Samstag, 22. Mai 2021

Cobian in New York in 1923-1928

by José Manuel Araque


Juan Carlos Cobian was an Argentinian pianist born in Pigüé in 1896, and raised in Bahía Blanca. He moved to Buenos Aires in 1913, and by 1920 he was already a very successful composer, with his tangos recorded by the greatest names in the genre, Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro and Carlos Gardel. In 1922 he recorded with Osvaldo Fresedo’s Sextet, including 7 of his own compositions. The next year, in February 1923 he formed his own Sextet with no less than Pedro Mario Maffia and Luis Petrucelli on bandoneons; Julio de Caro and Agesilao Ferrazzano on violins; and Humberto Costanzo on the double-bass. They recorded 35 tracks for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Suddenly, just six months later in August 1923, Cobian dissolved his group and moved to New York. Cobian’s career was on a meteoric rise and, at 27 years of age, it almost ended.




1. Preliminary: the Cadícamo stories


Cobian returned to Buenos Aires in 1928, and died in 1953. Almost 20 years later, in 1972, Enrique Cadícamo, the great poet and tango lyricist, wrote the novel-biography “El desconocido Juan Carlos Cobian” (The unknown Juan Carlos Cobian). Cadícamo was good friends with Cobian and wrote the lyrics for many of Cobian’s most famous compositions, including A pan y agua, Los mareados, Nostalgias and Niebla del Riachuelo. Cadícamo’s memoir of Cobian’s trip to New York is filled with anecdotes that deserve closer inspection.


In 1923 Cobian fell in love with a couplet singer 15 years his senior. The singer, Concepción A. (Cadícamo conceals the names of some of his characters), left Buenos Aires to try her luck in New York, and wrote to Cobian often of the opportunities that would open up for him in The North. Cobian recorded his final tracks with his Sextet in Buenos Aires on August 13 and 14, 



and then sailed on Thursday the 16th on the steamship Pan-America of the Munson Line,


and not on the Southern Cross (Cruz del Sur) as Cadícamo says. Maffia, de Caro and Petrucelli came to say goodbye. The ships would be very similar, Munson used old WWI warships repurposed for commercial use after the Armistice was signed. The Pan-America was packed with Argentine fans of boxer Luis Ángel Firpo, heading to New York to see the legendary fight against Jack Dempsey for the World Heavyweight title that would take place on September 14.

Concepción A. did not go to the pier in Hoboken to welcome Cobian on September 3. Cadícamo says that Cobian stayed at the Hotel Victoria in Manhattan, but the original Hotel Victoria was demolished in 1914. The new Hotel Victoria (on 7th Avenue at 51st Street) opened in July 1928, and was a popular destination in the Theater District. The question remains unresolved.


Ennio Bolognini was an Argentinian classical cellist that was also Firpo’s sparring partner, and stayed with him on 94th Street in the Upper West Side. Ennio was brother of Ástor and Remo Bolognini, accomplished violinists and good friends with Cobian and FresedoRoberto Medrano, the Argentine Tango dancer and a friend of Fresedo, was close with Firpo too, and visited frequently. Cobian was really surrounded by friends. Cobian was at the bout (presumably with Bolognini and Medrano) with words of support for Firpo. After the fight, Firpo and his friends went to Perona's Restaurant in The Village to dance Tango.


Cadícamo tells us about the encounter between Cobian and Rudolph Valentino. Valentino was responsible for a boom in Tango dancing after his 1921 performance in The Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseIn 1923 he toured the United States in a string of events in 88 locations, known as the Mineralva Tour, that undoubtedly contributed to a renewed interest in Tango in the US. In this respect Concepción A. was right, there were opportunities. Valentino travelled with his own Orchestra but there is no evidence there were any Argentine musicians in it.

To end the Tour, from November 22 through November 29 at least, Valentino was in New York as Judge in a National Beauty Contest. He stayed with his wife Natacha Rambova (and not Jean Acker as Cadícamo says), and his entourage at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (now the Empire State Building). Cadícamo tells us that Valentino was taking a break from film-making, and rehearsing for a pseudo-Argentinian play called “The Wild Gaucho” at the Rooftop Garden of the Hotel. The Beauty Contest took place on November 28 in Madison Square Garden, and featured the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Presumably Cobian advised Valentino on the right Tango to dance (El choclo), but there is no record of Valentino dancing at the contest itself. Finally, Cadícamo tells us that Cobian was with Valentino's Orchestra for 8 weeks, but the dates do not add up.



