Mittwoch, 21. April 2021

Paris and New York and Fresedo - Chapter 19: Fresedo in Paris (1928-1929)

por José Manuel Araque

On September 30, 1928, Carlos Gardel debuted in Paris, at a benefit for the victims of a catastrophic hurricane in Guadaloupe that took place at the Théâtre Femina. He was accompanied by his guitars, José Ricardo, Guillermo Desiderio Barbieri and José María Aguilar. The Femina was the site of the original Tango Contest at the dawn of TangoMania in 1911.

Fresedo and Gardel had known each other for years, and even collaborted in 1925 on Fresedo's initial recordings for Odeon. Six-hundred recordings and 3 years later Fresedo's was one of the signature orchestras of Buenos Aires (along with Canaro and Firpo), with multiple formations under his direction and a select following. Word of the new success of Gardel reached Fresedo as he worked on his final recordings for Odeon with 20-year old Ernesto Famá in Buenos Aires. Neither Fresedo nor Famá nor Odeon could have foreseen the changes the next year would bring.


At least five Argentine Tango orchestras were playing in France in 1928, including names like Bachicha, Eduardo Bianco, Manuel Pizarro, Tano Genaro Esposito, and the Canaros. Earlier, that same year, Osvaldo Fresedo's friend Martín de Álzaga Unzué (Macoco) helped secure a contract for 35 thousand francs (weekly) for Fresedo to play at the re-opening of El Garron. Having ended his career as a race car driver, Macoco stayed close to show business.

The Garron, run by Elie Volterra, had been one of the most popular tango spots in Paris since 1920. The original venue was on the second floor of 6 Rue de Fontaine in Montmartre, and after 15 years Volterra was moving it to a locale just 2 doors away at 10 Rue Fontaine. And for the opening of the new place Volterra wanted an orchestra from Buenos Aires, probably in consideration that its clientele was full of Argentinean expatriates.

On October 16 Fresedo left for Europe on the steamship Florida, a two-week crossing. Fresedo wanted to bring 3 violins, Volterra insisted on having 3 bandoneons. The troupe consisted of:

Bandoneon: Osvaldo Fresedo - Alberto Rodríguez - Luis Minervini
Violin: Adolfo Muzzi - Jean Koller
Bass: Humberto Costanzo
Piano: José María Rizzuti
Singer: Ernesto Famá

Gardel's gala at the Femina was organized by Paul Santo, an impresario that ran several venues including the legendary Florida on 20 Rue de Clichy. Since 1925 Santo also ran the Palermo, a cabaret/dancing that sat on the first floor of 6 Rue Fontaine, below the old El Garron. In April 1928, Gardel had been to Paris to sign up with Santo, and he became a regular at the Palermo. Manuel Pizarro connected Gardel and Santo and won the right to play with Gardel that year. In september the poet/lyricist Enrique D. Cadícamo was visiting in Barcelona, and rushed to París upon hearing of Gardel's upcoming opening at the Florida. Gardel big night at the Florida took place on October 2, 1928. His was a resounding success, Paris fell in love with the Zorzal (thrush) that sang at the Florida for the next 6 months.
Fresedo and his men landed in Marseille on November 4, and then took a train to Paris. The Excelsior announced their arrival, Elie Volterra went to train station to greet them. Volterra told Fresedo, in his broken Italian, that Cielito mío was now a popular tune in Paris. Fresedo recorded his Tango version of the Mexican song Cielito lindo in 1927.

On Thursday November 15, 1928, Osvaldo Fresedo and his Orchestra debuted at (Nouvel) El Garron where they played for the next 4 months. A preview show was run the night before. Fresedo shared the spotlight with Don Parker, an American sax player and former member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the New Orleans troupe famous at the dawn of the Jazz Age in 1917. By now it was de rigueur to get two orchestras for major events in Paris, one Jazz and one Tango.

A reviewer from London remarked that the (Nouvel) El Garron was "far more spacious and airy than in the old days". During Summer the ceiling could be opened to the sky "by means of a revolving steel cupola cleverly masked by trellis-work hung with foliage and flowers, lit by hundreds of tiny multicolored light; a silver-blue illumination is visible through the trellis, giving the impression of cool moonlight". Notably neither champagne nor a dress code were obligatory. Volterra spent plenty on the refurbishings but few attended the opening. Ominously, the journal Variety wrote: "they were warned that Montmartre is dead, but refused to take heed".

