Sunday, April 17, 2016

Let's celebrate Edgardo Donato

April is the birth month of Edgardo Donato!
** A Milonga sin Nombre flyer **

Edgardo Donato
(14 April 1897 - 15 February 1963)

It is a pleasure to celebrate one of the most talented and at the same time most under-appreciated orchestra leaders of the golden years of Argentine Tango.

"Edgardo Donato and his guys"
(one of whom is a girl. obviously)
From El Espejero's tangoblog
Edgardo Donato grew up and became a jazz violinist in Montevideo, Uruguay. He started composing tangos there in the early 1920s (the most famous of his compositions, the 1925 "A media luz", is among the most-played tangos ever). From the very beginning, Donato's tangos were touching racy themes, and their earliest lyrics were written by the master of urban slang, Afro-Argentine songwriter "El Negro Cele" Flores. The lyrics of "A media luz", a poetic premier of a fellow Uruguayan Carlos Lenzi, sang of an illicit drug den hiding in the shadow of the Obelisk. The Uruguayan origin of Donato, and his creativity reaching beyond the edges of "the decent society", meant that tango historians often discounted his talent and his influence.

Edgardo Donato convened his first tango orchestra in Montevideo only in the age of 30, in collaboration with a fellow Uruguayan violin player, 25 years old Roberto Zerrillo (who has just returned from a stint with the Parisian tango orchestras). Soon, Donato-Zerrillo orchestra took BoA, by storm (They also recorded under Brunswick label). After 1930 Edgardo formed his own, truly stellar band, with his brothers Ascanio and Osvaldo on cello and piano, and with black vocalist Luis Diaz, True to his reputation of not caring about societal "proprieties". Edgardo also employed women and gays, and commissioned lyrics to great female poets, Maria Luisa Carnelli and Maruja Pacheco. Through the Great Depression years, when most tango bands folded and the public all but stopped dancing, Donato kept the flames of tango going in roughneighborhood joints such as Ocean Dancing. His fiery rhythms and pauses presaged the "D'Arienzo revival" of 1936, and Edgardo's own
Edgardo Donato presents "the musical surprise of 1942"
in Ocean Dancing Club, Buenos Aires.
Alas, his orchestra is about to unravel...
From Tango Time Machine / Tango Decoder,
a blog on history and poetry of tango
violin solos were truly remarkable.

 Continuing to innovate, Edgardo Donato pioneered male-female vocal duets, first with the voice of "Randona” ( actually a feminine alter ego of violinist Armando Julio Piovani), then with amazing Lita Morales, making it a trio with her husband Horacio Lagos and Uruguayan Romeo Gavio. Donato's young accordionist Bertolin, playing a special lightweight "kid's accordion", added an unsurpassed effect.

Edgardo Donato (left) and his orchestra in 1939. Note
little Bertolin, from row, center.
From Tangos al bardo history blog
The success of the Uruguayans in Buenos Aires started to unravel in 1942, just when the culture of Argentine Tango music neared its zenith. First they lost Lita Morales, apparently pregnant and haunted by the rumor of infidelity involving fellow singer Gavio. She was essentially erased from the history of tango, and we still don't know even as much as her years of birth and death. Romeo Gavio returned to Uruguay and convened his own band, but eventually, unable to cope with depression, killed himself by driving off the pier into the waters of La Plata. Accordionist Bertolin quit the band, and tango, at about the same time, forming his own jazz outfit by the end of 1942. Maruja Pacheco left the world of tango for good, too. The remaining band must have been tainted by the scandal, and they weren't able to record again after summer 1942, but they still had some good gigs until the coup d'état of June 1943.

The new nationalist military government cracked down hard on the city slang (the famous "lunfardo") and immorality (purging any references to booze, sex, and fights from the public entertainment), relying on the previously unenforced "Language Purity" law. Post-1943 tangos turned increasingly romantic and melodic. Edgardo Donato tried to conform to the new trends by parting with his old compositions and old band members, and convening an all-new "Modern" tango ensemble (Orquesta Tipica Moderna). Most of his old musicians, and singer Horacio Lagos, joined another band led by Edgardo's brother Osvaldo Donato. Both outfits enjoyed some success on live music scene, but never produced recordings matching Donato's glory days. Their contribution into the development of musical culture of tango was largely forgotten. But Donato's tangos, valses, and milongas are still widely played around the world!

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