Born in December, 1905, Osvaldo Pugliese was with the great tango musicians as a teenager and as a pianist jobbed in and out of orquestas for a dozen years. He played in the Roberto Firpo orquesta; he co-lead his first group with the soon-to-be all-time first studio star of the violin, Elvino Vardaro (Orquesta Tipica Victor, Di Sarli, etc. right through to Sexteto Piazzolla). There they are on the left, serious teenagers off to make their way.
At around 15 Osvaldo composed what was to become an evergreen, "Recuerdo." In 1926 a watershed moment came when the great Julio De Caro Orquesta released Recuerdo on record. How inspiring that must have been for the earnest 21 year old.
One hears the deep influence of Julio all through Osvaldo's work. He recorded many songs of that orquesta, keeping the arrangements nearly note-for-note. Julio De Caro's amazing orquesta and style was the road map Osvaldo chose to follow.
Osvaldo and Alfredo Gobbi worked together and one of their young bandoneónists was Aní Troilo. Then Osvaldo joined Pedro Laurenz in his first orquesta. Next he worked for Miguel Caló.
It isn't until 1943 that Osvaldo's recording history begins as a leader.
He is the great innovator, but actually kept alive what was happening in the 1920s, always respectful of the music as a dance form.
One's mind immediately jumps to Piazzolla, a kindred searcher. Astor knew the form inside-out and could whistle past the biggest graveyard as a musican and composer; but almost every time he had the option of maintainng the form, he said, I don't think I'll do that. He became his own form, constantly revisiting everything he had ever felt and recorded about music, going over and over it as only Di Sarli ever did.
Osvaldo was a tango man and that was it. Different story than Astor, who never felt like he belonged anywhere. One imagines them quite enjoying each other with knowing smiles. There would have been a hint of almost jealous appreciation if Astor and Osvaldo were in the same room anytime before the early 60s on Astor's part. Who else could possibly have seen what Osvaldo was doing with as respect/envy as Astor?
As we approach 1950, Osvaldo is seeing his own 50th on the horizon. He has been making records for 7 years. He has been a name among names in tango music since he was a kid. What he's saying with his music had always been exactly what De Caro would have. Until something new started to stir which jumps off the table onto the floor in his 3rd year of recording. "La Yumba" comes out.
La Yumba 46 didn't stick out at first; it was just another of his sparklers (he had around 4 dozen record sides recorded at this point).
He recorded Yumba exactly as he wanted to and we know this because ... a revolution in recording technology allowed him to go back and record it again in 1952. This time, it shocked and awed. Yet it is the same arrangement as the first record by the same musicians.
The war changed the world in sound recording, too and that was a fabulous gift to Osvaldo. Without changing a thing in what he did, it could now really be heard by everybody. His star is born again.
The science advisors to Hitler's security people were asked to come up with a solution to a big new problem: Hitler couldn't appear at big public events anymore for fear of being bombed to hell. Could the professors suggest a way of Hitler giving a speech without actually being there?
When the terrific solution (recording on magnetic tape) fell into surprised allied hands in 1945 it was immediately rushed to America and adopted in a flash. How music was recorded (direct-to-disc) was thrown out overnight. Magnetic tape recording had no scratches whatsoever; and the first tape machines ran at 30 ips - meaning there was virtually no tape noise, either. It developed into multi-tracking and over-dubbing later, but that wasn't needed by brilliant live tango musicians.
In re-equipping to record on tape, the all sound studios upgraded their whole audio chain. The science of the war effort showered glorious dust in every direction. Better mics, cables, electronics, speakers. Everything sounded like it was in colour instead of sepia tones. Of course this is good for all kinds of sales of all kinds of things. (the long playing record would come soon and then stereo arrived in 1958).
But we we were back at around 1950. And here comes god. I mean, to a certain majority of people of tango, Osvaldo is always thought of as god. Certainly after the 1952 La Yumba.
The Junta had killed tango as much as they could. It was pretty much a smouldering wasteland compared to what it had been until the end of the war. Singers took over from orquesta leaders because you had to go to a local cafe to hear music (or the radio). Cafes hired singers, who hired musicians. So now the singer comes in after 8 bars instead of 3/4 of the way through the songs - as had always been the case in tango before. Yikes. This change suited the purpose of killing tango perfectly. Music for listening, not getting excited and feeling sexy. There wasn't any place in the music to dance to any more with all that over-done singing; and no place to dance in a milonga anyway with the curfew etc.
Just at this time Juan Carlos Copes was dreaming and scheming. Who knew he and Pugliese would be a match made in heaven for tango to rise from the ashes? And that both of them would resurrect Piazzolla along the way?
Copes decided he would live life just like his great idol, Gene Kelly. He had the same stature and saw in Kelly exactly what was possible that nobody had ever done before: make big stage shows of Argentine tango and take it around the world. He was the first choreographer to put tango on the stage with professional dancers. He was gifted and a good story-teller. His shows always told the tango history.
He was all over Osvaldo's music. La Yumba made every professional dancer Copes was training for his company swoon, naturally. The first professional tango dancers had their show-stopping new music!
So began a long collaboration. Two peas in a pod with different but inter-dependant arts.
In 1965, the Copes Company came back to BA for their annual few month's working at home. Juan handed Osvaldo the partitions for Piazzolla's Verano Porteño because it was to be in his new show. Pugliese was often Copes' house band (as was Troilo at this time when Osvaldo's schedule didn't allow).
Osvaldo released it on record. Jaws dropped across the nation. You can't be serious! Piazzolla the heathen traitor anti-christ who is destroying tango and Pugliese is playing his music? It was the most perfect, beautiful thing to happen.
Well, that turned things around; Astor was on his way after 20 years of almost soul-destroying stuggle to find a place. (Copes had been employing Astor for 3 years to get him back on his feet after Paris and all that).
I'm going to stop about Osvaldo now. I think all anybody should do is just put on his music and turn it up.
Pugliese's 40s music was imprinted in me from the beinning of my tango life, in my first classes. Every class. Copes was in my life constantly during his 5-month stay in my city and it was he who gave me my first tango music, bless him. There was LOTS of Pugliese on it, of course. Every beginner should get fed 40s Pugliese right off the bat and constantly.
You get the roots, you get the link to everything that came after to the present, you get the clearest sense of possibilities - which don't seem constrained by anything - but it is comfortable because it is tango tango. And it all works for however you feel you need to move on the dance floor to burst out of your moment; knowing that your partner is as captivated and breathless as you. You are free to go for it with all your heart. And when you do, that will make god smile.