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.

QUESTION: How and when did you get started in music?
RAUSCH: I began as a small child, aged 7. My father was a violinist and conductor, I remember him buying a piano for my and my brother.

P: Were you two brothers?
R: We are, my brother lives in Argentina. We're twins... My father brought us a tutor, I had several, and my brother and I began studying music. At the time we both studied the piano, but he gave it up. When he was 16 or 17 he got into the saxophone, and he worked as a saxophonist all his life...

Q: What's his name?
R: Tito, Tito Rausch. Last time I saw him he was touring with Julio Iglesias, apparently Julio Iglesias loves Argentinian musicians because of their adaptability... We went to see him at Radio City Music Hall. It was a very long tour around the world, the whole of the US, etc... But he stopped playing and got a job as a psychologist.

Q: How did you begin playing professionally?
R: In the beginning I began playing in small orchestras and accompanying singers, that kind of thing...

P: Do you recall any names?
R: The only thing I remember is that I played a couple of times - I was scared to death - with the ballet at Teatro Colón, but I was in my twenties, I hardly remember any of that... I also played with singers of all kinds, there were classical singers, popular singers... I also played at Gong, an upmarket club, with a quartet. I was there for about four years, I think. We used to play from 11 p.m. till 4 a.m. I loved it, because I could study or go out in the evenings. I also played with a small orchestra called "Castrito". And I also worked at Teatro Smart, at the premiere of Mariano Mores's "Taquito Militar". I remember it was a very funny musical, and the star was Elena Lucena
          Then, I also began studying composition with Juan Carlos Paz, who, at the time, was a famous avant-garde composer in Argentina. Later on, when I decided to move to the US, I did odd jobs, I studied to become a conductor, and did free-lance work, until I decided to move to Chicago. That was in 1963, when I took a job in Chicago as assistant conductor with a chamber orchestra, and I got into a different area of music. After that I got into ballet companies.

"Río de la Plata" docked in Port of Spain, Trinidad
Q: According to immigration records, you first entered the US on July 14, 1952, as the pianist on board ship "Río de la Plata"...
R: That's right, it was in the summer of 1952. 

Q: But you did several trips to New York as a pianist, didn't you?
R: Yes, quite a few, but never on a row. I stopped every so often, because I didn't want to disconnect myself from Buenos Aires.

Q: When did you decide to move to New York for good?
R: I would say about a year before I moved... I had to make a decision, either I stayed in Buenos Aires or I moved to New York.

Q: What made you move?
R: I loved the city, I was fascinated by it... It was so alive and life was so comfortable that I said to myself, "well, I'm going there". I knew people there, people I met during my trips...

Q: What was your first impression of New York?
R: I was stunned at the view of the hundreds of small offices with arrangers on Broadway. Singers went there, hundreds of them, to get arrangements of whatever music they wanted to sing, in order to make their way in the music business... people were swarming in there! Nowadays there's nothing like that, most of those buildings disappeared, they were replaced by office buildings.

Q: When did you move to New York for good?
R: In 1958, on February 8. I remember well because the weather was freezing cold, having snowed for a few days.

Q: Whereabouts did you live in New York?
R: In the beginning I lived in Brooklyn Heights, where Piazzolla first came to see me. Later on I moved to Manhattan and I lived there for about 30 years, on and off. I was in Chicago for a couple of years and then I came back. I lived in Canada for six years and then I came back again. By the time I last returned to New York I had got married, and we lived in New York for 22 years. One of the apartment buildings we lived in was right next door to a building that was owned by the Gershwins. The tenants living there at the time got together and placed a metal plaque on the street that read "George Gershwin lived here"... I guess his brother [Ira] did too, but that, I don't know... From our apartment, on the 11th floor, you could see their roof, where Gershwin had a room built where he went to be alone and write when his home got too noisy.

Q: What was your job exactly? Were you a concert player, a composer?
R: I wasn't a concert player. I was a professional pianist and I also wrote music.

