Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Twenty years after

In the summer of '92, while Spain was beginning to delude itself thinking we were something we're not, I was down and out in the streets of London. Not that I was skint. I wasn't rich either, but I'd rather spend my cash in records. Just in Oxford Street there were two HMV and two Virgin stores, four multi-storey record shops in just over one mile. Add to that Tower Records and another HMV in Piccadilly Circus. On top of all that there were the specialized shops, like Ray's at the time still in Shaftesbury Avenue, with jazz on the ground floor and blues in the cellar. In those four weeks of August, I did do all my touristy sight-seeing, but even though I had my eyes on the attractions, my mind was working out what to bring back home, how much to spend, and where. I'm not really proud of this. I say it like addicts tell things to other addicts.

I came from a small village, and I hadn't really experienced Madrid or Barcelona, and so London was Xanadu, Ali Baba's cave, cornucopia. A paradise from which I took fruits that will stay with me forever. A 2-CD set with live recordings by Charlie Christian; the early CD issue of Benny Goodman's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall; Stan Getz's live set at Storyville '51 reissued by Giants of Jazz in Italy; T-Bone Walker's complete Imperial recordings; plus others that have dropped from memory. Things I knew existed. Things I didn't know existed.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (and V): Carlos Rausch, 2013

In the vastness of Piazzolla's legend, Carlos Rausch amounts to a mere footnote. His name has been regularly cropped (to Rauch) or he's been moved from the piano bench to the percussion department. Tagged with "percussion" or "(piano)(maybe)" he's just a ghost in a dubious recording according to the information that tumbles around, free of criticism or revision, on the internet.

However, behind the name there's not only a real person, but a warm and friendly character to boot. There's also a whole life devoted to music, including work as a musical director and conductor, as a composer, as well as past extra-musical activities like his forays into aviation as the proud pilot of his own Cessna 180.

Carlos Rausch
Rausch was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 89 years ago. In 1958, almost at the same time as Piazzolla, he switched hemispheres, but unlike Piazzolla, he didn't return to Argentina. He lived in a number of places in the North America, were he lives today, retired, but still devoting a good chunk of time and effort to music.

In this entry about Piazzolla's "lost years" in New York, we turn to this pupil of Juan Carlos Paz, in Argentina, and Pierre Monteux, in the US, for him to tell us about his life as an immigrant, professional musician.

This is also the last entry in the series devoted to Piazzolla's second New York sojourn, 1958-1960. See the very end for acknowledgements, bibliography, and links to several Spotify playlists.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (IV): Rausch on Piazzolla, 1958-1960

Portada de Take Me Dancing
Piazzolla is one of the best-known Argentinian musicians in the world, even though he died over twenty years ago. He knew international acclaim, worked with great artists, flew over stylistic boundaries and reached different countries and audiences... However, between his upward rise culminating with the artistic success of his Octeto Buenos Aires, and the turning point marked by “Adios Nonino”, the requiem to his father, who died in late 1959, there were two years of misty uncertainty, spent mainly in New York City, from February 1958 to June 1960. While the city was bursting with all kinds of music (in a especially glorious year for jazz) and the US was, more than ever, the most powerful country in the world, reaching the end of Eisenhower's years at the helm, Piazzolla was struggling with the American dream. His recollections of it, bittersweet, hardly come up in the memoirs compiled by with Natalio Gorín.

The New Yorker, January 30th, 1960. The "collection of
Argentinians" refers to Copes, Piazzolla, Rausch & co. 
The portrait of Piazzolla's life in New York is somewhat blurry. Beyond the stories of those who knew or worked with him, his name hardly appears among press notices; even though these note some of his perfomances, he rarely gets a name check, nor does dancer Juan Carlos Copes, whom Piazzolla worked with from the second half of 1959 to the beginning of 1960. Copes himself has told the story of how the fire brigade had to be called to deal with the crowds at Waldorf Astoria where they performed there, but those were probably due more to headliner Eddie Fisher than to a sudden tango fever sweeping Manhattan. The great Piazzolla was, in fact, just another anonymous musician among the thousands who made a living in late-1950s New York, a golden age for studio work in the city.

