Donnerstag, 6. Juli 2023

Paris and New York and Fresedo - Chapter 9: Cobián arrives in New York (1923-1925)

by José Manuel Araque

Juan Carlos Cobián was an Argentine pianist born in Pigüé in 1896, and raised in Bahía Blanca. He moved to Buenos Aires in 1913. In 1916 he formed a trio with Tito Roccatagliata on violin and Eduardo Arolas on bandoneon. By 1920 Cobián was already a very successful composer, with his tangos recorded by the greatest names in the genre, Roberto Firpo and Carlos Gardel among others. Cobián and Enrique P. Delfino are credited with pioneering the Tango Romanza, a new composition style for Tango that was more melody-driven and stood in contrast to the more rhythmic Tango favored by Francisco Canaro. Canaro, the most recorded Tango artist of all times, recorded only a handful of Cobián's works. 

In 1922 Cobián's star rose as he joined the Osvaldo Fresedo’s sextet at the opening of the Abdullah Club in the iconic Gallería GüemesThat year he recorded with Fresedo for Victor, including 7 new works of his own. Among these recordings with Fresedo Los dopados stands out, it was written for an homonymous play, and years later Cobián's friend and biographer Enrique D. Cadícamo wrote the lyrics. The Tango speaks volumes about a dark side of Cobián's character, he probably drank too much, as did Tito Roccatagliata, now Fresedo's lead violin. In early 1923 Cobián formed his own Sextet with an all star cast that included 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 Victor that same year, including the Tango Shusheta (El aristócrata) which was inspired by Martín de Álzaga Unzué (aka Macoco), the famous Argentine race car driver and playboy that was a personal friend of both Cobián and Fresedo. In May of that year Macoco became a celebrity worldwide when he funded and lead a team that competed in the Indianapolis 500. Macoco and Cobián were men of their times, they lived fast and spent money faster.

Suddenly, just seven months later, in August 1923 Cobián dissolved his group and decided to move to New York. Cobián had an affair with a "not-so-talented couplet singer 15 years his senior", according to Cadícamo. The singer, "Concepción A." (Cadícamo conceals the names of some of his characters), had left Buenos Aires for New York in early 1923, and wrote to Cobián often of the possibilities that New York offered for someone of Cobián's stature. Cobián recorded his final tracks with his sextet in Buenos Aires on August 13 and 14.


Concepción A. may have been right, there were plenty of opportunities. On Thursday August 16 Cobián boarded the steamship Pan-America of the Munson Line. Maffia, De Caro and Petrucelli came to the dock to say goodbye. The Pan-America was packed with Argentine fans of boxer Luis Ángel Firpo, heading to New York to see Firpo's legendary fight against Jack Dempsey for the World Heavyweight title that would take place on September 14. The trip took 18 days, Cobián treated himself to first class service.


Concepción A. did not go to the pier in Hoboken, New Jersey (across the Hudson river from Manhattan), to welcome him on September 3. Cadícamo says that Cobián stayed at the Hotel Victoria in Manhattan, but the original Hotel Victoria was demolished in 1914. We conjecture that Cobián stayed briefly in the Hotel Victor in Hoboken itself, it's the only lodging named similarly in the area at the time. Coincidentally, Pilar Arcos and María Montero returned from Puerto Rico the same day of Cobián's arrival. And four days later Ennio Bolognini, the Argentine cellist and friends with Firpo, Cobián and Fresedo, also arrived in town to see the great fight.

Luis Ángel Firpo was staying in his apartment in the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and Ennio slept over. Roberto Medrano visited frequently. Cobián stopped by and soon was surrounded by Argentine friends. All of New York was abuzz in the expectation of the great fight, and Paris and the rest of the world too. Two days before the fight, Firpo, accompanied by his friends, attended an event at the headquarters of the newspaper La Prensa where he was celebrated by all the Hispanic consuls in New York. Afterwards, around the block and in front of the Unión Benéfica on 14th Street, an impromptu crowd of 3 thousand acclaimed him as the next champ.


