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Tribute to the Masters: Astor Piazzolla

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Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was born on March 11th 1921 in Mar de Plata (Argentina). From 1924-37 he lived with his parents in New York. He began to learn to play the bandoneon at the age of nine.

Shortly after this he also began taking piano lessons from Bela Wilder, a pupil of Rachmaninoff, in order to learn how to arrange piano music for the bandoneon. At the tender age of 13 Carlos Gardel enlisted his help with the recording of the music for the film “El día que me quieras”.

In 1937 he returned to Argentina and joined the Aníbal Troilos Orchestra, where he acted as musician and arranger. In the years 1939-45 he continued his studies under the guidance of Alberto Ginastera and founded in 1946 his very first own orchestra, which he directed for four years. From then on he dedicated himself entirely to the performance and composition of symphonic and chamber music, for which he received a wide range of prizes.

A scholarship from the French Government afforded him in 1954 the opportunity to go to Paris, where he first studied conducting under Hermann Scherchen and then became a pupil of Nadia Boulanger. She encouraged him to remember his cultural identity and to return to the tango in his compositions. Back in Argentina he founded the Octet Buenos Aires and the Orquesta de Cuerdas, but his music, which many felt to represent a far too radical break with the tradition of the tango, was met with vehement criticism and boycotted by the media and by record companies. For this reason, during the years 1958-60 he co-operated with record companies, radio and television stations in New York and founded subsequently in Buenos Aires his famous Quinteto Tango Nuevo (bandoneon, violin, electric guitar, double bass, piano), that was to exist for 25 years.

Apart from the numerous tours and concerts he also continued in the years that followed to compose symphonic works and concertos, for example the chamber operas “María de Buenos Aires”, “Tangazo” and the oratorio “El Pueblo Joven”. At the end of the 60s numerous vocal tangos also came into being. The “Balada para un loco” then became a world-wide success and made his music accessible to a broader public.

In 1971 he then founded the Conjunto 9, which also included a drummer – a novelty for the tango. An offer from Bernardo Bertolucci in 1972 to compose the music for his film “Last Tango in Paris“ had to be turned down owing to other important engagements, for example a concert in the famous Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Many other tours abroad in the following years afforded him the opportunity of working with a large number of internationally renowned artists.

In 1979 “Aconcagua” (also known as “Concierto para Bandoneón”) had its premiere. Alongside his busy concert activities with the quintet, performances with symphony orchestras, in which he presented his own works as a solo artist, were of particular importance to him.

In 1989 he composed for the KRONOS-Quartet the “Five Tango Sensations”, his last major work, which maintained itself in the US-Charts for more than 55 weeks.

Astor Piazzolla died on the 4th of July 1992 in Buenos Aires.

Founder, Editor, Webmaster: Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report, That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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Tribute to the Masters

Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera

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Mario Rivera "El Comandante"

Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante"
Mario Rivera “El Comandante”

Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" the merengue-jazz - Guest: George Coleman - Groovin High
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” the merengue-jazz – Guest: George Coleman – Groovin High

Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" and "The Salsa Refugees" - Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero - Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” and “The Salsa Refugees” – Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero – Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna

Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.


We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”

Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.

Content source: James Nadal

Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”

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