By Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member
The great Argentine tanguero Carlos Gardel made several Spanish-language musical comedies for Paramount Pictures in New York City. In 1934, one of his most popular movies, El día que me quieras (The Day You Love Me), was being shot there, and Gardel made the acquaintance of a thirteen-year-old
Argentine kid named Astor, who spoke English fluently because his parents had brought him to New York many years earlier.
Gardel and Astor hit it off immediately and became close friends. Gardel and his musicians even tutored Astor on the bandoneón that the boy’s father had bought for him. Gardel also arranged for Astor to have a bit role in the movie, playing a newspaper boy. Gardel was killed on June 24, 1935 in an airplane crash in Medellín, Columbia.
The boy “Astor” was, of course, Astor Piazzolla, who later went on to one of the most storied careers of any tango-based musician in the history of the genre.
Astor’s letter to Gardel
In 1978, Piazzolla wrote a letter to Gardel “in heaven,” that was published in the Buenos Aires daily Clarín. Here is part of it…
Maybe if I call you Charlie, you’ll remember that boy of thirteen who lived in New York, who was Argentine and played the bandoneón. Also, he worked as a newspaper boy on [the set of] “El dia que me quieras.”
When you asked me how to say “Carlitos” in English, I called you “Charlie.” Do you remember when I brought you a wooden puppet that my father had carved? That morning you signed two photos, one for [my father] Vicente and another for “the cute kid and future great bandoneón player.” From 1934 until today, 1978, forty-four years have passed, and I did not really let you down.
I showed you my city (I was proud to know it well…having lived there for eleven years), especially my neighborhood, Greenwich Village, where you just had to find the best Italian cantinas…you, with such problems of the paunch, and not counting the times you came to my home, where you tried the ravioli of my mother Asunta and a dessert of jelly fritters. You really liked to eat well!
I’ll tell you a nice story, Charlie. Some teachers singing at the Teatro Colón [in Buenos Aires] now make the students listen to your records as a model of song. You know, I would have written for you, and I would have made arrangements and played the bandoneón for you. We’d kill ‘em, Charlie!
Well, I’m going to work now, or, as we say today, “I have a recital.” I’ll think about the kid Piazzolla when you said, “Now, Astor, play that arrabal music and give it all you got.” It was the spring of 1935, and that’s the day the duet Gardel-Piazzolla was born. I am a lucky guy. Someday we will both be up on the top floor. Wait for me….
Terence Clarke’s latest book is the story collection New York.