On September 13 Firpo and friends headed to the restaurant of John Perona on West 46th street. Perona was Italian, and some sources claim that he lived in Buenos Aires before arriving in New York, and that he used to be Firpo's sparring partner. Firpo liked Perona's cooking a lot, and was a regular at the restaurant, where he would join in the occasional Tango dancing.

On September 14 Firpo, his friends and 80 thousand fans went to the Polo Grounds on 155th street on the Harlem River, to witness a fight that would go down in History as the stuff of legend. Cobián was there with words of encouragement for Firpo. Francisco G. Ortega of Cine Mundial wrote a piece that week in which he claimed that Firpo would have been the champ if the rules had been followed, forever turning Firpo into a cause célèbre for Hispanics. Alas, Dempsey retained the title after two brutal rounds. Ennio bet and lost all his money. After the bout and a nap, Firpo and friends went to Perona's to dance Tango. And the next day, Firpo was at Emilia Delirio's birthday bash dancing with the birthday girl. The celebration took place at Joaquín Ortega's place, and Roberto Medrano, Pilar and Guillermo Arcos, and María Montero were there too. A few days later Firpo left for South America.


Juan Pulido (b. 1891), a baritone from Canary Islands, had arrived on September 11. A few months back his transmissions from PWX Radio in Havana were received as far north as Atlanta. On September 29 the Teatro Lírico Español organized a tribute to Pilar Arcos and María Montero at the Daly's Theater on 63rd Street (between Broadway and Central Park West). Guillermo Arcos played the guitar. 

A very busy Fall-Winter season was just getting started in New York and change was in the air. In October Cobián's friend Macoco stopped by on the way to a race in Los Angeles, Macoco became friends with John Perona. Spanish-themed films Rosita, starring Mary Pickford, and The Spanish Dancer starring Pola Negri and Antonio Moreno, drew the crowds all over the country. Rosita played at the Capitol Theater in yet another production by Rothafel that included an original composition by Ernesto Lecuona danced by Doris Niles, and we think Roberto Medrano was in that show. On October 12 Emilia Delirio danced with one Fidel Irazábal at an event organized to celebrate Columbus Day (Día de la Raza) at Leslie Hall on 83rd and Broadway. Curiously, a second event to celebrate the same holiday was staged at the Hotel Astor in Times Square, and María Montero was there. Ennio got a job playing for Rothafel at the Rivoli Theater, Cobián must have been looking around for his big break.

On October 28 the revue Cabaret in Cuba launched in Hartford, Connecticut, and played on small theaters for the next two weeks. This was a recurrent pattern, testing the revue outside New York before hitting the Big City. Amata Grassi, a dancer that been in Buenos Aires with the great Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, assisted in a production that was rich in castanets and Spanish themes. The revue, which was on the road for more than two years, claimed to have an Argentine orchestra, as many others claimed during these years. We know Alberto Infantas was involved with Cabaret in Cuba, but he was not always with them. We also don't know in what capacity he was involved, if he directed this orchestra all the time he was with them, or he just played the violin. The main draw of the show was the dancing couple of Kathleen O’Hanlon and Theodore Zambuni, who did the Apache and the Tango. Zambuni (and O'Hanlon sometimes) donned gaucho clothes, which was de rigeur now, it was pure Vaudeville. 

Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova returned from their European holiday on November 9. Valentino was eager to return to work, and judging from a straw poll conducted by the Daily News, his popularity was intact, though it had been challenged by the rise of Ramón Novarro (Novarro was in town that November too, on his way to Europe). Valentino's Mineralava Tour had been a success, and to wrap it up a National Beauty Contest was organized with the participation of the winners of the local contests across the country. Valentino and the beauty queens stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on 5th Avenue at 34th Street (the current location of the Empire State Building). The Waldorf was considered the most beautiful and luxurious hotel in New York at the time.

The next week Cabaret in Cuba appeared briefly at B. F. Keith's 81st Street Theater in the Upper West Side, and at the Majestic on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Then, on November 25, returning from Maryland, they appeared for two days at Keith's Orpheum in Brooklyn. But there is no evidence to suggest that Cobián collaborated with Infantas at this point, or that Infantas collaborated with Valentino. Cabaret in Cuba then took off for Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, with one Sarah Fisconni as musical director. 

