Adios Nonino and Astor Piazzolla: Shipwrecks, motorcycles and a used Bandoneon in Manhattan


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By Marcello Pedrolo

In order to understand Astor Piazzolla completely, we must be able to get in touch with ourselves first. Let Piazzolla’s music talk to your soul and explore at the same time the intriguing brakes, the different paces of emotions and intensity of the lead against the rest of the instruments; lows and highs, fasts and slows making you react, and dream, and react again. You’ll be in Buenos Aires walking along bohemian cobbled streets where couples dance in slow motion a non danceable music. Suddenly you’ll be pulled into Paris at rush hour, boarding the Metro with a million people trying to get ahead of you, making every part of your body connect with your emotions. All this can happen when Astor Piazzolla's music comes in contact with your ears. Among his creations there is “Adios Nonino" in particular which (in my opinion) connects Nonino and Astor Piazzolla with their past, their present and our future; because composition like this, will take them both into the generations yet to come. Astor Piazzolla's great grandfather Ruggero Piazzolla and son Pantaleo Piazzolla were both sailors from Italy.

Pantoleo, (born in 1855) immigrates to Argentina shortly after his ship was shipwrecked.

Once settled in Mar Del Plata City, Pantoleon (Pantoleo) worked as a doorman in the local theater, and in summer season was a lifeguard.

Pantaleon Piazzolla (nicknamed “The Dutchman") was a skilled woodcarver, a hobby he later passed on to his son Vicente (Astor's father).

Just by carrying entrepreneurship generations after generations, the Piazzolla's were by the nineteen hundreds an example for many, in Italy and in Argentina. They all managed to do extraordinary things regardless of economics or geographical barriers; they carried themselves with total freedom: from sailors and shipwreck-survivors to lifeguards and fishermen; from bicycles and motorcycles dealers to bandoneon virtuoso and history marker. Like many families in those times and circumstances, the Piazzollas were indirectly immigrants paving the road for their next generations to come.

Vicente (Nonino) Piazzolla, (born in Mar del Plata in 1893) became a small-scale business man. By the time Astor was born (1921), Nonino had a bicycle store and a deep passion for motorcycles that he bought and sold when he could. In 1925 he emigrated from Argentina to New York with wife (Asunta) and son (Astor). Astor received a used bandoneon from Nonino when he was 8 years old and consequently took classes for only one year before he recorded his first record: “Marionette Spagnol" (at a non commercial Radio Recording Studio).

Since we are only scratching the surface, I believe you'll find books and material that will detail these and other stories with more accuracy such as the book “Le Grand Tango"( by Maria Susana Azzi and Simon Collier Oxford University Press US, 2000), This book’s direction is Piazzolla’s life; perhaps we can turn our attention back to his music and the third revolution of tango initiated by Piazzolla.

Astor Piazzolla didn't discover a new tango nor did he destroy or change its tradition. Tango came-to-form in brothels but was standardized with the appropriation of the bandoneon as leading instrument in 1870 or so. In 1917 this young fellow Carlos Gardel put lyrics to popular music and the first revolution in tango occurred with “Mi Noche Triste". Carlos Gardel soon after took tango to Europe, the United States and South America.

In 1934 poet, actor and composer: Enrique Santos Dicepolo composed music and lyrics for a tango named “Cambalache" and tango suffered the second revolution.

Astor Piazzolla
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I was at that time in a very famous orchestra in Buenos Aires, Anibal Troilo's orchestra, and I wrote some arrangements, logically very advanced for 1939, and I saw that many people that listened to those arrangements of mine didn't really liked them, because sadly in 1939, 1940, and even today in Argentina, you can change everything, but tango. It was like converting to another religion, like going from Christianity to Buddhism, or Muslim. It was very much like that: tango should not be changed, it can't be changed, tango had to remain always in that original 1940 style, and not make it evolve. So I had the happy idea (happy to me of course) to change it, and since 1940 until today I've had the worst of problems in my life just because of one thing: because I've tried to change and evolve a popular music, named “the tango."

Tango was going to be (and is) the same music since the forties, although Astor Piazzolla challenged this concept with a new imaginary line with his new style, he created and conducted chirurgery to tango for the new generations.

He knew the language of music and was capable of melting all different musical currents, into his masterpieces, including Jazz. This maybe explains why he could play Jazz with a bandoneon which is not impossible probably but very rare, more so in the forties.

He was an eclectic artist because not only was he a connoisseur of tango, but he had listened to and studied different musical currents; not only classic tango. Just like his father Vicente (Nonino) had that passion for motorcycles, Astor had the same passion for tango, and by inserting his own ingredients he revolutionized tango

A vast number of people from all sorts of life and musical backgrounds followed Astor Piazzolla along his journey and many more will follow him into the future; those with an open mind will take his road no matter where it leads, because it will always be a new emotion knocking off the base of any structure when Astor Piazzolla plays the New Tango.

Out of consideration for other points of view I don't want to leave aside the classic tango's tradition. That tango is to dance, to enjoy, to listen to and get to know just like any other music; but parallel to that tradition is “Astor Piazzolla's Tango".

But let yourself go with “Adios Nonino", think about immigration at the turn of the 19th Century. The boats full of people with deracinated hope mixed with nostalgia and discovery, love and solitude, bicycles and motorcycle dreams, Mar Del Plata City and the twenties; over the billiard saloon in Manhattan where Vicente (Nonino), Asunta and Astor continued their New York search for prosperity, imagine the recording of “Marionette Spagnol" in the mid 20's. Go back to 1969 when he opened “Maria de Buenos Aires" with a piece titled “Prelude for the Year 3001" and received those (tunnel vision) critics about another tango that he left behind in the forties.

Go on a close-up imaginary trip with “Nonino", Asunta and Astor in March 29 1925 aboard the SS Pan American Boat, sailing north, from Buenos Aires to New York.

Imagine Astor Piazzolla in 1959 composing a good-bye piece called “Adios Nonino" for his father, while the sound of creation comes out of his bandoneon, the same bandoneon he said he first approached with a casual attitude, “to give pleasure to the old man". Imagine that; he started playing the bandoneon “to give pleasure to the old man". He built from there and the rest is musical history in the treasure vault of music appreciation and fashion.

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