VENTURING BEYOND THE MUSIC ITSELF
NEW JAZZ RELEASES (March 2007)
By Miguel Bronfman
Beyond the music itself, jazz has always moved along a very unique sort of mythology: a whole universe built around its founding fathers and prominent figures, made of stories about the musicians – some of them heroic, some of them epic, and some (the best-selling ones, for sure) quite tragic Being such a personal style of music, anyone knows that the life of a jazz artist can prove an extra –at times essential- element to fully appreciate his or her music. Many examples come to mind: Louis Armstrong being raised in an orphanage, Billie Holliday´s or Charlie Parker´s drug problems and tragic fates, Benny Goodman taking his first clarinet lessons in his neighborhood´s synagogue –they are all biographical facts that serve to apprehend these creators´ magnificent oeuvres from a more integral perspective.
Argentine jazz, too, has always had its legends and stories, though bibliography on it has always been rather scarce. While it´s quite easy to find study material about almost any international jazz artist of relevance, it has always been extremely difficult (when not impossible) to find this kind of material related to Argentine musicians.
That is why the simultaneous release of the double album Enrique Mono Villegas: Play & Talk (Melopea) and the book Autobiografía de Nadie ("Autobiography of Nobody") by Horacio "Chivo" Borraro (Ediciones Catálogo) represents an essential contribution to the field.
Pianist Enrique Villegas (1913-1986) and clarinetist and tenor sax player Horacio Borraro (now 85 years old) are two seminal figures in the Argentine jazz scene. Both have meant a lot for the development of the genre in Argentina, starting (Villegas) in the late forties and (Borraro) in the late fifties. Their common story goes back to the days of the Bop Club, in the fifties, where musicians gathered to play "modern" styles in contrast to those of the Hot Club. However, their careers and bohemian lives, always intimately linked to jazz, took rather different paths. Villegas spent some years in the US, where he recorded a couple of albums for Columbia and became friends with Duke Ellington. Borraro stayed in his homeland, alternating his musical career with his professional life as an architect.
The double album Play & Talk features Villegas playing the piano and talking freely with Antonio Carrizo, during a radio program hosted by the latter in 1980, upon an array of different issues and topics related to music and art in general. As the conversation develops, Villegas plays different pieces, at times to illustrate or explain something he is referring to, to pay homage to a composer he has previously mentioned, or simply at Carrizo´s request.
A fascinating pianist with an absolutely personal and encyclopedic style, this double album reveals Villegas not only as a captivating pianist but also as a bewitching (and talkative) personality, with an omnivorous love for music and, even more, for the piano (of which he says, "It is my only vice").
For Villegas, "jazz is the most truthful music", because "every music or style can be played through jazz; it´s the way you play what matters. I always improvise, and I never play the same music in the same way… it´s just like talking, you may use the same words but you´ll never say the same thing twice, exactly the same way".
Along the conversation many illustrious names arise, and Villegas talks about them and plays their music. That´s how we can listen to a zamba by the Abalos brothers, a traditional tango (he also plays a straight tango, and then the same tango a la Villegas), Chopin´s Preludes, melodies by Schumann, and Ravel´s Pavane pour une infante défunte (in all cases, short fragments, improvised by Villegas at the piano); his views on Argentine composers like Juan Carlos Paz, Osvaldo Pugliese, Horacio Salgán and Astor Piazzolla; a funny anecdote about the time he played "four hands" with Ellington ("the biggest genius jazz has ever had"), his dislike of Carlos Gardel and many other things – always offering ironic, deep and intelligent remarks, be it about George Gershwin, the future of Argentine jazz or his thoughts about life and death.
Horacio Borraro first got relevance within the local scene playing the clarinet (he then switched to tenor saxophone) in the mid-fifties, side by side with Villegas but also with musicians like Lalo Schifrin (who initially learned the modern Be-Bop harmonies from Borraro), Gato Barbieri, "Pipo" Troise, Jorge "Bebe" Eguía, Luis Casalla, "Pichi" Mazzei, Horacio Malvicino ("Malveta"), Enrique Varela and many other vernacular pioneers of modern jazz. With a prolific career spanning almost fifty years, in which he played everything from Dixieland to free-jazz, Borraro traversed jazz with creativity and authority, always searching for new trends.
In his humorous books, Borraro recollects his days as a jazz musician and his simultaneous inner struggle with his family´s request to become an architect, which he finally did…after ten years. According to his own description of this process, Borraro felt split into two beings: the bohemian who loved freedom, late-night jam sessions (called "pizzas" in the porteño jazz argot) and the night life of Corrientes Avenue, and the other one with social compromises to fulfill, exams to pass and "serious" business to take care of.
The edition of this funny and readable book comes together with an album released by Melopea, titled Horacio "Chivo" Borraro. Clarinet and Rarities which presents, for the first time on cd, recordings dating from 1951 to 1956, featuring the All Stars from the Bop Club. Though the sound quality is rather poor, they probably are the oldest recordings available from the first modern Argentine jazzmen. The standard I Never Knew, for example, is rendered in this 1952 version by an all-star line up completed by Enrique Varela, Rubén Barbieri (Gato´s trumpeter brother), Horacio Malvicino, Lalo Schifrin, Aldo Nicolini and Rudy Lane.
The album is completed by random recordings from 1973 (a quartet and a string orchestra, with Jorge Calandrelli on piano and arrangements,, Alfredo Remus and Norberto Minichillo), 1982 (a quartet with Norberto Machline, Néstor Astarita and Jorge González) and a four-part, original suite written by Borraro for clarinet, violin, viola and cello, from 1974.
Listening to these tracks and Villegas conversing at large with Carrizo, and reading Borraro´s book, it is easy to imagine a whole scene described in the Autobiography…, which clearly depicts the bohemian environment Borraro and Villegas lived in
Borraro and his fellow musicians frequently gathered for jam sessions at Villegas´ place, a little duplex on Viamonte street. When somebody improvised a nice melody or an inspired passage, Villegas used to shout "yes!" really loud, to encourage the player to go on. The music coming from a little apartment, plus Villegas´s shouting, irritated the neighbors, which had to "suffer" this "noise" almost every night. Until one evening one of his neighbors called the police in an attempt to shut everybody down. When the police officer knocked at Villegas´ door he, with his peculiar way of talking, started to explain what was going on, what music they were playing and how it was meant to be played. Villegas started at the piano, and then was gradually joined by the drummer, the bassist, and finally the horn players, until the whole band was playing, as if the actual complain had never existed. Three hours later, when everybody was about to leave, the policeman humbly asked, "When's the next one?".
For further listening, Melopea has in its catalogue three albums by Villegas and his trio, Enrique Mono Villegas Vols. 1, 2 & 3, and Horacio Borraro´s album Sax Suite, available at Discos Melopea. As for the latter, the English label Whatmusic released between 2002 and 2004 three original LP´s by Borraro, Blues para un Cosmonauta (1973), El Nuevo sonido del Chivo Borraro (1966) and El cuarteto del Chivo Borraro en vivo (1970), plus pianist Fernando Gelbard´s album Didí (1974), and Alberto Favero's Suite Trane (1968) in which Borraro played tenor sax. All of them available at www.whatmusic.com .