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)

QUESTION: How did you meet Piazzolla?
RAUSCH: A few weeks before I left for New York, I was in a café, opposite Radio El Mundo... R-1, Radio El Mundo. I may have been playing there, at the time all radio stations had orchestras. In any case, I was sitting at the café with a friend, and in came Piazzolla. Then my friend told me, 'uh, Carlos, have you met Piazzolla? He's also leaving for New York'. I replied 'no'. Then he introduced us, and we chatted for a while, and I think I gave him my phone number in New York, because I stayed over at some friends' for a couple of weeks. He called me there, and we met, and he gave me music to copy and all that. So, that was two or three weeks before I left for New York.

Q: According to his biography, Piazzolla went first to New Jersey, where he had some cousins...
R: I guess that his cousins brought him over, that they gave their guarantee.

Q: Did you knew him as a musician back in Argentina, his recordings?
R: Very little... just very little because at the time there were some very prestigious orchestras and he was, really, fighting to make way. He was already known, but nothing like he is today.

Q: In New York, what was your relationship like? Did you see each other frequently?
R: Yes, we used to see each other. For instance, we did a small tour of New York State, in different hotels, where he played and was in charge of musical direction... There was a dance company from Buenos Aires, they danced tangos and milongas and that kind of things. They were Juan Carlos Copes and his wife at the time... [María] Nieves was her name... We did tour for a while...
          But we saw each other quite often, I visited his flat, where he lived in New York, and [he laughs] he used to cook tallarines [a pasta dish]... he was a very good cook!
          So we saw each other... I would say that we saw each other quite often for about six or seven months, then he disappeard. He just left...

Q: What was the Piazzollas' flat like in New York?
R: Well, it was just a flat... What I do recall very well is that there were other musicians from Argentina in the building: one played cello with the New York Philharmonic, that was Bernardo Altman, and there was another who played clarinet, Efraín Guidi, who became a conductor after that, he did well. So, when I saw Piazzolla, if I had the time, I also visited some of the other musicians. I remember the address was 292, West 92nd. [See note below]

Q: At the time, Piazzolla free-lanced quite often as an arranger.
R: Yes, that's why he gave me the parts to copy, he arranged for anyone, you see, singers, dancers...

Q: One of his first jobs in New York was as musical director for coreographer Ana Itelman... 
R: I did see Itelman in Buenos Aires, but not in New York. Yes, I remember Piazzolla asking me whether I wanted to copy some music for Itelman, and of course I did, any dollar was welcome... Piazzolla never stopped working, he was like a dynamo...

Juan Carlos Copes, María Nieves, and Piazzolla - promotional poster, 1959


With his own recordings in the can by the Spring/Summer of 1959, in September Piazzolla went on tour as musical director for dancers Juan Carlos Copes and María Nieves. They had some success in Mexico City and Puerto Rico (while in Puerto Rico, Piazzolla got the news of the death of Nonino, his father). At the end of October, they returned to New York, where they were joined by Rausch at the piano.

Q: So, although Piazzolla and you used to see each other, you didn't perform so often in New York.
R: No, not really.

Q: But still, you did play live together...
R: Yes, yes... but I didn't play tangos with him for people to dance. We, I mean with Piazzolla and Copes, did this show in a night-club called... Chateau Madrid. I remember it very well, [Piazzolla] played, Copes and Nieves danced, and they had another dancer, or may be more, with whom they formed this small group of additional dancers. With this ensemble we performed in a series of hotels all over New York State. At these hotels we did mainly one-nighters.
          I remember Copes and Nieves used to do a milonga on top of a small table. I was afraid even to look at them, it was as if they were about to fall. What was the name...? I think it was by Mariano Mores, who wrote a lot of tangos, like "Uno"... I also worked with him, he was a great person.

Q: Could that be "Taquito Militar"?
R: That's it, "Taquito Militar"!

Q: So, when you performed live with Piazzolla, it was only as part of Copes and María Nieves's show.
R: Exactly, I only played with Piazzolla as part of Copes's and Nieves's show.

Q: Who played with Piazzolla in New York?
R: All musicians there, except the second bandoneon, were from New York. At that time there were very few Argentinians, very few. He used local musicians.

