Astor Piazzolla

Biography & more

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?

Astor Piazzolla

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.

Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel

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.
Astor Piazzolla.

He was devoted to Agustín Bardi and Eduardo Arolas, and considered Julio De Caro and violinist Elvino Vardaro as the innovators in tango, in addition to admiring Osvaldo Pugliese.


Piazzolla was seventeen years old when he was still ashamed that his friends knew that he played the bandoneon. In France, much later, he would hide it in the closet. That tension between the shameful presence and his desire to make her acquire a new citizenship card is present very early. The bandoneon begins to take on a new meaning with another casual listening, that of the violinist Elvino Vardaro, of which Piazzolla said:

The first attempt to put together a Piazzolla group was to make a bellows duet with Calixto Sallago, trying to make some adaptations of pieces by Sergei Rachmaninov. The “translations” of the classical repertoire that Piazzolla listened to may be analogous to what in popular literature, the Claridad or Thor publishers did of Dostoieysky or the great European novelists; the same ones that Roberto Arlt read. Piazzolla later became associated with Gabriel Clausi, a former member of Julio De Caro’s orchestra, and later joined Francisco Lauro’s group. He would go from her room to the Novelty cabaret in Corrientes y Esmeralda, with the occasional stopover at the movies or billiards, he would tell about those days: “Libero took care of me, but I got bored walking around the city without a fixed direction.” From his first adventures among musicians, he was struck by how their lives were: “he could not understand why musicians had to live in such miserable places.” Piazzolla did not pretend at first to have Francisco Canaro’s standard of living, but he did wish to have his fortune. The most important radios would dispute it in the future. He came to sign contracts with very favorable conditions for him with the most important record labels. The magazine Sintonía would present him as “owner of royally priced cars.”

He mainly sided with Julio De Caro, but he was also an admirer of Pedro Maffia, Pedro Laurenz and Aníbal Troilo whom for his eighteen years, he saw too far away. His daughter Diana said that one afternoon he began to walk through Corrientes, and when he reached the height of 900 – near the Novelty – he read a sign on the door of the Café Germinal announcing the debut of the orchestra of Anibal Troilo. Suddenly, he heard someone playing the tango “Comme il faut” by Arolas on the piano.