man ahead of his time; at age 15 he formed a trio along with Francisco Martino and Saúl Salinas and in 1902, the first professional group with instrumentalists and singers that appeared in Buenos Aires. He possessed a sensational human quality; he was a tender, cordial and responsible man. He had a high concept of friendship. When it was time to take a risk for a friend he did not think it twice.

He was a close friend of my uncle’s, César de Pardo, pianist of the Cuarteto Vocal Buenos Aires. Because of that on many occasions he used to come home with him and have dinner with us. The conversation was always around the same subjects: Gardel, tango, the duo, the analysis of the quality of the pieces in vogue at that faraway time and the capacities and personalities of important interpreters and composers of high level that they admired.

I was present during those spontaneous chats which with lucid and dispassionate comments they expressed the admiration and respect for the values that at that time represented the essence for a people that was identified with them and embraced them in the profound appraisal of tango that lived in their souls and in their daily lives.

Don Pepe Razzano was the ideal mate to accompany Gardel, the partner he needed; his personality, his experience, his intelligence when handling all the things connected to appearances on radio, theater or cinema and in the agreement of contracts they have to fulfil; his negotiating capacity simplified or disguised any difficulty that could spoil the possibility of artistic progress for the two of them. His knowledge of the milieu and his ability in business matters led him to solve any misunderstanding, and also a deep knowledge of the men that contended for finding a place in the show business milieu at that difficult time.

Razzano was enterprising, audacious and had a progressive vision of life. That vocation for progress led him to try climbing positions and achieving unexpected triumphs at levels which others were never able to reach.

I treasure an indelible memory of him and those gatherings because they meant, for my spirit, the privilege of living and sharing those times gone-by and also his generous disposition to offer a sincere, loyal friendship to everybody.

Razzano was a valuable reference for several generations of authors and composers and was consulted by many people connected to show business. He was 20 years alongside Gardel. He composed with him around 100 songs. Some of them with a wide acclaim among fans of tango and of Gardel’s performances.

His experience, acquired in a tenacious struggle, was the goal for those arriving after with whom he generously shared it. Since the beginnings Gardel found in him the road to his own success and of his own life. The former represented something like a father that, with his concepts and recommendations, was guiding and protecting the latter from the dangers that awaited those who were not still ready to elude the risk of inexperience or improvisation.

History tells us how the first contract that would link them with the famous cabaret Armenonville was signed. That day Razzano discussed the terms that would rule the contract signed by the duo, agreeing that that evening the direction of the cabaret would pay them the sum of seventy pesos. Razzano told Gardel it and the latter, astonished, asked the former: «You’ve said seventy pesos a month, haven’t you?» «No! A night». Gardel, still unable to believe it, answered: «For that money I would even wash their dishes».

On another occasion they were about to sign an important contract with a theater. The administrators of the theater and the Gardel-Razzano duo were seated around a table. Then the owner of the theater told them that as homage to the success of their performances he offered them a renewal of the contract paying them the 20% of the box office. Gardel held the pen ready to sign but Razzano nodded at him so that he would not sign. They discussed the issue for a long while until they finally signed for twice the sum of the original offer. Gardel even said that the mere presence of Razzano instilled sureness and confidence in him.

Gardel-RazzanoBut not everything was coming up roses for Razzano and, despite being «everybody’s friend», there were people who were reluctant to accept his success and hid their own failure with slander and infamy. Maybe hate, envy or resentment annulled the mind or the feelings of those who, vilely, attempted to destroy a man who, through his sacrifice, patience and struggle reached his dearest dreamed expectations.

But he underwent everything, he understood and ignored the blows. The sadness he lived could not deviate him from his concept of friendship towards everybody, keeping his personality and his behavior throughout his career.

My memory of him will be unforgettable because he offered me a sincere friendship. He spread with his generosity the basis of the collection I finally reached. He was witness and protagonist of a golden age alongside Carlos Gardel and, from his worthwhile experience, I picked up the teachings that helped me to shape my own personality of Gardelian collector. Sometimes success or failure of a mission attempted by a man depends, purely and exclusively, on the good friends around him, on the honesty of those who accompanied him in his oeuvre. Razzano backed me, gave me a hand me and offered me his heart. For him it is my memory and my gratitude.