Q: So, he played Argentinian music with New York musicians.
R: Exactly. He normally worked with the locals. The only Argentinians were the bandoneons, as far as I can recall, no one knew the bandoneon here.

Q: Having been raised in New York, Piazzolla spoke very good English, so that wouldn't have been a problem.
R: Oh yes, he spoke perfect English... Piazzolla had this great facility to play with local musicians, and make them play because he was, like they say here, the “driving force”, so everybody followed him and he made them all play. And the arrangements were simple enough...

Q: You've mentioned a second bandoneonist. Do you recall his name?
R: No. He had two, but not at the same time. The second was called Basso, but he wasn't [José Basso] the one with the “orquesta típica”, this one was younger than me, I remember we used to call him “Bassito” [little Basso], but I can't remember his first name.

Q: Another bandoneonist who played with Copes around that time was Enrique Méndez.
R: That's the one! Enrique Méndez! He was a very good person, a very good friend. I met Méndez with Piazzolla first, then came Basso. At some point Basso disappeared, there were many people coming and going in New York, finding work wasn't easy.

María Nieves, Juan Carlos Copes, Ann Sheridan, Enrique Méndez, and Ángel Schujer (c. 1963).
Q: Did you ever see Piazzolla working as a member of a group that wasn't his?
R: No, he always headed whichever group he played with, I never knew otherwise, unless it was at the very beginning of his career, back in Argentina.

Q: Which were the instruments when you played with Copes?
R: With Copes we had two bandoneons, that's for sure, because one was Piazzolla, who never stood up to play, he always sat down to play, and then another lad on bandoneon too. Then, generally, he had whatever musicians were available wherever we played, say a trumpet, a sax, a drummer, and a double bass, possibly a guitar... and sometimes even two saxes, that I'm sure of. When we went to a hotel, for a one-nighter, they [Copes and Piazzolla] used the hotel's orchestra, they didn't bring their own musicians, only the bandoneons and the pianist. Piazzolla had an extraordinary flexibility to change instruments and rearrange all that, he was very quick at that.
          In one of those occasions, the orchestra at the hotel where we were playing was Tito Puente's. That's the only time I saw him play with Piazzolla.

Q: If I'm not mistaken, Piazzolla never recorded with a trumpet, but from what you say, he did use and arrange for this instrument...
R: Oh, yes... I remember it well because once we had a trumpet player who was a bit, what we called “sobrador”, a bit arrogant, and I remember we were ready to begin the rehearsal, when he came to us and said [despitefully] “make this quick, I don't have all day”. We used to play a milonga at a extremely fast tempo, so I told him “don't you worry, we will make it fast” [laughs] and the poor thing had quite a hard time with it [laughs].

Q: How did you prepare for performances?
R: We rehearsed with the available musicians a couple of hours before the show... Normally it was just a read-through, musicians in hotels used to be very good sightreaders, they were used to playing anything. By the way, at the time we were also at the Roseland, which was a Ballroom... the Roseland Ballroom, there we also did a gig with Copes and Nieves. I think it was just one night.

Q: Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires in June 1960. When was the last time you saw him?
R: One time I had to tell him I could not make a job he had got in New Jersey, because I already had something else, in Rhode Island, I think, and he went on about how I couldn't do that to him... yes, he got very angry, and didn't see him again. Then, he left.
          After quite a few years, I was into other things, and he was too, I saw him at a theatre in Manhattan, he was playing with one of his bands, I cannot recall which one exactly. When he saw me, we just hugged and he asked me 'Carlitos, remember when we “ran the rabbit”?' that's Argentinian for starving, for the hard times we had in New York. That was the last time I ever saw him.


Note: Although Piazzolla's address in New York is often given as 202 W 92nd St., Rausch recalls it as 292, which is also the address on Piazzolla's letters from that time.


In the next entry we will overview Carlos Rausch's own times in New York and his life in general. The previous three ones about Piazzolla in New York and jazz-tango, which can be read through the following links:

Go here to see a video about these years in Piazzolla's life.


This Spotify playlist contains most of Piazzolla's New York recordings as a leader and as an arranger for others (Fernando Lamas, Machito, etc...). The list is based on Mitsumasa Saito's discography.

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