Biography & more
Astor Piazzolla was an Argentine tango composer and bandoneón player.
His artwork revolutionised the tango music world of that moment.
Eventually was accepted as a creator of a new style termed nuevo tango, because it incorporates elements from jazz and classical music.
Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921; he was the son of Vicente Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti (both also born in Mar del Plata, and children of Italian parents).
The Astor name did not exist at the time and his father named his son in homage to his friend Astore Bolognini, motorcycle racer and first cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
In 1924 the family moved to New York, United States, Astor lived a large part of his childhood in that city, and learned his third language, English, since he knew Spanish and Italian.
Outcast from sports as a result of a malformation in one of his legs, in 1927, feeling nostalgic for his native Argentina, Astor's father bought him a used bandoneon in a pawnshop for $18. When he was given the bandoneon, Astor recalled, he stared at it for a long time before daring to press the buttons (read the Note 1 about the bandoneón below)
Astor's father also had a fondness for music, and in fact played a similar instrument, the accordion.
In an interview on August 1st, 1947, in the newspaper Noticias Gráficas he said: «It was useless trying to find a bandoneon teacher on the banks of the Hudson» and the kid, on his own, set about persuading the bellboys to turn over to his fingers all his secrets. Isn't it said that Blaise Pascal invented geometry by himself?
During the times of the Depression, the Piazzolla family decided to return to Mar del Plata briefly, and there, an Italian immigrant, Libero Pauloni, who played in the Munich confectionery taught him the first chords. Then he changed teachers and it was Homero, Libero's brother, who taught him some rancheras, waltzes and polkas. And although he did not play tangos, Homero told his father that "the kid has talent" and although he still has an American style, he is a "soul tanguero", to which the father replies "I already knew it, teacher". But the time for the family to settle in Mar del Plata is short and they return to New York. Astor was eleven years old at the time.
Note 1: The bandoneon is a kind of large German concertina, with a quadrangular prismatic shape, known above all for the role it plays in tango orchestras. Instead of keys it has buttons: 38 for the right hand and 33 for the left. Each button can produce two notes, depending on whether the concertina inflates or deflates. While the accordion is an extrovert instrument, the bandoneon is an introvert. It has a serious sound that seems to express nostalgia and melancholy, characteristic emotions of the immigrants who settled in Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century. It is difficult to imagine a tango concert without a bandoneon, an instrument that is the quintessence of this type of music.
There, Vicente managed to put himself under the protection of Nicola Scabutiello, owner of a major hairdresser on the West Side and several clandestine billiards. Astor would say of those years:
Somehow, what I am I owe to those early years in New York. That was the world that was seen in Los Intocables: poverty, solidarity among countrymen, prohibition, Eliot Ness, the mafia ... Anyway, I was very tormenting, I didn't like school much — they cut me off [from lunfardo "threw out"] of several - and he walked a lot in the street. That environment made me very aggressive, it gave me the toughness and resistance necessary to face the world and, above all, the noise that twenty-five years later my music was going to raise.
One day in front of his window he heard something from a neighboring house that caught his attention, someone at a piano was playing Johann Sebastian Bach, it was a Hungarian to whom Piazzolla attributed the status of student of Rachmaninov, whose name was Bela Wilda. "We chatted about jazz, cannelloni, friendship, the need to study six to eight hours a day to achieve perfection. With him I learned the true love of music”. That is how in 1933 he took classes with Bela Wilda, of whom Piazzolla also noted: “With him I learned to love Bach”. He also studied with Terig Tucci. As part of a school festival, he made his debut in 1932, in a theater on 42nd Street, for which Astor composed a tango that he entitled "Step by step towards 42", but which his father renamed "La catinga".
It was a violent neighborhood, because there was hunger and anger. I grew up seeing all that. Gangs fighting each other, robberies and deaths every day. Anyway, 8th Street, New York, Elia Kazan, Al Jolson, Gershwin, Sophie Tucker singing at the Orpheum, a bar that was on the corner of the house ... All that, plus the violence, more that exciting thing that It has New York, it is in my music, it is in my life, in my behavior, in my relationships.