Cobian got himself a job, playing with an “Argentine Band” at the Hotel McAlpin. The musicians in this group were mostly Italians. The McAlpin is a New York landmark, still standing today in Herald Square (Broadway at 34th Street), one block from the original Waldorf-Astoria. But there is nothing on the New York press of the era that suggests that the McAlpin was used as a cabaret, or that an Argentine band played there.

Cadícamo also suggests that Cobian was there simply as the pianist at the bar. Maybe he did both? In February 1925 the Radio Station WMCA opened, and its studios were located inside the McAlpin Hotel. Maybe Cobian played for WMCA? Maybe he played with his own Orchestra? The McAlpin's Roof Garden and El Patio Room were also opened to guests, and there were some parties there after 1925, but we don’t really know what exactly was Cobian's role there if any. The McAlpin story is very hard to corroborate.

Cobian eventually met Concepción A., the couplet singer, in New York, payed his dues to the National Vaudeville Association (NVA), and was then able to accompany her on the Vaudeville circuits. They allegedly hit the Northeast, the Midwest, and even Canada and Oregon.  In Chicago they spent a month, where Concepción’s daughter was a hit with her castanets. The tour lasted about 5 months, and appears to have taken place in Fall 1925 or Winter 1926.
 
Cadícamo tells us that Cobian met Mabel Wayne in a Spanish restaurant in The Village, and interpreted Wayne’s own vals Ramona for her, a hugely popular number. Ramona was first recorded in January 1928.


In the same place Cobian met Luis Sepúlveda, a Mexican journalist that became good friends and wrote the lyrics for Cobian’s tango Lamento pampeano.


 
At the McAlpin Cobian also met Rudy Vallée, who sang the lyrics for “The thief” (Ladrón), also written by Sepúlveda. Again this story is impossible to verify, none of Rudy Vallée’s biographies mention it. Rudy Vallée was first recorded as a crooner on September 26, 1927, and was a sensation at the Heigh-Ho Club on 53rd Street in 1928. Vallée recorded Cobian’s Me querés twice for Victor, first as the Tango “Sweet lips” on March 18, 1929; then as the fox trot “Do you love me?” on April 5, 1929. The Tango version was never issued on disc, and Luis Sepúlveda is credited as the lyricist. Back in Buenos Aires Cobian recorded Ladrón and Me querés with Francisco Fiorentino in Summer 1928, almost one year before Vallée recorded his versions.


Cadícamo is not very specific about dates, and his stories “jump around” in the timeline. His anecdotes occurred either in Fall 1923 or close to the end of the trip in 1928. He even mentions Cobian's Columbia recordings, but by most accounts those occurred in late 1927 or early 1928. But Cobian was in New York for almost 5 years, the most public part of his trip, from 1924 to 1927, gets little coverage by Cadícamo.



2. Cobian with Cortez and Peggy in 1924


Esteban (Stephen) Cortez and Peggy Barthen, were a couple of ballroom dancers from New York known simply as “Cortez and Peggy”.




They were very popular since around 1917 and on occasion they danced Tango. In May 1924 they went to France

and toured for months to much acclaim until mid-September. Then, hot on the heels of their success abroad, on October 12 they appeared at the famed Hippodrome Theater, on 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th street. Perhaps inspired by their exposure to Tango dancing and orchestras in France, they decided to give a break to Cobian and his Argentine Orchestra. Did Cobian form his Orchestra at that moment, or did he have one already? We don’t know, but Cadícamo suggests he was playing with groups since 1923.



The Hippodrome was huge, one of the great temples of the Era of VaudevilleThere is no known record of the names of the musicians on the Argentine Orchestra that night, nor what they played, but judging for the continuity of the partnership between Cobian and Cortez and Peggy we think the show was very successful.

Cobian played at the Hippodrome again in Christmas, accompanying Annette Mills and Robert Sielle.




The opening of Ciro’s, a knockoff of the original Ciro’s in Paris located next to Carnegie Hall, took place on December 29. Cobian and Ben Bernie played that night, and Cortez and Peggy danced.




3. Cobian in 1925: on the Vaudeville circuit


Vaudevillians often travelled to theaters far from New York, sometimes to give form to their shows before bringing them back to Broadway. On March 5 we find Cortez and Peggy in Poughkeepsie, at the now defunct Rialto Theater. Curiously, Cobian’s group used the sobriquet “Havana Orchestra”.