On November 28 Fresedo played at a private reception hosted by M. Carlos de Olazábal in honor of the Fragata Escuela Presidente Sarmiento, visiting France since November 15. The wife of the Argentine Ambassador in Paris (Federico Álvarez de Toledo), and other society notables were in attendance. M. de Olazábal was a diplomat and the Editor of the column “L’Amérique Latine” for the newspaper Le Galois. Fresedo told his biographer Oscar Zucchi that the Baron de Rothschild asked him to play in a reception behind curtains, something that upset Fresedo who demanded visibility (and got it). Though we couldn't find hard evidence about this event, we think this happened during Fall and that the event took place at the salons of the Fondation Salomon de Rothschild (11 Rue Berryer). Around this time too the feast of the Catherinettes took place in Paris, a very interesting video of Tango musicians was shot there that can help illustrate what these social events were like. We don't know who the musicians in the video are, but probably most events did not "hide" their Tango musicians.

On December 7, 1928, Fresedo and Parker started playing in the Thé-Cocktail Dansant at the Lido. Here they played for the next 6 months. The Lido was a very popular venue on Champs Elysées that featured an indoor pool where performances took place. The early-evening gig ran from 4PM to 7:30PM. 

It was a very busy season for Tango orchestras in Paris. Julio Fernández Falcón, formerly a member of José Bohr's Gauchos and Juan Carlos Cobián's Orchestra in New York, traveled from Buenos Aires to reinforce Pizarro's bandoneon section. Pizarro and his brothers had several orchestras, one played with Gardel at the Apollo, and another (with Alina de Silva) played with Catalonian artist Tina Meller at the Palace . The local Orchestre Broadman-Alfaro played at Le Mac-Mahon, an upscale locale not far from the Arc de Triomphe. And on Christmas Eve Tano Genaro decided to take residence at La Coupole, a new cabaret that opened on the left bank of the Seine, offering an alternative to Montmartre and surroundings. 

At the Nouvel El Garron, Ernesto Famá was dropped from the ads when the program changed after New Year's Eve 1929. Parker stayed, and Volterra brought some Spanish performers to spice up the offerings, including the Trío Gómez. The Gómez siblings specialized in the jota, and had been to New York at least twice since 1916. In 1928 the Gómez played for months at the Casino de París.

Volterra also brought in Conchita Vila, who was having a fantastic run at the Casino de Paris since July. Conchita was based in New York, she was the daughter of Juan Carlos Cobián's girlfriend Concepción Ayala. She was an expert Tango dancer and also mastered the Iberian dances. The changes at El Garron highlight the connection between Elie and Leon Volterra, who since 1917 ruled over the Casino.

Fresedo told Zucchi that they went to Monte Carlo and the Riviera around this time, presumably for a short engagement. From December through April the wealthy went to hibernate in the South of France. The Orquesta Argentina Bachicha-Ferrazzano played at the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs of the Casino Municipal in Cannes; the Orchestre Argentin Orlando played in Nice; and Eduardo Bianco's Orchestra played in the Casino at Juan-les-Pins. And Monaco's Fête National took place on the week of January 16, but we didn't find any info on Fresedo in the Côte d'Azur.

Fresedo then returned to Paris and on February 5 he appeared with Gardel at the Bal de Petits Lits Blancs, a prestigious benefit gala that had been held annually since 1924 at the Ópera Garnier. It was organized by M. Léon Bailby, editor of the newspaper L'Intransigent, and the president of France Gaston Doumergue was present. Elie Volterra and Paul Santo also attended. There was an innumerable succession of events that followed from 11 p.m., after dinner. Harry Pilcer, the American dancer and well-known Tango promoter, was scheduled to perform but was ill and could not attend.

A few days later, from February 8 through the 19, Gardel too was in Cannes at the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs.

Pizarro went to Marseille's Colisée, while Bachicha-Ferrazzano played with Gardel. About ten years earlier Gardel had toured the interior of Argentina with Roberto Firpo's orchestra, of which both Bachicha and Ferrazzano were members.

Gardel then returned to Paris and appeared at the Empire and at the Florida. Since October Gardel recorded some 50 tracks for Odeon-France and sold thousands of records. In March he premiered Cadícamo and Barbieri's tango Cruz de palo. That same month Odeon-France also announced new releases from Bianco, Bachicha and Canaro. Soon after Gardel left for Argentina. Significantly Odeon-France did not offer Fresedo a recording contract, and his Odeon-France releases did not get promoted as those by the other Argentine Tango orchestras. The great Fresedo Orchestra barely got mentions on the press, and their recordings got relatively little playtime on Radio. Really, by all measures, Fresedo's trip to France had been a royal failure.

