Néstor Pinsón

D'Alessandro - Antonio D'Alessandro tells me his story

n several occasions I went to the place of this musician of Buenos Aires city that had a 23-year tenure with Francisco Canaro. There we used to have long chats about his career with the bandleader. His words evidenced the admiration and the affection he had for him.

Antonio D'Alessandro, a man with an extreme correctness, delicate, learned, with a soft and cordial voice tone, was determined to make his statement.

«I studied at the conservatory run by León Fontova. It was in 1926. Later I had lessons with Gilardo Gilardi and other very good teachers. My debut was at age 13, like many others, at a neighborhood movie theater. In this case was El Sena on 3078 San Martín Avenue. It was the time of silent movies and in the intermissions the Ángel Well’s orchestra used to play. For a short time I was a “freshman” but soon later I became second violin and thereafter I played the lead.

«Later we formed a trio with my brother Nicolás D'Alessandro and a pianist, Luis Volpini, and played for the first time on Radio del Pueblo. Later the trio changed into an orchestra and we even appeared on five radio stations simultaneously. But we were a second rate group. We named it Orquesta Majestic and we used to play tango and jazz music in ballrooms.

«One day I had the idea of organizing a ball in which our orchestra would play but furthermore, as main attraction, feature someone important. And I invited Francisco Canaro. It was in the Club Tucumán of Quilmes. There I met him and we became friends. One day he asked me to join his orchestra for a short tenure, about a week, I said yes and it turned out a 23-year tenure. It was in January 1941. He died on December 14, 1964 and his last appearance was in Montevideo at the Peñarol stadium, only fourteen days before. We had a feeling that his life was coming to an end and that day we, Oscar Sabino (pianist), Octavio Scaglione (violinist) and I, traveled to accompany him.

«Let’s go back to our orchestra. It was known as Nicolás or D’Alessandro Orchestra. We also played jazz, as usual. In this case I conducted it and it had another name. It was the Pájaro Azul (Bluebird) jazzband. We even played twenty-two balls a month and we backed a large number of well-known singers.

«I had a short tenure with the Pedro Maffia Orchestra. Elvino Vardaro played in it then. Also I played for a period with Edgardo Donato. He was a good guy, with a special humor. In the orchestra with Nicolás, Carlos Dante was the vocalist. I wrote the charts for him so that he would be comfortable. Many times the vocalist has to struggle with uncomfortable arrangements. The recordings we cut with him were not made in the studios but were takes of live shows. Other singers that appeared with us were Carlos Acuña and Abel San Martín. At the beginning there was a boy named Arturo Novoa, he was quite like Oscar Alonso.

«In 1960 Vicente Salerno, violinist of Ricardo Tanturi called me to play a stint, for just one evening. A few days later, Canaro called me to tell me that Tanturi needed me to reinforce his outfit and that he allowed those appearances as long as I stick to his schedules. It was the time when his vocalists were Horacio Roca and Alberto Guzmán. I followed that routine for six years. Besides Canaro I also played, between 1961 and 1967, in the Radio Excelsior staff orchestra. The leader was José Rosa, the same one that led the Orquesta Filiberto and he asked me to join the latter when he was its conductor.

«My book Yo fui a Japón con Canaro (I went to Japan with Canaro), in fact, is a detailed diary that I wrote on that tour. It’s a way of remembering a man that only did good things for people. The orchestra boys laughed at my eager effort. They used to say that it was useless, that it was just a whim of mine. But years later it helped them when they were about to retire and needed proofs because the secretary only provided them with the documentation of our appearances on radio and theaters, nothing else. I remember when Minotto Di Cicco, Piscotto and the clarinetist Merico meekly came to me to get the details of that tour and of others that were included in the diary.

«Canaro did much for tango, he brought it from the outskirts to downtown and later to Paris, to North America and Japan. He was the only one who dared to take money from his pocket in 1919 to launch musicals in theaters. It was at the Variedades of Constitución. As from 1932 he was well organized and presented almost one a year.

«I got tired of hearing that Canaro used to buy most of his compositions. That they were not his. How much he was vilified! I witnessed how he used to take out a copybook with music paper in which he annotated a musical idea that suddenly came to his head and that he later went on shaping. I almost dare to say that it happened even twice a day. Canaro was a different man. When somebody comes out of nowhere, from misery and reaches the level of popularity he achieved then detractors, and envious people spring up.

«Even the nickname Kaiser that he was given —people say that by his brothers themselves— because of his bad temper, or his behavior as a bossy person. It was not that way. He used to give orders, of course, and had a strong character but it was only an outer shell. Now I’m going to give you an example:

«In 1951 Canaro had bought a house for ninety-five thousand pesos. One part was mortgaged and he had to pay a very expensive installment. I didn’t know about it and one day I went to see him because I also wanted to buy one and needed twenty thousand pesos. When I told him that he hesitated for a minute and answered me: “It’s a lot of money... but please come to see me home". And so there I went to Tagle 2872. We entered a room and soon he approached a big iron safe box. From it he took out some banknote rolls. “Here you are”. I asked him what I had to sign but he replied: “Nothing, with your word is enough for me. And please tell Ernesto —his secretary and administrator— that he had to monthly deduct what you earn with me". Likewise he did it with Oscar Sabino, with Oscar Bassil, with Alberto Arenas, with Guillermo Rico. Someone who behaves like that cannot hide an alligator in his pocket as they used to say around.