On Halloween the PanAmerican Students League had organized a fundraiser at the Hotel McAlpin on Broadway at 34th Street, with the participation of María Montero. Then, on November 20 the McAlpin opened a new Spanish-themed dancing floor that they named El Patio. Mrs. Robert Wright Hawkesworth, known since 1915 for organizing dancing classes and debutante balls, and one David Samuels ran the place located on the 24th floor of the hotel. María Montero was part of the entertainment from the beginning, and it's very likely that she was responsible for bringing Cobián and his new orchestra to El Patio.

The McAlpin was one block away from the Waldorf-Astoria. Cadícamo says that Cobián met Valentino at the Waldorf's Rooftop Garden where Valentino was supposedly rehearsing for a pseudo-Argentine play called “The Wild Gaucho”The star confided to Cobián that he lamented not having real Argentine musicians in his Tango band.

The Mineralava pageant took place on November 28 in Madison Square Garden, on Madison Avenue at 26th Street. Seven thousand fans payed between 1 and 5 dollars a ticket to see the show, which featured the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

Cadícamo also says that Cobián advised Valentino on the right Tango to dance at the Garden (El choclo of course). An "Argentine" band played (with a banjo!), and contrary to Cadícamo's assertion Cobián was not at the piano. Ten days later Valentino and Rambova left New York for France again. Having secured a contract to return to filmmaking in February, Valentino went to the French Riviera to spend Christmas.

In late November Juan Pulido made his formal introduction to New York at the Daly's in the zarzuela La Cara de Dios with Pilar Arcos and José Moriche. Through the rest of the Winter season they played at Daly's with the Teatro Lírico Español company, in works like El Pobre Valbuena and Las Corsarias. Pulido sang duos with Arcos, and she probably brought him into the Columbia studios. Columbia introduced the 2000-X Series around this time with a new solid green label design, though it kept issuing C-Series records for a while. It's unclear if the label change signals the introduction of the new electric recording technology, which surely was already being discussed or in progress. Columbia even reissued a few titles from the C-Series using the green label, e.g. Arcos' Cielito lindo. Soon the ribbon microphone would change the landscape, a new type of singer would emerge, one that did not need sheer vocal power to reach the recording needle. 

Cobián stayed at El Patio with Montero, playing along artists like couplet singer Trina Varela, and the group Los Trovadores de Sevilla. El Patio served dinner at 10:30PM, then the show started. There was a thé dansant on Saturdays at 4PM. On January 5 1924 La Prensa reviewed the spot and praised Cobián, noting his well-deserved popularity attributed to "his good taste in the selection of the dance numbers, and the perfection in the execution of his orchestra". The place was gorgeous, it must have reminded Cobián of the Abdullah Club, specially the aristocratic and posh clientele. 

The Vaudeville circuits were very active in 1924, though Vaudeville itself was a dying form. Tango and Apache acts were popping everywhere it seems, and likely as a direct consequence of the Mineralava Tour. The revue Land of Tango, with Alberto de Lima and a Spanish dancer known as Petit Marita, had successfully toured the West Coast and was now heading East. And in February, Mlle. Delirio and Fidel Irazábal launched a new revue in Hartford, claiming to include yet another Argentine Orchestra. It's plausible that Alberto Infantas was part of Delirio's revue. 

Cabaret in Cuba with O'Hanlon Zambuni and Sarah Fisconni returned to New York from February 21 through March 2, 1924, and played at the fabled Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was huge, a temple to King Vaude, and over the years was the stage where many Tango acts would play in New York. It was located on the east side of 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street, one block from Times Square. Soon after Cabaret in Cuba hit the road again for Washington D.C., New Jersey and Upstate New York.