Fresedo's engagement at El Garrón came to an end in the Spring, but he continued to play at the Lido with Don Parker during the new season. For the rest of the year El Garrón closed. The change is significant because for the first time Fresedo was not linked to the Tango impresarios in Paris, but instead threw his lot with the Jazz musicians. It is very likely that by this time he had completely separated from Ernesto Famá. Big decisions layed ahead: on the one hand the challenge, to sail to new horizons; and on the other hand the insecurity, how was he going to survive and pay his musicians? He surely needed a new contract.

On April 20 Fresedo sent a telegram to his brother Emilio in Buenos Aires requesting that members of his Casino Pigal orchestra come to join him in Paris for a 4-months-long contract (through Summer) at the Cafe des Ambassadeurs, a storied venue on Champs Elysées. Curiously Fresedo's return address was on Rue Fromentel, next to the Collège de France on the left bank.

Rizzuti, Rodríguez, Minervini and Muzzi split, maybe they had grown homesick, maybe they had no interest in joining the new Jazz-packed show. They sailed from Marseille on the Alsina, and arrived in Buenos Aires on May 11. Indirect evidence points to Costanzo returning too, he formed a Sextet with Rizzuti that year. The pianist Nicolás Vaccaro, the violinist José Lorito, and bandoneon Juan Salvatore, answering Fresedo's call, traveled to Paris and joined the troupe. Fresedo told Zucchi that Carlos Esposito, the brother of Genaro Esposito and a bando player, joined the Orchestra too, but it's unclear when and for how long. And Fresedo had also picked up one additional violin, Henri Figarol.
The timeline of the events suggests that neither Rizzuti nor Vaccaro were with Fresedo when he appeared at the Paramount Theater on April 22, at a showing of Ivan Petrovich’s film Le Tsarevitch. This German film, based on the Franz Lehar operetta of the same name, was silent, and Fresedo provided the orchestral accompaniment. A Fox Movietone talkie preceded the main show, punctuating the passing of the Silent Film Era.

The Cafe des Ambassadeurs was as old as the idea of the concert-hall itself. Over the decades it underwent several transformations. Following Josephine Baker's arrival in France, and since 1926, impresario Edmond Sayag ("the Florenz Ziegfeld of Paris") staged a series of revues at the Ambassadeurs that propelled the American Jazz craze in France.

On Thursday May 23, 1929, Fresedo joined a large cast at the opening of the Fourth Ambassadeurs Show. Sayag said he wanted “a very American night”, and the season of Americans visiting Paris was just getting started, but there was a touch of the Latin and of the East in his revue too. Sayag's offering was surely generous, there were 4 orchestras playing and dozens of perfomers that Sayag recruited that winter in Broadway. Sayag brought back a cast of fantastic artists that were probably struggling to make a transition at the end of the Vaudeville Era in the United States. These included George Dewey Washington, a baritone; Bobbe Arnst, who sang and danced; 

Lester Allen and Nelly Breen, who's comedy and dancing were very popular in London since 1926 (Allen was with Roberto Medrano in George White's revue Scandals of 1922); 
the great Mexican actress and dancer Celia Montalván, and her sister Issa Marcué, also a dancer; Geraldine and Joe, who did a much applauded Apache number; 
the "16 Children of China", a troupe of Chinese dancers that sang in English; 
and the Ambassadeur Orchestra directed by Noble Sissle, a well known American Jazz musician.

Also among the performers were dancers Roberto Medrano and Donna Landwehr (Medrano and Donna). Fresedo knew Medrano since his first trip to New York in 1920. One critic was enthralled with their dancing: "Medrano and Donna are Argentinian dancers... Tango is not new; you just have to want to renew it. Medrano and Donna do it with admirable voluptuousness and virtuosity. Donna's flexible grace, her abandon, her coquetry, her way of giving in to violence with gentleness are purely delicious and would almost inspire in us an unacknowledged jealousy if Medrano's vigor, her natural domination, and her mastery justified in all eyes this noble tribute. From a less psychological angle, if you like, the curve of their dance, its harmonious sequence, in turn its soft inflections and suddenly its nervousness create a spectacle of flawless distinction and rarity."

There was a local Jazz orchestra and a Tango Orchestra too. For the past three years Sayag had worked with the Canaros. Fortunately for Fresedo, this year the Canaros had chosen to open at the Ambassadeurs in Berlin, and then had commitments in Sevilla.

Bandoneon: Osvaldo Fresedo - Juan Salvatore - Carlos Esposito 

Violin: José Lorito - Jean Koller - Henri Figarol
Bass: Edwardo Poyares
Piano: Nicolás Vaccaro
Drums: ?