«He was an upright man, very professional. Once we were playing at a club on Vélez Sarsfield Avenue. He had just included Ricardo Pedevilla, a good boy. On that occasion he came accompanied by a woman with whom, in the intervals, he went to the dance track and danced in a very ostentatious way so as to attract people’s attention. Pirincho saw him and called him: “Look, people don’t come to see me or hear the singer only, they come to see all the members of the orchestra. We’re all part of the show. You have to behave yourself, don’t go to the track to dance”. Pedevilla replied that during the breaks he was able to do whatever he wanted and went on dancing. The next day he received a telegram that said he had been dismissed and that he would get the corresponding severance pay.

«I’ll tell you something funny. When I was with the Radio Excelsior staff orchestra I saw Walter Ríos, very young, who did not stay far from his bandoneon and warmly held it during the intervals after playing. I told him that he should do like the rest of us, “leave it on the bench or on the piano and come to chat with us”. He then gave me this explanation: “I was playing at a café and all of a sudden Aníbal Troilo with other gentleman appeared. The audience applauded and soon began to ask him to play something. He agreed, he came straight to me and borrowed my instrument and played a couple of pieces. When he finished and returned it to me he told me: “Kid, how can you play with this? Come on, send it to repair and I’ll lend you one of mine”. The following day in the morning a guy came with a Pichuco’s bellows: “Here you are, take care of it!” And that’s what I’m doing".

«In 1966 I formed a group I named Tangos a la Parrilla to play pieces just like they were written in the sheet music (head arrangements). The members were Armando Lacava (piano), Domingo Scapola (bandoneon), Ariel Pedernera (string bass)and my 16 year-old son Mario and I (violins). We played on Radio Belgrano and at several venues. In 1970 we put together the first Quinteto Pirincho, as homage to the maestro, with Bassil, Pedernera and Sabino. We recorded and we were together until 1980. By that time I played for two years in the Osvaldo Piro’s orchestra and had some stints in the chamber quintet headed by Antonio Agri.

«Believe it or not, I’m an admirer of Astor Piazzolla. He has carried the word tango around the world. Middle and old aged people like early tangos because they bring us back memories of a time we lived but Life is also today and tomorrow. And I congratulate those who reunite thinking of tomorrow. When years before I emceed some radio programs I aired much of Piazzolla’s music and I had to hear many silly things. One guy on the phone was yelling: “How can a Canaro’s musician airplay Piazzolla?”.

«Canaro had a great affection for Mariano Mores to such an extent that when he split with the orchestra the former was sort of depressed and his working schedule start to decline. It was a bad situation and so I accepted a job in the public administration. It turned out fine for me. I started as a clerk that filled small cards and finally I retired as general manager in charge of a thousand employees. It was in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

«Mariano was a pleasant fellow, funny and fond of making jokes all the time. We are close friends and he was godfather of one of my children. He was a contribution for Canaro, personally, but the orchestra did not change when he left. Luis Riccardi, Mores’s predecessor, was a different story. He was the most important mainstay that Canaro had for years. He was the one who transferred to the music staff the ideas and crazy thoughts of the bandleader.

«Something about the vocalists?... when I joined the orchestra Ernesto Famá was the singer. He was always warmly acclaimed, he was very neat. He never got seated before his last number for not creasing his trousers. Alberto Arenas has his story, his hit was “Adiós pampa mía” and it was a problem for him because he always started on the wrong beat and he was quite on edge. This tango has a 14-tone ad lib section and from there it began. But it was in vain until the day Minotto found the solution. He had to put his hand in his pocket and hold in it 14 buttons or small stones or coins and then had to release them one by one until the last. He began to start right in time but one day the boys took out two buttons, some other day, five and it was impossible: he was unable to begin at the right time.

«I had a busy schedule in the union, but that’s another story. I composed several numbers that were recorded. The first ones at age fifteen: “Vieja brava” and “En un sueño tus labios besé”, both recorded by the Trío Pampeano, with Caldarella, Masobrio and a guitarist. Also “Que risa con Doña Luisa”, a ranchera recorded by several outfits. Canaro committed to disc: “Vieja carreta” with Eduardo Adrián on vocals; “Dónde está lo que soñé”; “Se llama Dolores”, both with Carlos Roldán; “Paz en mi tierra”, included in a theater play. Other numbers were: “Pagá vos después arreglamos”, with words by Juan Velich; “Cuando no existas más”; “Negro carbón”; “A Don Pirincho Canaro” and I remember “Un tango para bailar”, a customary phrase of his when in the public performances he used to say: “Now some tangos to listen to” and, after several pieces, “And now some tangos to dance to”. One day we played my tango although he didn’t know it beforehand, he liked it and since then it was always played after his announcement.»