On March 22 Cobian moved to the Rivera Theater in Brooklyn. This time he accompanied the Spanish dancing couple The Marinos, and the Spanish tenor José Moriche. Moriche recorded in New York since 1922, and had a prolific career in the recording studio with Victor, Columbia, Okeh, and Vocalion and Brunswick. Between 1924 and 1928 he recorded more than 250 tracks. Moriche went on to appear in several Gardel movies in the 1930s.



On April 20, Cobian appeared with José Moriche and The Marinos at Keith-Albee's in Baltimore, Maryland, and on the 25th they were at the Lyric Theater in Richmond, VA.



In early May Cobian was back in Brooklyn with The Marinos, at the Flatbush Theater.


From June 7 through June 11 they were at the New Brighton Theater in Coney Island,



but on June 8 they did one show in Newark, New Jersey.


On July 12 we find the troupe at the Chateau Theater in Chicago. Cobian is not credited by name but Cadícamo includes anecdotes about Chicago, and we think he was there with Moriche and The Marinos.


But when Moriche and The Marinos were in Minneapolis at the end of the month, Cobian was not with them anymore. In late July we find Cobian in a Radio listing, at Newark's WOR Station with Juan Pulido, the great Spanish baritone. Pulido was friends and recorded duets with José Moriche, and had a similarly prolific recording career in New York. In 1925 Pulido was active recording for Victor. María Montero, the famous Spanish dancer, was at the Radio station too.



In July or August 1925, Carlos Cruz commissioned the recording of two tracks to aid his Tango classes. Cruz was a dancer and teacher, and came from Paris to New York in 1923.



He worked with Fred LeQuorne, who was well known for his Dancing Studio on 1658 Broadway (52nd Street), where Tango was taught in Manhattan since at least 1924.

Cobian sat solo at the piano and recorded two of his own compositions.

 


According to the ad these recordings show “the exact tempo and rhythm” of [authentic] Argentine Tango.
 
From Fall 1925 to Spring 1926, Cobian vanishes from the news. This coincides with what Cadícamo wrote, but we have no other details, not even the name of the couplet singer. The stories of Mlle Emilia Delirio and Pepita Granados, both Spanish dancers, intersect Cobian's story, but they don't quite fit.


4. Cobian in 1926


On April 14, 1926, the Port Chester Daily Item reported that at the Loews State Theater in White Plains Ramón and Rosita would bring their Tango dancing with “Carlos Cobian and his famous Argentine Orchestra”.


We think that Cobian also played at Ciro's with Rosita and Ramón. The show then moved to B. F. Keith’s Bushwick Theater in Brooklyn (Broadway and Howard Ave.) and played there until mid-May.


This New York landmark is still standing.


On June 15 we find Cobian played for Harry Pilcer and his sister Elsie at The Palace on Broadway in Times Square (Manhattan). Pilcer was among the first wave of American Tango dancers from the 1910s, and was close to the Paris Tango scene.


Before the end of 1926 three events rocked the Tango scene in New York: first Valentino died in August, and Tango lost one of its most fervent ambassadors; second, Francisco Canaro came from Paris to New York with his Argentine Orchestra, and fizzled at Club Mirador; and last José Bohr came into town with his band The Gauchos. Mysteriously we know little as what role Cobian played in any of these events. In his memoirs, Canaro wrote that Cobian was barely his tour guide around New York ("cicerone").


5. The Columbia recordings in early 1928


On February 13, 1927, Cobian appeared once again with his old friends with Cortez and Peggy at B. F. Keith's Theater in Washington. Cortez and Peggy were trying on a comeback of sorts in the US after a year in England. José Moriche was there too.



They then traveled back North, and on February 26, 1927 they appeared at the Mosque Theater in Newark, New Jersey. Incidentally, José Bohr and his Gauchos played the same venue the previous week. This is the last known Cobian appearance in the American Press of the era.


On June 9, 1927, the Shamokin News Dispatch (Pennsylvania) reported that Cortez and Peggy were in town at the Capitol Theater. We think this is the last live show by Cobian in the US. He is not credited by name.



The trail of Cobian goes dead cold in the US Press after this performance. In the Summer of 1927 Moriche was singing with a new group, and Cortez and Peggy were busy with their new show "A night in Spain", but we have no evidence that Cobian was in that show.



