BLUES FOR AN AUTHENTIC COSMONAUT
(Publicado en el Buenos Aires Herald el 30-9-05)
At 85, the thin, funny man with gentle manners and rasping voice embodies the whole history of Argentine jazz. His modesty would not tolerate such a statement, but what else could be said of someone who has played, since the late 1930´s up to the 1990´s every jazz style, from Dixieland, swing, be-bop, hard-bop and even free jazz?
Born to a family of classical musicians (his mother was a pianist, and his father a painter who had given up a career as a violinist), Horacio “El Chivo” Borraro chose to be a jazz player at an early age. “I liked traditional jazz and, as every jazz fan, I first learned to play the clarinet by ear. I listened to a lot of Dixieland, which was quite simple to play. When I started to play in the swing style though, things hot harder: I had to play like Benny Goodman, or Artie Shaw, who were terrific players. At that stage I begun to study with a teacher, but I was already a jazz musician”, Borraro told the Herald in a recent interview.
Oscar Alemán and Enrique “Mono” Villegas were already consummate and pioneering figures, while future promises like Lalo Schifrin, Leandro “Gato” Barbieri, Baby Lopez Furst or Jorge Navarro were just in their first attempts at music. In the middle, between the youngsters and the first vernacular jazz masters, was Borraro´s generation, which played a key role in capturing the revolutionary changes that had taken place in the US in the late forties and that modernized jazz in a definitive way: the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and many others, known as “Be-bop”.
Although Borraro was not alone, he was one of the first Argentine boppers, and gradually an intense circle of followers joined him. “I passed the new harmonies to younger musicians, like Lalo Schifrin. He approached me once when I was playing with my quartet and asked if he could play. He learned the new idiom really fast, and rapidly became an innovator himself”.
The jazz scene soon polarized between traditional jazz lovers and those who liked the modern sounds of bebop. The first ones, some of them truly reactionaries, came from the Hot Club, and they frequently rejected the modernists. Borraro and his comrades thus founded the Bop Club in the early 50´s.
“I remember once when we were invited to play in the Hot Club, we had a quartet with Lalo Schifrin in the style of Lennie Tristano. There were about one hundred and fifty people. When we finished the opening number, 50 had already left. When we finished the second tune, everybody was gone. Just one person, only one person, remained seated. Things like that happened everywhere, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman didn´t understand the boppers, either”.
The Bop Club folded in 1959, but Borraro´s musical career experimented an auspicious and unexpected twist. A close friend advised Borraro that TV Channel 11 was forming up a band (in those years every TV channel and every radio station had its own orchestra or big band) and that he had to play saxophone if he wanted the job. That´s how Borraro picked up the tenor, and remained with the orchestra for sixteen uninterrupted years.
“It has never been easy, to be a jazz musician and make a living out of it. When we recorded, for example, an album of ours would sell three or four hundred copies. An album by John Coltrane or Miles Davis, back then, would sell exactly the same. So, who would make some real money with jazz? Nobody”.
Asked if he ever considered leaving the country, Borraro unfolds other aspects of a multi-faceted artist. “Lalo Schifrin and Gato Barbieri tried to convince me to leave the country and pursue my career abroad. Lalo had gone to the US, and Gato first to Europe. They were both doing well, but I liked it here. I loved life at Corrientes street… and in the summers I went to play to Mar del Plata, it was a nice life. Besides, I was studying architecture, and although it took me like ten years, finally I did get my degree, and I worked many years as an architect. I also worked, at different times, as a painter, designer, photographer and even as a graphic humorist. That´s why I never left, I´ve always had lots of things to do here”.
Anyway, music has always been Borraro´s main and preferred activity, and although he worked and recorded prolifically, his works (as a leader or sideman) are extremely difficult to get, for a simple reason: they were issued in the LP or cassette format, and nobody has reissued them in compact disc… at least in Argentina.
A couple of years ago, an English independent label, WhatMusic, reissued an album by Borraro´s former pianist Fernando Gelbard, which featured drummer Norberto Minichilo, a young Rubén Rada playing tumbadoras and Borraro himself. The album was quite a success and Gelbard, now living in the US, told the producers at WhatMusic about Borraro´s own albums. In a short period of time, three albums by Borraro´s quartet were reissued in cd format in England: El Nuevo sonido del Chivo Borraro (The New Sound of Chivo Borraro), Blues para un cosmonauta (Blues For a Cosmonaut) and El cuarteto del Chivo Borraro en vivo (The Chivo Borraro Quartet in concert), plus Alberto Favero´s legendary Suite Trane (a tribute to the great saxophonist, composed and recorded shortly after John Coltrane´s death), in which Borraro played as a soloist before a jazz orchestra. While in this part of the world….
Last year Melopea launched Sax Suite, which includes never released material by Borraro with a large ensemble and with his quartet. The title track, composed by Borraro himself, is a 45-minute work, divided in three sections: Vals, Ballad and Blues, and also features Hugo Pierre on alto sax, Oscar Tissera on tenor, Nimar Tenreyro on baritone, Norberto Machline on piano, Jorge “Negro” González on double-bass and Néstor Astarita on drums. The Sax Suite is not only interesting because of its inner structure and the intense playing of its composer, but because of the long, relaxed and varied solos provided by this “dream team” from the Argentine jazz old-guard.
Also last year, Página 12 rescued from oblivion historic recordings from 1964 by the Horacio Malvicino Jazz Quintet, which included Malvicino (electric guitar), Santiago Giaccobe (piano), Mario Fernández (bass), Rolando Picardi (drums) and “Chivo” Borraro on tenor sax.
And, finally, Acqua Records reissued in 2003 Bronca Buenos Aires. Concert for Reciter, Soloists, Choir and Jazz Orchestra, with music by Jorge López Ruiz and texts by José Tcherkaski. Recorded in 1971, this original work features musicians like Fernando Gelbard, Alfredo Remus, Pocho Lapouble, Enrique Roizner, Gustavo Bergalli, Américo Belloto, singer Donna Carrol, and Chivo Borraro, among others.
Until Melopea launches a new album with old material by Borraro playing clarinet by the end of the year, this is all the recorded music available in Argentina by one of its greatest musicians of all time.
Always in the avant-garde, Borraro started to experiment with more revolutionary forms of jazz in the early 1970´s, without ever losing his firm attachment to bebop aesthetics. “After playing bebop I played free-jazz for a while, with the quartet. I remember that when we played that music the audience reacted in many different ways. Once a woman fainted in the middle of a piece. It was quite an extreme music. But then, I begun to play in the bebop style again, with harmonic structures and chord changes. It has always been my favorite style. And that´s how I kept playing until I retired”.
With calmed wisdom and no sorrow, just a hint of nostalgia but no regret, Borraro explains why he quit playing, some eight years ago: “I started to realize I didn´t have the will to play I always had, and I was having trouble to reach the upper octave with the saxophone, so I wasn´t able to do what I wanted to do with the horn anymore. So I stop playing, and I didn´t lament it, everything begins and everything ends. So I sold the saxophone and I bought a keyboard instead, with which I make arrangements for friends like Hugo Pierre and Oscar Serrano. I was getting frustrated with the sax, so I decided to retire myself with the championship belt, before I got knocked out”.