Argentinian Carlos Rausch was a pianist and copyist for hire in New York at the time, and he worked with Piazzolla oftentimes. This is part of his first ever interview about Piazzolla (see this previous post for more), for which he listened to the albums Take Me Dancing and Evening in Buenos Aires, recorded by Piazzolla in New York in 1959, also for the first time. The following is my translation of the original interview, which was made in Spanish.

Carlos Rausch and Astor Piazzolla, New York, May 1959
(© Carlos Rausch)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (III): Take Me Dancing! — Discographical details

In 1959, while jazz was going through an incredibly fertile period and New York's cultural life was just mind-boggling, the grand modernizer of tango was struggling to make ends meet, and musically he wasn't really getting anywhere.

Since then, the result of his plans to mix jazz and tango have been marked as pretty much irrelevant by conventional wisdom, and with no hard data in the original album sleeve or any other published sources, there's hardly anything solid regarding the personnel and date of recording of Take Me Dancing. Who would be interested in knowing the details of a "failure", right?

Discographical research on Take Me Dancing! begins and ends with the picture below, first published in Piazzolla Loco Loco Loco (Ed. de la Urraca; Argentina, 1994), a book by Óscar López Ruiz, one of the main guitar players in Piazzolla's career. Besides the faces you can see on it, other names have been offered as present in this session, such as Tito Puente (discussed in the previous post), guitarist Barry Galbraith, and bassist George Duvivier. There's also the additional question of there being more musicians in it than can be heard on the record. A few internet searches will give out some vague results, with errors in the spelling of names and the pairings of instruments and musicians.

Sunday, April 26th, 1959?

In any case, the complete personnel is, from left to right:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (II): Take Me Dancing (1959)

In the previous post, we introduced Piazzolla's Take Me Dancing and Pablo Aslan's 2011 remake. This one is about Piazzolla's original recording.

Piazzolla, aged 37, arrived back in New York at the beginning of 1958 (he had lived there, aged 4-15). It took him some time to settle, but soon enough he was working regularly as an arranger for Roulette Records, through a good word put for him by fellow arranger and bandleader Johnny Richards. By that time, he was already reunited with his wife, Dedé, and his teenager offspring, Diana and Daniel. In New York he recorded two records as a leader, Take Me Dancing, his attempt at a jazz-tango fusion, and a more inocuous one, which rested in the vaults till 1994, when it was first released in Japan as Evening in Buenos Aires (P-Vine PC-2885).

Carlos Rausch, pianist and orchestra conductor, is now 88 and lives in the US. Like Piazzolla, he moved to New York in 1958 and there he worked with him as a pianist and score copyist. Furthermore, they saw each other frequently, paying visits to each other's homes. Even though Rausch is a prime witness to this brief moment in Piazzolla's life, he had never been interviewed about him before. Although he played piano in Take Me Dancing, he had never listened to the record until now, either.

In future posts Rausch will talk about Piazzolla and New York at length (although next up is all about discographical minutiae); here, he reminisces about Piazzolla's infamous recording. The following is my translation of the original interview, which was made in Spanish.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (I): Brooklyn 2011

Astor Piazzolla is one of the outstanding musicians of the 20th century, one of those figures like the late Ravi Shankar or Paco de Lucía who have transcended borders, cultures, and labels by taking on the music of their own backyards, giving it a personal twist, and making it appealing to audiences throughout the world.

The bandoneonist and composer – his music education included stints with Alberto Ginastera in Buenos Aires and Nadia Boulanger in Paris – had a long career and a good selection of his records wouldn't be out of place in the collection of any music lover. As with any artist, it would be hard to say which is the best of his albums, and that quite pointless question would probably provoke some heated and pointless debates.