RWB performance, March 15, 1970
Q: How did you make a living?
R: Well, I played piano in different places, and I also gave lessons, it was very cheap to live in New York at the time. That was my life until I began taking conducting lessons, first with Carl Banberger, then with Pierre Monteux... So, yes, my first time living in New York lasted for about seven years, until I got a job as an assistant conductor with a camber orchestra in Chicago. I was there for two years. From there, I went on to live in Canada, to Winnipeg, where I was musical director at Royal Winnipeg Ballet for six years. I travelled the whole world with them.
          But back in New York I played everywhere, wherever I could make a buck, I played. I also accompanyed singers, which is a common job for musicians who have not reached the concertist category.

Q: Being a pianist it was probably easier for you to make a living than for Piazzolla, I guess.
R: Definitely, as a pianist... besides, I could do anything. I could play for singers, classical singers, whatever... After that I opened up to other things, when I began working with dance companies. It wasn't a very stable job, but there was very little competition.

Q: How did people get hold of you for work?
R: We generally met at the musicians' union, Local 802. People meet there and it's like a market where people exchange needs, people who need musicians and musicians who need work.

P: There were other Argentinian pianists in New York at the time. Did you come across Enrique Villegas?
R: Yes. Villegas lived in a basement. Large apartment buildings used to have a large basement where the man in charge of the building lived, he'd be a sort of handy man. I don't know how he convinced the administrators of the building, but he got to live in the basement. He was happy for that, because he could play piano at all times without disturbing the neighbours. He had a Baldwin, a good piano.

P: And Lalo Schifrin?
R: Sure, I saw Lalo Schifrin many times, until he went to Los Angeles with this jazz orchestra...

P: ... Dizzy Gillespie's. In his biography, Schifrin explains that it took him two years to get his green card. Did it take so long for you too?
R: No, I didn't have any problems with that. And I became a citizen six years after I moved there.

Q: Do you mind if we go through some of the places in New York offering live music at the time?
R: Go ahead.

Q: El Chico, at 80, Grove St., in Greenwich Village.
R: Sure, I was there for about a year, I had my own combo there.

Souvenir from El Chico (source:

Q: And what kind of music did you play?
R: I did a bit of everything, we had just one combo at the place. We were myself on piano, a double bass, a drummer.... and a Spanish[-speaking] saxophonist, we was a very good person.

Q: Do you recall his name?
R: Now that I think of it, he had a French name. He was called Lebatard... Germán Lebatard. We had a lot of fun with that combo. We were in Grove St., and I remember that I also had a Spanish double bass player, but I don't remember his name. What I do remember, is that he had come with a group from Spain, they were called Los Chavales de España ["the Lads from Spain"], they were an excellent group, about ten or twelve of them, and they played at Chateau Madrid.

Q: You had your own quartet, then...
R: Yes, and I really enjoyed playing at El Chico, it was a very lively place, it was a well-known place where well-known people used to come to dine and dance, and all that. I remember that the owner's wife had a parrot, and when joined us singing, which she sometimes did, they parrot would start screaming, it was quite a show! You wouldn't know who was more noisy, the parrot or the singer.

Q: As we've seen, you did play at Chateau Madrid, located at 42, West 58th...
R: Yes, on 58th. There I played with Piazzolla for a few weeks, about a month... later on I played for a show with dancers doing a Spanish show, even though they came from Mexico. They were called... they had a company and then we went on tour... Ximénez-Vargas! One was called [Roberto] Ximénez and the other was [Manolo] Vargas. By chance, there was another group doing Spanish dances after them, Roberto Iglesias's, who had already won an international award. He did quite a long tour, and I went with them as their pianist... Just a second! There was a Cuban restaurant, first on 8th Avenue, then, after a few years, they moved to... maybe 51st street... It was called Liborio...

Q: Liborio was at 884 on 8th Avenue, near 53rd street. Apparently it'd been there since 1949, and the owner was called Pérez Blanco...
R: I don't remember his name, but he was always at the till. His wife was already with him too. They were from an older generation than Castro's, they'd been living in New York for years when the revolution came... And they were always arguing.