The Fourth Ambassadeurs Show was very popular with the American community in Paris, "very little Frech was spoken there". In attendance on opening night was the former dancing couple of Leon Leitrim and his wife Florence Walton, Walton was now dedicated to hat-making. Baron and Baronne Édouard de Rothschild were there too, as well as the Maharajah and Crown Prince Paramjit of Kapurthala. Prince Paramjit in particular had become a Tango enthusiast, and traveled around with his aide de camp Capt. Shiv Charu Dass, who was said to be one of the best Tango dancers in Paris.

Ramón and Rosita left New York in mid-May and brought their Stearns-Knight convertible to drive around France and elsewhere. We think they were at the Ambassadeurs on the opening week, though not as dancers but as part of the audience. We also think this is where they met the Crown Prince of Kapurthala. Paramjit's itinerary that Summer seems to coincide with that of Ramón and Rosita, so much so that when the trail of the dancers is lost one can extrapolate their location by finding the location of the Prince.

On May 30 Ernesto Famá was spotted in Paris sans Fresedo, singing at Chez Les Borgia on rue Laferrière (walking distance from El Garron). The famous French singer Lucienne Boyer sang in this cabaret since April. She had visited Buenos Aires the previous October, and was said to be close friends with Gardel. Little else is known about Famá's whereabouts that Summer, he resurfaced in October singing for the Orquesta Típica Victor in Buenos Aires.

In late May Ramón and Rosita were in Barcelona on the week of the opening of the Exposición Internacional. The Maharaja of Kapurthala, and presumably the Crown Prince, were there too. Ramón and Rosita were summoned to dance for King Alfonso XIII who effusively complimented their "L'Amour Tragique" act. An Argentine Orchestra played, most likely the one formed the previous year by Lucio Demare, and was playing at the Barcelona's Principal Palace Theater that month.

A week after their visit to the Barcelona Expo the Maharaja and the Crown Prince were back in Paris where June was a very busy month socially. In early July Ramón and Rosita were dancing at the Café de Paris in London where they reprised some of their success two years before. King Alfonso of Spain came to London too, and again summoned the couple to dance for him. The Maharaja and Prince Paramjit also came to London for an audience with the Prince of Wales. Ramón and Rosita were then asked to extend their run at the Café de Paris and the Hotel Savoy for a few weeks.
We think Fresedo met Ramón and Rosita at the Ambassadeurs, they had an obvious common friend in Juan Carlos Cobián. The show's reviews were good, but other than Medrano and Donna the Children of China probably got more press than anyone else. A critic leveled a stinging complain about how pricey the dinner-plus-show event was, "they were charging post-prohibition prices for otherwise legal vintages". By mid-July many of the American performers in the original cast had either returned to the United States or left Paris, and they were replaced by a new group of performers that included Miss Florence, a vedette that was popular at the Casino de Paris the previous year; Howell, Harger and Naldi, a trio of acrobatic dancers; the Three Eddies, a comic dancing and singing act like few; and the fantastic act of Borrah Minevitch and his Vagabonds.
Medrano and Donna stayed at the show, a sign that their act was strong, but Fresedo's exact whereabouts in the Summer of 1929 are a mystery. Fresedo told his biographer Oscar Zucchi that he went to the Kursaal d'Ostend.

Ostend was a very popular beach resort on the Belgian coast, a 5-hour train ride from Paris. Half a million people visited the beaches every year and the season was filled with dances, competitions, concerts and social events. Edmond Sayag was part of the Management of the Kursaal. Alas, we found no conclusive evidence of Fresedo's dates in Ostend.

In August the action moved to the French beach resorts. The Maharaja (and the Children of China) went to Deauville while Prince Paramjit (and Capt. Dass) went to Biarritz on the Côte Basque. Ramón and Rosita returned from London to appear at the Casino du Mail in New Rochelle, and then moved to the Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz. They also appeared at Casino Bellevue with the Canaro Orchestra. The Orquesta Típica Bachicha played in St Jean de Luz for Medrano and Donna, and Tano Genaro played with the Spanish singer Nena Sainz at Boiard's in Biarritz. Punctuating the end of the Vaudeville Era, Emilia Delirio and her partner Moreno left the United States for good and tried Bordeaux and Toulouse, it's the last time they made the headlines.
Medrano and Donna returned early to the USA on September 1. That Summer Fresedo also lost his pianist Nicolás Vaccaro. The Fourth Ambassadeurs Show played through the slow season in Paris. Remo Bolognini, a friend of Fresedo and Cobián, stopped by on his way to Belgium where he would perfect his violin tecnique with the great master Eugène Ysaÿe. To add to the mystery of Fresedo's location that Summer, some sources noted that Demare's Típica played at the Ambassadeurs too, and we know that Demare traveled to Cuba in September from St. Nazaire (France). 
Things were moving fast for sure, and on the road back to Paris Ramón and Rosita totalled their car in a colision that resulted in a fatality, only their heavy liability insurance was able to save them from complications with the French police. On September 18 Osvaldo Fresedo sailed to New York from Le Havre on the Île de France with Prince Paramjit, Ramón and Rosita and his latest Orchestra.