In February 1928 we have an indirect reference to Cobian's credited recordings with Columbia in a Radio listing. Genaro Veiga (El Cholo) came to New York with José Bohr and his band The Gauchos on December 1926, and stayed when the Gauchos disbanded. Judging by the Columbia matrix numbers, Cobian recorded these tracks in January/February 1928. In addition, Columbia records show two "test recordings" on January 19 (W175289) and February 9 (W175524) respectively, but no additional info is given for those.



Date

Title

Genre

Group

Singer

Composer

Lyrics

Label

Matrix

Disc

February 1928

Che, papusa, oí

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Santos Discépolo, Enrique


Columbia

W96282

2953-X

February 1928

Gato

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Petrone, César

Petrone, César

Columbia

W96283

2951-X

February 1928

No te asustes, fue un suspiro

Fox Trot

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Petrone, César


Columbia


2951-X

February 1928

La prisionera

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Gómez, S. A.

Gómez, S. A.

Columbia

W96290

2953-X

February 1928

Mujer de fuego

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Petrone, César

Preenter, Oscar

Columbia

W96291

2952-X

February 1928

Mi linda salteña

Zamba

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Fernández Facón, Julio

Fernández Facón, Julio

Columbia

W96300

2954-X

February 1928

Visiones de la pampa

Vals

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Calvello, Miguel


Columbia

W96301

2954-X

February 1928

Manojo de claveles

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Cobian, Juan Carlos


Columbia

W96306

2952-X

February 1928

Adiós muchachos

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Sanders, Julio

Vedani, César F.

Columbia

W96318

2993-X

February 1928

Añoranza campera

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Cimaglia, Próspero

Díaz Vélez, Felisa

Columbia

W96319

2992-X

February 1928

Pinta brava

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Charlo

Charlo

Columbia

W96320

2990-X

February 1928

¡Batí que sí!

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Genaro Veiga

Fernández Facón, Julio

Fernández Facón, Julio

Columbia

W96321

2990-X

February 1928

América

Pasodoble

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Cimaglia, Próspero


Columbia

W96322

2992-X

February 1928

Francesita

Fox Trot

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Bonavena, Antonio


Columbia


2991-X

February 1928

Caminando por Florida

Fox Trot

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Carulli, A.


Columbia


2991-X


Cobian's Orchestra has violins, a cello, himself at the piano, a double-bass and, most surprisingly, a bandoneon. We know Julio Fernández Falcón came to New York with Veiga and Bohr in 1926. Falcón is also credited as the composer of Bati que si, we think he was Cobian's bandoneon. Falcón left for Buenos Aires in April 1928 on the Pan-America. 



6. Epilogue: back home


On May 19, 1928, more than a year after the show at the Mosque Theater, Cobian returned to Buenos Aires on the steamship American Legion, also of the Munson Line. From the Spanish newspaper La Prensa we got this invaluable evidence


On June 2nd, 1928 we find further evidence of Cobian coming back home from the Brazilian newspaper Correio da Manhã. Curiously the note mentions Harry Kosarin, who Cadícamo names as Cobian's artistic agent in New York.


We don’t quite know what Cobian’s reception was like in Buenos Aires on June 6. The members of his old Sextet were already directing their own Sextets. Since they were all Victor artists some were allowed to record with Cobian in his new Orchestra, which included:


Bandoneons: Luis Petrucelli - Ciriaco Ortiz - Luis Minervini

Violins: Agesilao Ferrazzano - Elvino Vardaro - Fausto Frontera

Contrabajo: Humberto Costanzo

Piano: Juan Carlos Cobian

Singer: Francisco Fiorentino


These are educated guesses, there are many conflicting versions as to who was where and when. In some recordings we can hear 4 violins, in others 4 bandoneons. A contrabassoon is heard in El marcao, a trumpet in Ladrón. These Victor recordings are presumed to have been made around July 1928, Osvaldo Fresedo must have heard them before he went to Paris.