Q: Going back to Chateau Madrid, in a review from that time, it says that when Copes performed with Piazzolla, Ralph Font's orchestra was also there...
R: Yes, Ralph Font... it was a Latin orchestra.

Q: Well, "Ralph" Font was actually Rafael Font...
R: He was from Catalonia, I remember him... I knew some people, not many, in the Latin music scene. Sometimes I'd go hear them, they played with so much energy, I loved listening to them.

Q: Besides Copes, another Argentinian dancer who was in New York at the time was "El Chúcaro". Did you meet him?
R: Yes, I did play for him and his companion [Norma Viola], at El Chico. That was after I played for Copes. I even arranged some music for him, I can't remember what it was, it for music for dancing. El Chúcaro's companion studied with Martha Graham.

Q: Did you meet any jazz musicians at the time?
R: No, I didn't move in those circles... Well, actually, I did know one of them... What was his name... he was a really nice man... Doc Cheatham! He came to Buenos Aires with a band [Pérez Prado], he was a very good person, he used to send mouthpieces and all kinds of things to musicians which they weren't so easy to find at the time. He had two kids with his wife, who was from Uruguay... Yes, I saw him again in New York and I worked a couple of nights with him.

Q: Did you play jazz with him?
R: We did a bit of jazz, but it was rather commercial music, a few songs, some Latin music...
          There's someone I used to come across regularly: Mitch Miller. We lived two or three blocks apart. I used to see him sitting in the bus, that's the way everybody moved around... unless they took a bus. He used to go along 8th Avenue, Central Park West, he lived on 75th or 76th, I used to live on 73rd.

Q: Did you keep in touch with any of the musicians involved in Take Me Dancing?
R: Well, with Johnny Pacheco... I did some work for Johnny Pacheco when they had... He was somehow associated with that record company... Fania. I had a bit of a mad job. They had to send the music they recorded, for copyright purposes, to Washington. Since they didn't use any written music, they improvised everything, I had to transcribe the music, take the recording and put the music on paper. I did about 30 or 40 of those pieces, I took them from the record and put them on paper, and they sent them to Washington.

Q: When was this? Because Fania came some years after...
R: This was around 1970, I was back in New York, I had returned to study. I just got married and I wanted to settle and leave the travelling life behind. I went to Columbia University and, in order to make some extra dollars, I did those jobs for Johnny Pacheco.

Rausch at home
Q: What music do you like to listen to?
R: Nowadays I don't listen to music that much. See, I spent last summer transcribing music for organ to the piano, a piece by Bach and another one by Liszt, which I don't know how it'll turn up. I'm still working on the Liszt, because it gives me these terrible headaches. I'm doing it because you cannot play organ music directly on the piano, and I said, "well, maybe..." some pieces can be arranged, but sometimes... It depends on the mood I'm in... I really like modern jazz, but not so much of the kind that's incomprehensible, but up to... let's say, Charlie Parker. I'm a bit behind the times, but at least that keeps a sense of the tonal system.


Note: Rausch's pieces "El Tango" and "La Milonga", with lyrics taken from poems in lunfardo by Julio Ravazzano Sanmartino, can be heard on Spotify, and also on the CD Serenata (North/South Recordings, N/S R 1024) by the Americas Vocal Ensemble.


Music in Spotify:


Acknowledgements: This series of articles wouldn't have been possible without the help of Carlos Rausch, Pablo Aslan, Diego Fischerman, Guillermo Bazzola, Fernando González, Mitsumasa Saito, and Daniel Piazzolla. My deepest gratitude to all of them for their time and generosity.

  • Fischerman, D. and Gilbert, A.: Piazzolla, el mal entendido
    (Edhasa, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009)
  • Azzi, M. S. and Collier, S.: Le Grand Tango - The life and music of Astor Piazzolla
    (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • Gorín, N.: Astor Piazzolla - Memorias
    (Alba Editorial, Barcelona, Spain, 2002)


KM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KM said...

What a wonderful surprise to read this article -- thank you for providing the details on Maestro Rausch's eclectic career. He is such a lovely man. -- KM