At El Patio the season was very busy. On February 22nd there was a much talked-about Costume Ball. The event was sponsored by the diplomatic corps in town, "to further cordial relations between the United States and the Latin-American countries". The popular comedian Eddie Cantor dressed up as a bull, and actor Leo Carillo as the toreador in a hilarious mock bullfight. There was also a Parade of Shawls and a Tango contest.

On March 3 1924, Concepción Ayala returned to New York from Rio de Janeiro on the Western World. She traveled in the company of her daughter, 17 year old Concepción (Conchita) Vila, and Esteban Palos. Palos was also a Spanish dancer and a choreographer, and Ayala was interested in furthering the dancing career of her daughter. We don't have certainty of their whereabouts since "Concepción A." stood up Cobián in Hoboken the previous September. We presume they went on tour to South America, and indirect references place them in Uruguay and Chile, but we found no evidence they were in Argentina. Nonetheless, in their entry form at Ellis Island they declared they were "friends with Juan Carlos Cobián", and stated his address to be on 248 West 51st Street, Cobián was living as close to all the Broadway action as it gets. Cobián and Ayala stayed friends.

El Patio was a venue with a mixed repertoire. On Thursday March 13 the patrons danced Jazz with the Savoy-Havana Band, a group of American musicians that played at the Hotel Savoy in London, and reached the McAlpin via short-wave radio transmission. As Spring arrived, on March 22 Cobián shared the stage with legendary banjo player John Nelson Hall, aka Sleepy, at the El Patio Tea Dance. Hall, from Great Falls, Montana, was a senior at Yale University, and even before he graduated he was in high demand as a virtuoso of his instrument. He had formed his own Jazz band, the Collegiate Orchestra, and was in New York invited by Lee Shubert to play for one night only at the Winter Garden. In Yale Hall was the leader of the Banjo Club, an offshoot of the Glee Club (singers), and he met and became friends with then sophomore sax player Rudy Vallée. Vallée was in Yale since September and was already well known throughout New England for his work with Jazz bands and as a soloist. Hall is almost certainly the missing link in the connection between Vallée and Cobián and Jazz. In September Vallée took a sabbatical from Yale and went to London to join the Savoy-Havana Band.

On March 22 the press also reported that María Montero was now dancing with Roberto Medrano. They performed a "Schottische Español", a combination of Schottische and Tango that was presumably popular in Europe as it was easily-learned. Medrano was also teaching in a studio West 49th Street, and ocasionally danced with Doris Niles who was the principal dancer at the Capitol Theater. The press was talking about Medrano's Tango dancing in particular, it was "far superior to Valentino's". Medrano and Montero danced on and off for the rest of the year at the Mark Strand Theater. 

The same week Arcos, Pulido and Moriche traveled to Tampa, Florida, home to a large Cuban and Spanish population, and a hub for the tobacco industry with a significant maritime link with Havana. They appeared at the Centro Asturiano in a production of the zarzuela La canción del olvido, and stayed in Tampa through the rest of the season. Meanwhile, in New York, Addison Fowler and Florenz Tamara, a dancing specialty team that played mostly in the Midwest and the West, was dancing a "simplified" Tango in the musical Lollipop on Broadway. Fowler and Tamara were taking on the age-old challenge to put forward a Tango that would appeal to the masses. The news from the International Convention of Dancing Masters that took place in Paris earlier that year were unsettling, the French were now dancing a "New Tango" that was different from the one that drove TangoMania ten years before. It was reported that this New Tango was French and replaced the old Argentine Tango, though this claim is debatable as Paris had plenty Argentine musicians and dancers around at the time. One of the most notable changes in the "French Tango" was the absence of the "Corte" (Cortez). Curiously Fowler and Tamara's proposal did include a Corte. Their Tango, as several others proposed in those transitional years, did not win the favor of the public.

