Mittwoch, 21. April 2021

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

by 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. After the benefit, Gardel moved to the Florida, a venue famous for Francisco Canaro's long run from 1925 through 1926. Gardel sang at the Florida, on and off, for the next 6 months.

Earlier, that same year, Osvaldo Fresedo's friend Martín de Álzaga Unzué, a famous racing driver nicknamed Macoco, helped secure a contract for 35 thousand francs for Fresedo to play at the re-opening of El Garron. Fresedo and Gardel had known each other for years, and even recorded together in 1925. Word of the new success of his friend reached Fresedo as he completed his final recordings for Odeon with Ernesto Famá, on October 9, in Buenos Aires.


As least five Argentine Tango orchestras played in France that year, including names like Bachicha, Eduardo Bianco, Manuel Pizarro, Tano Genaro Esposito, and the Canaros. In addition, 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 join the orchestra of Manuel Pizarro that would play with Gardel that season. El Garron, operated by Elie Volterra, had been one of the hottest Tango venues in Paris since 1920, Celestino Ferrer and Manuel Pizarro famously held court there for years. The Nouvel El Garron sat on 10 Rue Fontaine, almost next door to the old one, and Volterra wanted an orchestra from Argentina for the opening, not just a familiar local act. On October 16 Fresedo left for Europe on the Florida, a two-week crossing.

His 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

The Excelsior announced their arrival, Elie Volterra was there 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 El Garron. A preview show was run the night before. Here they played for the next 4 months. 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.

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 the Editor of the column “L’Amérique Latine” for the newspaper Le Galois. 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 it was like (but we don't know who these musicians are).

On December 7, 1928, Fresedo and Don 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 new venue on Champs Elysées that featured an indoor pool where performances took place. The early-evening gig ran from 4PM to 7:30PM. 

At 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 flamenco performers to spice up the offerings. Most notably. Conchita Vila was there, she was having a fantastic run in Paris all year. Conchita was based in New York, and she was the daughter of Juan Carlos Cobián's girlfriend Concepción Ayala.

Fresedo told his biographer Oscar 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, and Eduardo Bianco's Orchestra played in the Casino at Juan-les-Pins. Even Pizarro went to Marseille. And Monaco's Fête National took place on the week of January 16. But we couldn't find any more info on Fresedo in the Côte d'Azur.
Fresedo then returned to Paris, and on February 5, 1929, he appeared with Gardel at the Bal de Petits Lits Blancs, a huge gala at the Ópera Garnier. President Gaston Doumergue was in attendance. There were many other acts that night, but Harry Pilcer, the great American dancer, was sick and couldn't make it.

A few days later, Gardel went to the Cannes to appear at the Ambassadeurs too, but there's no evidence he was there with Fresedo. Gardel then returned to Paris and appeared at the Empire and at the Florida. In March and in early April, Gardel recorded a few tracks for Odeon France, but he did not work again with Fresedo.


When Spring arrived, Fresedo's commitment at El Garron came to an end, but he kept playing at the Lido with Don Parker through the new season. The change may be significant because for the first time Fresedo was not bound to the Tango impresarios in Paris, instead he threw his lot with the Jazz musicians. It's very likely that at this point he had already split with Ernesto Famá, his chansonnier. And soon Gardel would be leaving Paris too.

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 fabled venue on Champs Elysées. 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. 

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. The timeline of the events suggests that neither Rizzutti 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 a storied place 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.

On May 23, 1929, Fresedo joined a large cast of artists at the opening of the Fourth Ambassadeurs Show. Sayag said he wanted “a very American night”, after all it was the Roarin' 20s, but there was a touch of the Latin and of the East in his revue too. The performers included George Dewey Washington, Bobbe Arnst and Lester Allen, all famous vaudeville acts from the USA; 

the great Mexican actress and dancer Celia Montalván, and her sister Issa Marcué, also a dancer; the "16 Children of China", a troupe of Chinese dancers;

and the Ambassadeur Orchestra directed by Noble Sissle, a well known American Jazz musician.

Also amongst the performers were Roberto Medrano and Donna Landwehr, better known as the dance couple “Medrano and Donna”. Fresedo knew Medrano since his first trip to New York in 1920.

Fresedo's troupe for the show would have included 

Bandoneon: Osvaldo Fresedo - Juan Salvatore - Carlos Esposito 

Violin: José Lorito - Jean Koller - Henri Figarol?
Bass: Humberto Costanzo

Piano: Nicolás Vaccaro
Drums: ?

The Ambassadeurs Show was very popular with the American community in Paris. In attendance on opening night was Florence Walton, the renowned former dancer and now a hat-maker. The Maharajah and the Crown Prince of Kapurthala were there too, as well as Baron and Baronne Édouard de Rothschild. The Show's reviews were good, but the Children of China probably got more press than anyone else.

On May 30, Famá was spotted in Paris, sans Fresedo, singing at Chez Les Borgia on rue Laferrière. Lucienne Boyer, the famous French singer, sang in this cabaret regularly, and had visited Buenos Aires the previous October. Little else is known about Famá's whereabouts that Summer, he resurfaced in October singing for the Orquesta Típica Victor in Buenos Aires.

In June, Fresedo met Ramón and Rosita, another famous American dancing couple that invited him to join their show in New York in October. In July Ramón and Rosita went to London, and in August they were in Biarritz, but we have no evidence that Fresedo was with them anywhere but in Paris.

Fresedo's exact whereabouts in the Summer of 1929 are a bit of 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. Genaro Esposito and his Orchestra were at the Kursaal that Summer too, and Edmond Sayag was part of the Management of the place. But we could find no additional evidence (so far). 

The Fourth Ambassadeurs Show played through the end of a relatively slow season in Paris. Fresedo lost Costanzo and Vaccaro that Summer too. There were enough reasons to move on to New York then, and being surrounded by Americans at Les Ambassadeurs surely was a catalyzer. Besides, the trip to New York took half as long as the trip to Buenos Aires. On September 18 Fresedo sailed from Le Havre on the Île de France, with Ramón and Rosita and his latest Orchestra.


[Fresedo in New York in 1929]




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. The biggest open question is Fresedo's third violin at the Ambassadeurs, and possibly the lead of En la mala.

3. Fresedo also told Zucchi that Minervini stayed behind in France, but the evidence shows that Minervini came back to Buenos Aires with Rizzutti. 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. Fresedo barely mentioned his double-bass, the always reliable Humberto Costanzo. The evidence shows that he did not go to New York either, but we don't know how or when exactly he returned to Buenos Aires. Soon after, Costanzo formed a Sextet with Rizzutti. Fresedo's parting with his musicians seems to have occurred under amicable terms, as several rejoined his new Orchestra in the 1930s.

5. Fresedo also told Zucchi that the Baron de Rothschild asked him to play in a private reception behind the curtains, something that outraged Fresedo who demanded visibility. We couldn't find evidence about this event (yet).

6. Disclosures: we don't know what Fresedo played at El Garron, and the videos of Don Parker and Noble Sissle 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


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


To my brother Jean