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.

QUESTION: You had already met in Buenos Aires, but how did you get in touch in New York?
I can't remember who got first to New York, but soon after, a few months after I got there, Piazzolla rang me on the phone and asked me whether... he was thinking of doing some recordings and, if I was available, could I do it. I also copied scores for him... and so, in 1959 he did his first album in New York.

Q: Then, this is the album that came out as Take Me Dancing...
That's the one.

Q: It came out originally on Ti-Co, which was part of Roulette...
Roulette! I remember that was the label we recorded for. And because professional musicians tend not to buy the records they make, once you get your cheque, you forget about it, I never bought it, and I regretted it. But now, gee, this is a miracle... being able to listen to the record, I'm really glad.

Q: So this is the first album Piazzolla made in New York.
It is, as far as I know. It's possible that he made more, but not with me... I remember trying desperately to find the record on the internet because I didn't have the album, I didn't buy it back then, and I was very surprised to see in the internet that this record was advertised with people which I'm sure they didn't play in it. There's, for instance, Tito Puente, who's listed there... he never played on it. I do remember that Puente played with his band in a show we did with Piazzolla and dancer Juan Carlos Copes, but he has nothing to do, as far as I know, with this album... I'm even listed as a percussionist, and I never played percussion on it.

Q: Do you remember how many sessions it took to make the record?
One, as far as I know, but the pieces are very short. We read them through once or twice and we recorded. Unless there was some big mistake... What I do remember well is that I was one hour late, something that is inconceivable in New York, getting one hour late to a recording session. I was never late, but what happened is that it was the day when clocks moved forward on hour, and I was one hour late because I had forgotten about that.

Q: Was Piazzolla angry with you for that?
No, he didn't really angry with me when I was late. He only asked "ché, what happened?" I told him, "look, I didn't know about the change of time", but that was all, there was no problem.

Q: Piazzolla seems to have been a man with a strong personality.
Oh, yes, no much room for arguing with him.

Q: Was Piazzolla strict with musicians, did he know how he wanted music to sound, or did he give some leeway to musicians?
No, no, he was very strict. I remember once, we were playing in a club, and I was doing a solo, in the interval, and I played Ginastera's “Danza del Gaucho Matrero”, and he wanted me to change the bass part. I didn't like the idea, but I said “OK, I'll change the bass”, and he overwrote it on the score. I erased those many years later, one day I said “that's enough!” and I played them like Ginastera wrote it.

Q: In the recording of Take Me Dancing, did you improvise or did you have everything written down?
I think I had a score, I can't remember well. He wrote everything down... I was surprised by my long solo on "Oscar Peterson", yes, but I cannot remember whether I improvised or if Piazzolla wrote anything down for me, because the scores disappeared, of course, he took them with him.

Q: Did you know Peterson?
I never met him in person, but I heard him play, at Birdland. He was an extraordinary pianist, out of this world. I heard all of the greatest there at Birdland... Kai Winding, Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan... Once I even saw the whole Stan Kenton Orchestra with Lee Konitz in there, in such a small place! 

Q: Piazzolla's arrangements sound dense.
Piazzolla has a very good sense for the orchestration, very clear, he always looked for combinations of sounds that were outside the tradition of tango, he always kept outside the tradition.

Q: The music sounds somewhat rigid, as if the arrangements were very precise, with everything written down.
Yes, he used to write everything down, I remember that.

Q: However, he does improvise himself.
Oh, yes, he did improvise. I remember very well once, we were at... it was at an Argentinian diplomat's home, at one of the consuls' department, who was having a dinner party, with tallarines, and he was there, with his bandoneon, completely oblivious to the party that was going on, trying to compose a piece... He told me 'I'm trying to write a new tango, it'll be called “Río Hudson”', but I never heard that piece.

Q: What do you think of the album?
The album which I recorded, the one I play in, sounds very good. Yes, it does, blimey, I remember all of that, that evening.

Q: Do you recall in which studio it was recorded?
I'm not really sure, but it's possible that we recorded it in the building where Capitol was. I'm fairly sure that it was at Capitol studios.

Q: You did a lot of work as a copyist for Piazzolla. Does that include the parts for Take Me Dancing?
I was thinking about that, but I don't remember it well. I know I did quite a lot of work for him, but I don't remember this one. Possibly.

Q: Do you remember how were you paid? Were you paid scale?
That's a good question, you know? I don't remember, but Piazzolla never owed me anything.

Q: Did this band play this music live?
No, not as far as I know. As far as I can remember this was only played on the recording. If we played clubs, he did more common music, his own tangos or anybody else's. Piazzolla's record was unique at the time, it was very good, but for some reason it didn't work out.

Take Me Dancing gets 2 stars (out of 5) on
Billboard (December 14, 1959)
Q: It may be that the tunes were too short and somewhat repetitive.
I think you're right. Composition-wise, it is very repetitive, the pieces are too short, the album itself it's too short, and it possibly didn't make a favourable impression. I was actually expecting it would be longer, but now that I listen to it after so many years, the pieces are very short, too much so. And the rhythm, you know, in my opinion Piazzolla didn't write for dancers. His music is not for dancing, except, possibly, some of those more melodic little tangos he did. Because there's no dance, and there's no singing, he hardly wrote for vocalists, that [appeal] is lost. Piazzolla had his problems in Argentina too, critics were not very favourable either. Audiences are audiences, they expected something to get dancing, and this can't be danced. He was extraordinarily succesful later in his career, he made an enormous amount of records.

Q: Apparently Piazzolla put a lot of hope in this project, but in later years, when he didn't even want to talk about this album. What do you remember about Piazzolla when you recorded it?
I don't remember very well, but I never saw him disappointed, no, he wasn't. I don't think he was, or at least I don't remember him being disappointed at the time... I don't think he was disappointed with the recording, he couldn't expect miracles from the musicians, who were all American, yes, even though they were very good, they were all excelent.
          Let me tell you something else: I have never met a professional musician with so much drive to survive, to... look, he got to New York and people still thought that tango was done in Rodolfo Valentino's style... People heard [Piazzolla], they looked at him and they didn't understand anything... Oh, yes! I remember one time that he told me that some person had told him that he needed some castanets in his music. He told me: “look, Carlitos, they asked me to bring some castanets!”


  • According to Azzi and Collier in their biography Le Grand Tango, the melody of "Río Hudson" was eventually included in the suite María de Buenos Aires.


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