1. Fresedo told Zucchi: "This is from 1928, when the boys left me in Paris; I stayed and went to Paramount. Here is Nicolas Vaccaro, the pianist I made travel from the orchestra I had at the Casino Pigall. This is Juan Salvatore, bandoneon, this Carlos Esposito, also bandoneon, who was the brother of Tano Genaro Esposito, then Jose Lorito, violin, and Jean Koller, also violin, who had stayed in Paris with me. The others are French musicians. This cast played in the fabulous Ambassadeurs, where they spent four months, from which they went to Belgium in order to make the Summer season in the sophisticated beaches of Ostend, performing in the exclusive dances of the Casino Kursaal in the illuminated Belgian city”. It's almost certain he was talking about the same picture.

2. Thanks to all that have contributed to analyzing the pictures and to name the musicians. Corrections are still accepted.

3. Fresedo also told Zucchi that Minervini stayed behind in France, but the evidence shows that Minervini came back to Buenos Aires with Rizzuti. Then he went back to Europe and was back in Buenos Aires in 1932, he got married and played in Spain, as Fresedo also mentioned. This is a cautionary tale on the dangers of using the stories told many years later, by the actors in these events, as hard evidence. It's even murkier when one takes into consideration the stories told by third-parties.

4. Enrique D. Cadícamo was friends with Juan Carlos Cobián and presumably with Osvaldo Fresedo too. A few decades later Cadícamo wrote La Historia del Tango en París, filled with anecdotes and some facts. Cadícamo himself was in Barcelona and in Paris from Summer 1928, and he says he returned to Buenos Aires on the Conte Verde. According to evidence at the Centro de Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA) the exact date of Cadícamo's return is January 19, 1929. This very likely means that Cadícamo left París before the end of 1928, and he barely spent time with Fresedo there. Maybe this explains the mangled timeline in Cadícamo's book when describing Fresedo's trip. Or maybe Fresedo was at the Ambassadeurs in January?

5. This is Pizarro's orchestra in Summer 1928 sans/with Julio F. Falcón

6. First the Broadman-Alfaro orchestra that recorded for Pathé/Columbia in Paris in 1929. They were locals but dressed like gauchos. And next is the Canaro Orchestra that played at the Casino Bellevue.

7. According to Cadícamo Gardel was originally (April 1928?) staying at the Hotel Reynita on 71 Rue de Douai, one block from the Place de Clichy and walking distance from El Garron/Palermo and the Boulevard des Batignolles. The Hotel was in that address at least from 1913 to 1931. Other sources point to 23 Boulevard de Batignolles as the correct address but offer little details on that location.

8. The site of El Garron in May 2024

9. Disclosures: we don't know what Fresedo played at El Garron; that's not Ramón and Rosita's real car, it's a similar model; and the videos of Don Parker and others are not from 1929, but close enough to illustrate what they did for a living.


1. Pablo Darío Taboada for contributing the picture of the telegram, and the picture of the Orchestra at the Ambassadeurs. Pablo is the main force behind Investigación Tango.

2. Camilo Gatica and Mark-John as usual

3. Don Naides of Discos Históricos de Tango, for the Gardel tracks, a great channel

4. Odille Fillon: merci!

5. Augusto Tomas
6. for the pic of the Bal de Petits Lits Blanc

7. The website Montmartre Secret has a full page on Rue (Pierre) Fontaine


1. Anita Turón has an excellent blog that tells in great detail what the nights of Gardel in Paris were like
     She did a deep-dive into the Bal de Petit Lit Blancs that is mandatory reading
     She also wrote an excellent piece on Gardel's nights at the Emprire
     She even covered Gardel in the Cote d'Azur

2. Jazz Age Club is an incredible source for material about the famous Jazz Clubs of the roaring 20s
    Its series on the Ambassadeurs and Sayag was very useful.

3. A wonderful semblance of Noble Sissle, of the Ambassadeurs Orchestra
4. Claude Esposito's website dedicated to his father Tano Genaro

5. Enrique D. Cadícamo's La Historia del Tango en París
     Corregidor, 1975

6. Milonga Ophelia's brilliant post "Gardel à Paris" (in French)


To my brother Jean