Incidentally, Maurice Mouvet was in town since from September 1923 through February 1924, although this time around Maurice did not get a single headline about his dancing. Harry Pilcer was briefly in New York too, from April through mid-May 1924, looking for a partner to dance with, but he returned empty-handed to Paris. At this point both performers may have been showing their age, and they also must have been working hard to try to keep up with the changes in Tango dancing "standards".
In May at El Patio a "Baile de las Flores"(Dance of the Flowers) event was organized that was well received. As before, the list of the attendees included many Latin aristocrats and diplomats. The same month the press also reported that Anna Pavlova visited El Patio, and praised the dancing of the couple doing "elaborate Spanish dances". El Patio had been a success, but as the season drew to a close management did not renew the contract and the place was shutdown. Some commented that Prohibition was still putting limits on the party. After El Patio, Medrano danced for a short time with multi-talented artist Rosa Rolanda in the small revue 'Round The Town at the Century Roof on Central Park West at 62nd Street. Had Medrano turned his back on Vaudeville? Was he trying to crack a higher-end market? Or had his standing with the Vaudeville impresarios taken a hit? 

The slow Summer months returned and threw the Vaudeville acts in a state of flux again. Having returned to the Northeast, Alberto de Lima and Petit Marita wrapped up their engagement in Land of Tango with presentations at Keeney's Theater in Brooklyn, and at Proctor's on 58th Street. Delirio and Irazábal were now partnering with Anton Scibilia, and had renamed their revue Dreamy Spain. Scibilia in turn was handling one too many acts, or too many performers. By July 21 he had merged the two revues into a larger one that he baptized Land of Joy. The new revue, with Delirio and Irazábal in the lead roles, premiered at the Orpheum in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It too had the tired plot of the comedian chasing señoritas, but Scibilia also added scenes and thickened the story. Scibilia toyed with the idea of a second revue which he called Cubanola that promptly fizzled. Soon Delirio and Irazábal left the overcrowded revue, and headed West for the Pantages, resurrecting Dreamy Spain. Scibilia replaced them with newcomer Mary Louise Hanrick, and Spanish dancer Vincent Martínez (Vicente?), a veteran of the Vaudeville circuits.

Other Spanish performers were also seeing change. Having had a great run in Tampa, Pilar Arcos decided to move to Cuba for a while, and Pulido and Moriche returned to New York. We know that at some point Concepción Ayala traveled to Mexico or Cuba, where Tango lyricist Luis Martínez Serrano met her daughter Conchita and dedicated the song Dónde estás corazón? to her. Serrano went from Cuba to Mexico in early June, he co-dedicated the song to the eminent Cuban pianist Flora Mora, a disciple of Enrique Granados. The "Mexican song" (as it was originally composed) was premiered in the Teatro Regis in Mexico City in 1924, in the revue "Mexico a la vista". Argentine musician Augusto P. Berto then adapted it into a Tango in 1927. We speculate that Concepción and Conchita were part of the Serrano revue. 

Really, where Cobián went that Summer is a mystery, he must have been looking for new opportunities. The Clipper, an entertainment industry periodical, has a final listing of Cobián at the McAlpin on June 14. Luis Ángel Firpo returned to New York that July, he was looking for a rematch with Dempsey. In August Cabaret in Cuba with Luis Alberto Infantas was at the Rialto Theater in Glen Falls, Upstate New York. Firpo joined the cast for a picture opportunity, the press called him “a personal friend of Mr. Infantas”. When Firpo was asked to dance in public he chickened out. And he did not get his rematch either.

The transition from the acoustic horn recording technology to the new "electric" process, took place gradually between 1924 and 1926, the turmoil was palpable. Maybe the little labels were nimble and had the know-how, and the larger labels did not, and were scrambling to adapt. Or maybe it was the other way around, and the smaller labels were struggling to invest in new equipment. These conditions may have given leverage to artists to record for multiple labels at the same time. In September 1924 Moriche and Pulido started recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company, with Nathaniel Shilkret and Eduardo Vigil y Robles as conductors. The enterprising Moriche also recorded for the niche players Vocalion and Okeh. For the next 5 years artists were able to pull this hat trick, sometimes the same song would be recorded by the same artist for different labels only a few days apart. Both Pulido and Moriche sang for Victor steadily through 1929, recording an average of 50 tracks a year. Pulido recorded significantly more Tangos than Moriche, though to be sure Tangos were not their main source of income for these two. They also recorded many duos together.

