Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Leaders and followers?

In the BBC Argentina programme Ignacio Varchausky says something that I found quite curious. He made a number of very interesting remarks, and this one really struck me: '...we have so many outstanding individuals (in Argentina) but as a whole we don't do great as a society, and I think that has to do with the identity issue...'

Tango music has always struck me as very lacking in any kind of 'star' cult. If you didn't already know, would you be able to guess, from the music, which instrument Fresedo, or Miguel Calo, or Lucio Demare played? We all know that Pugliese played piano, but could you guess that from the music? The piano is always there, if you listen, but it only predominates for brief passages. Listening to his music, you might perhaps guess that Troilo played bandoneon, but perhaps only because his phrases are so distinctive, so different from the rest of his orquesta. The ensemble is what seems to matter above the individual: the individual voices are very meticulously balanced so no one voice, no matter whose it is, seems to predominate. Contrast this with jazz: when you listen to the Dizzy Gillespie Allstars there's little doubt that Dizzy Gillespie plays trumpet, and the same is probably true for most jazz bands and orchestras. Kind of Blue? If you didn't already know, you might wonder if Miles Davis played trumpet or sax, but the group is generally there to accompany: to duel with the leader on occasions, but usually to play something of a subordinate role.

Perhaps many outstanding musicians have made a remarkably harmonious society in the orquestas of tango.


Elizabeth said...

Interesting thoughts, and just as a side note: Have you heard the recordings of Dizzy playing with the Fresedo Orquesta? It is jarring (to me) to hear such a strong and individual player as Dizzy with the harmonious back up of the very integrated sound of the Fresedo group. It almost feels like a loud American voice in a quiet but lively cafe...

jantango said...

You will want to tune into El Tangauta TV for its broadcast premiere on Saturday, October 30 at 10:00pm BA time for a live concert at Torquato Tasso celebrating 50 years of Quinteto Real with Cesar Salgan. Horacio Salgan (94), Leopoldo Ferderico (83), and Ubaldo de Lio will be performing.
Repeated Sunday at 10am and 5pm.

I was toying with the idea of buying a ticket for one of the concerts, but El Tangauta has saved me 150 pesos by scheduling a live internet feed of this historic event.

Tangocommuter said...

Thank you for reminding me of that recording! Yes, it really is a good example. Actually I couldn't enjoy it: there are two worlds there, and I like both of them, but they don't work well together.

When I chose Dizzy, I knew he was really an extreme example. There are many less forceful jazz musicians, Dexter Gordon, for instance, Lester Young, but even so they stood out as 'the leader' in their various groups.

& what I wanted to do was to think about this almost uncanny way that tango music creates an equality between the various voices in an orquesta. I think it's a defining characteristic of tango, and it's something that's always been there, right from the start, and it's still there, at least in traditionally-based tango. (Piazzolla tended to stand out from the musicians in his groups, but then he grew up in New York in the 1920s and 30s...) Tango is really a kind of music written by arrangers, but there seems to be an unwritten agreement that even the orquesta director, the leader, should have no more prominence than any other instrument. Which I find fascinating.