July 1928

Me querés

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Cobian, Juan Carlos

Victor

80916 A

BAVE-44212

July 1928

Rey de copas

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Frontera, Fausto

Victor

80916 B

BAVE-44213

July 1928

Vení, vení

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Cobian, Juan Carlos

Victor

80917 A

BAVE-44214

July 1928

Charlatán

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Ortiz, Ciriaco

Victor

80917 B

BAVE-44215

July 1928

Ladrón

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Cobian, Juan Carlos

Victor

80918 A

BAVE-44216

July 1928

Admiración

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Puleio, Saverio

Victor

80918 B

BAVE-44217

July 1928

El único lunar

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Cobian, Juan Carlos

Victor

80919 A

BAVE-44218

July 1928

Qué juez áquel

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian


Cluzeau Mortet, Luis

Victor

80919 B

BAVE-44219

July 1928

Lamento pampeano

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Cobian, Juan Carlos

Victor

80920 A

BAVE-44220

July 1928

Recostao en un farol

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Mottolesse, Luis

Victor

80920 B

BAVE-44221

July 1928

Mal camino

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Cobian, Juan Carlos

Victor

80921 A

BAVE-44222

July 1928

El marcao

Tango

Orquesta Típica Cobian

Francisco Fiorentino

Vanzina Pacheco, Guido

Victor

80921 B

BAVE-44223


But Cobian’s career never quite took off as was expected. His compositions are classics, but as a recording artist his output after his return from New York was meager. Cobian probably did not know it at the time, but the Era of Vaudeville that he was part of in New York would soon come to an end. As Sound Film became the new game in Town most Vaudeville theaters either closed, or had to be repurposed for new forms of Entertainment. The Show had to go on.



Notes


1. In researching this story we discovered that paying attention to the dancers' careers went a long way in telling the stories of the musicians. The dancers were the draw of the show back then. As we dived into the career of Rosita and Ramón in particular, we found new information regarding their role in Osvaldo Fresedo's trip to New York in 1929 and updated that story and also Fresedo in Paris. The tale of Cortez and Peggy in 1924 is very similar to the tale of Rosita and Ramón in 1929: both couples were booked through Summer in Europe and hit Biarritz and Paris and other cities, and came back to New York in the Fall to strut their new Argentinian Tango moves on the American dance floors. And all of them wanted an "Argentine Orchestra".

 

2. Of all the open questions, no one is more perplexing than Cobian's apparent lack of contact with so many other Tango people in New York at the time (really, it can't be possible). Don Alberto Infantas played the violin for Fresedo in 1920 in New York, and was also a friend of Luis Ángel Firpo, but Cobian did not work with him? The same can be said about Roberto Medrano, him and Infantas were Cobian's contacts when he arrived in New York, but there is no information whatsoever about them working together.

 

Where was Cobian in the fall of 1925, 1926 and 1927? It seems logical that he went on Vaudeville tours, it's what Tango performers did back then, even Cadícamo confirms it. We looked for every Spanish dancer performing in the Northeast from 1923 through 1928 to no avail. From fall 1923 through 1924, Alberto Infantas went on a Vaudeville tour with the revue Cabaret in Cuba, they had Tango dancers and a Spanish singer and dancer. Also, from 1924 through 1926 Fidel Irazábal and Mlle Emilia Delirio (who previously danced with Roberto Medrano) toured with an Argentine band, and with a Spanish singer in the revue Dreamy Spain, the formula was popular. And finally, Alberto de Lima toured in 1924 around the US and Canada, with the revue Land of Tango, they also had a singer. Elements of the stories of these revues are similar to Cadícamo's tale of Concepción A., but none quite add up.


3. There's still too many open questions. Where did Cobian get his first musiciansDid they have a bandoneon player before Falcón? What was his relationship with José Bohr, from whom he inherited his chansonnier and his bandoneon player? Did Louis Katzman offer a contract to Cobian? And finally, why so many questions? Cadícamo was right about one thing, Cobian is still an unknown.

4. Cadícamo wrote a lot about Cobian's character and his love life. The story of the couplet singer had legs, and Cobian was known to be a bon-vivant. We think most of it is trite, but one quote stood out: "The only true aristocracy is intelligence itself". 


Acknowledgements


1. Camilo Gatica for his continuing support and listening and advising. 


2. Pablo Taboada and Osvaldo Vardaro for additional details about Cobian’s return to Buenos Aires.


3. Lola ❤️



Bibliography


1. Enrique Cadícamo's "El desconocido Juan Carlos Cobian"

   SADAIC / Colección Testimonios

   

2. The newspaper La Prensa (in microfilm)
   https://www.nypl.org/research/research-catalog/bib/b12639161


3. Walter Groppa wrote an interesting exploration of Cadícamo’s tale of Cobian in New York for Tango Reporter Magazine

   https://web.archive.org/web/20090213085218/http://128.121.102.250/nota-cobian.html


4. Cinema Treasures is a invaluable resource about the theaters of the Vaudeville era and the old movie houses

   http://cinematreasures.org


5. The Strachwitz Frontera Collection is an indispensable resource

   http://frontera.library.ucla.edu

6. 
The Discography of American Historical Recordings

   https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/resources/detail/191