Carlos Álvarez

Biagi - Interview to Rodolfo Biagi in 1960

odolfo Biagi was born in San Telmo, at a house located near the crossing of Chacabuco and Estados Unidos Streets. His childhood was not different from the ones of other kids: common games and playing with a ball made of rags on a vacant lot that now does not exist at the corner of the street.

«The building of the school were I attended first grade is still standing there in good state. It’s on Sáenz Peña between Venezuela and Belgrano. I was there up to fourth grade, later I switched to the Mariano Acosta school and continued until I finished secondary school and graduated as teacher. But for the sake of teaching I never taught. I liked music. Roberto Gil was a fellow student that devoted himself to writing and, half seriously half jokingly, wrote his observations of daily life and invented that of «Corrientes Street, the street that never sleeps».

«I began to study music when I realized I was really drawn by it. My parents were unable to do anything about it. They did not understand that incurable liking because in my family there were no antecedents of it.

«Well, there’s another thing many people don’t know: my first steps were with the violin. I weeped so much, I insisted and begged that my parents preferred to satisfy my whim before a tragedy would happen. They bought it for me and they enrolled me at the La Prensa music conservatory which was headed by Mrs. María Rosa Farcy de Montal.

«My teacher was professor Francisco Rivara who soon discovered that my true devotion was for piano. Because any time he left the piano stool for a while I used to run to the piano and practiced octaves and arpeggios and even some tango licks.

«So I started again, with the fear of my parents that that would not be the right instrument. But it was. To such a extent that at age thirteen I had my debut before an audience. It was at the Cine Colón, on Entre Ríos Street, where I used to play during the intermissions and also I played while the silent movies were projected to create the necessary mood.

«By chance or because somebody had told him, one day Juan Maglio turned up at the cinema theater. He came closer until he leant on the piano. When I finished playing he touched my shoulder with his hand, which caused an unknown feeling to me, and told me: «Kid, would you like to come with me to the Nacional?».

«It was the tango cathedral, it meant to get nearer to popularity. I was fifteen, I don’t know why I didn’t faint the day of the debut. I was Pacho’s pianist.

«He backed me all the way. «Come on, boy», he encouraged me at the start. It was a two-year tenure with him at El Nacional, later we switched to the Bar Domínguez, on Corrientes Street between Paraná and Montevideo, on the north sidewalk. There, from the stage, I saw a parade of all the faces of our Buenos Aires scene.

«Thereafter I changed orchestra and street. I joined the Miguel Orlando’s group that played at the Maipú Pigall. There I played alongside Elvino Vardaro, Cayetano Puglisi, Juan Bautista Guido and I came to know Carlos Gardel.

«I can’t say I became his friend despite many contradictory things have been said about Gardel and the way he regarded friendship. I admired him as an artist and my biggest pride was that I had an artistic relationship with him.

«He used to visit that venue very often and one evening José Razzano came to see me on his behalf. It was 1927. He told me he was interested that I would join his accompanists in the recordings. Up to that time he had been backed up with guitars only. But he was longing for something else. We reached an agreement and a group was formed with Antonio Rodio on violin, Ángel Riverol, José María Aguilar, Carlos Cabral, and Julio Vivas on guitars and I, on piano.

«We recorded at the Max Glücksmann studios, where now the Grand Splendid cinema theater is located, on Santa Fe Street, a few yards from Callao. I have many memories, but I keep one that meant a lot for me because it showed his spiritual grandeur and his generosity. By that time I was in financial troubles so I asked Razzano if he could give me some money in advance. He made no objection and handed me the money. So I was able to get out of some fixes. The rehearsals and the interchange of opinions passed by; our life together brought me more guidelines to ponder Gardel and finally we recorded. When Razzano paid us, there was no discount. I told him that in front of Carlos and was ready to give the money back. But Carlos interrupted me: «It doesn’t matter, boy. You work deserves that and you’ve won that honestly». That attitude of his gave rise to my gratitude and acknowledgement for ever.

«Some weeks later, Gardel was about to travel to Spain and suggested me going with him. I thought I was very young for that venture, I was just twenty. I thanked him for trusting me but I chose staying. Juan Guido had summoned me to join his group. Our debut was at the Cine Real. It was the first that presented a full orchestra to play the background music for the movies. The other aggregations were the classical music orchestra conducted by maestro Fontova and the Verona jazz orchestra, which had Lucio Demare on piano. Later we switched to the Cine Suipacha which was to be opened.

«The audience was different to the one at the cabaret. There was a fundamental difference. The movie-goers were a little bit disconnected with music, absorbed by what was happening on the screen. At the other places there was a direct relationship, a communion. That feeling was a great attraction and that was the reason why I came back to the Pigall which had already changed its name. It had become the Casanova. I appeared there as member of the Juan Canaro Orchestra.

«My debut on Radio Cultura was with Maglio. Later with Juan Canaro we appeared at the great soap opera radio shows at the Cine París which were aired by the radio station with the same name. The director was Claudio Martínez Payva and among the cast were the Rudy Ayala jazz group, Tita Merello, Fernando Ochoa, the Desmond sisters, Juan Carlos Thorry. With Thorry I composed one of the tango hits, “Indiferencia”, which was in the songbooks of the most popular orchestras and was committed to disc by Juan D'Arienzo, Hugo del Carril, Francisco Lomuto, Francisco Canaro. Much later we reunited again a wrote a country folk song: “Tu promesa”.

«My first tour was in 1935 with Juan Canaro to Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil. There there was much liking for tango.

«On our comeback I split with Canaro and was jobless for a time, despite I was not out of the tango milieu. I used to go often to the Chantecler where D’Arienzo, who was a friend of mine, was playing. His pianist then was Luis Visca. Several times I was invited to replace him because he always was a little bit ill. When his health was even worse it was normal that I was his substitute and so an important stage in my career began.

«As for my style, I always longed to place the piano at a different level to the one used by the typical tango orchestras. A mere accompaniment. So when I joined D’Arienzo I succeeded in making it true. I was with him from December 1935 until June 1938.

«In 1938, when I put together my own orchestra to debut on Radio Belgrano, the chief of advertising of the Palmolive firm, Mr. Juan Carlos Bergeroc, called me Manos Brujas (Sorcerer’s Hands). I had my debut at the “El Marabú” on September 16 and fifteen days later on Radio Belgrano. It was a 20-year tenure. There was a short season on Radio Splendid in the meantime.

«My first singer was Teófilo Ibáñez who made a smash hit with a number of mine and Francisco Gorrindo’s: “Gólgota”. Later Andrés Falgás, another hit with “Cicatrices”. Also Jorge Ortiz, Alberto Amor, Carlos Saavedra and, in the last nine years, Hugo Duval.

«Now I’m recording for the Columbia label».

To the above mentioned singers, it has to be added Carlos Heredia, Alberto Lago and Carlos Almagro, his last vocalist. He began to record in 1927: he cut two piano solos for the Victor label: “Cruz diablo”, a tango of his own and “El carretón”. Later with his orchestra, as from 1938, he recorded 186 numbers. Besides the above mentioned “Cruz diablo”, the following were penned by him: “Humillación”, “Amor y vals”, “Como en un cuento”, “Gólgota”, “Magdala”, “Por tener un corazón”, “Campo afuera”, “Por la güella”, “¡Oh mama mia!”, “Dejá al mundo como está” and “Indiferencia”.