When the Fall season returned to New York it seemed slower than the previous year for everyone. The Spanish music and theater scene in particular was much quieter, a fact that can be partly attributed to Pilar Arcos' absence. It was also a sign that the Valentino Vogue was ebbing away. On September 23 Cortez and Peggy, the ballroom and Tango dancers, returned from France. Cortez and Peggy were also in Paris in 1922, by now they were familiar with the "French Tango" and with the Argentine orchestras that were popular across the Atlantic. Hot on the heels of their success in Paris and London they decided to try an authentic Argentine orchestra in New York. A few days before their presentation, Cobián got the news of the death of his old associate Eduardo Arolas in Paris, it was an omen he couldn't ignore. On October 12 Cobián, Cortez and Peggy appeared at the Hippodrome. Two weeks later they played at the Orpheum in Brooklyn. They were short engagements, but Cobián forged a new work relationship with a couple of dancers that were well known in the United States and abroad. And he got his National Vaudeville Association credentials for the year.

Medrano danced at the Fay Follies, a small joint on 54th Street that catered to the after theater crowd. Lillian Lorraine was the main attraction. The ex Ziegfeld Follies girl had seen better years, and the place closed soon after. That Fall Medrano also danced with María Montero at the Strand, accompanying Valentino's new movie A Sainted Devil. The movie was a flop, one of several in Valentino's comeback, a fact that many attributed to the meddling of Natacha Rambova. Soon after Montero, with Amata Grassi, left for Chicago where she premiered a new revised version of Manuel de Falla's ballet El amor brujo. In early December Cabaret in Cuba, with Infantas, played briefly in New York at the Riviera Theater on 96th Street. 

The Cobián Orchestra played again at the Hippodrome for two weeks starting on Christmas, and accompanying English dancers Annette Mills and Robert Sielle. Mills and Sielle were regulars in the nightclub Ciro's of London, a knockoff of Ciro’s of Paris. The press noted that nightclubbing was now in vogue in London, where the Prince of Wales would go out dancing to Ciro's. And it remarked how different the attitudes were in Europe where people did not dance until dawn as they did in New York. In Spring 1922 a certain Carlos Cruz traveled to London to teach the "new Tango" which was so popular in Paris, and organized a conference to standardize the dance steps. The "1912 vs 1920" Tango was discussed (while listening to records), and the experts noted the more strongly marked rhythm on the latter. However, the foxtrot and the valse were still the English favorites. The only agreement the conference came to was to note that the new Tango was in 2-4 time with the accent on the first beat in the bar. In an open letter to the newspaper Pall Mall, the teacher Alice Vandyck remarked that Tango was "utterly unsuited to the average English temperament". She added that "the ballroom dancer is not a performer", "he does not want to assume a role and to imitate an emotion or a characteristic that is foreign to him", "his desire is to enjoy himself naturally". When Mills and Sielle returned to England from New York they were credited with introducing the Charleston

The opening of New York's local Ciro’s took place on December 29, while Cobián was still at the Hippodrome. The nightclub was located next to Carnegie Hall, though the address was advertised as 141 West 56th Street (the current location of the Metropolitan Tower), a more discreet entrance since this was a place for movers and shakers. Cobián, Cortez and Peggy shared the stage with the very popular Jazz band Ben Bernie and his Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra. Cobián named his new band Ciro's Argentinos. The press noted the excellent Tango orchestra, and remarked that Tango was up and coming in Europe. On January 31 the periodical The Billboard reviewed the place, contrasting the Bernie's Jazz sound and pace (the 9-piece orchestra included two violins, two saxophones, cornet, banjo, viol, drums and piano) with Cobián, who played the piano, accompanied by one violin, two cellos, an accordion and drums (only the drummer "was not South American"). The show did not last long though, Cortez became embroiled in an ugly divorce fight (he was not married to Peggy), and this may have precipitated the end of the engagement. Clifton Webb and Mary Hay replaced them.

Land of Joy never made it to New York. While in West Virginia in January 1925, Vincent Martínez was replaced by Mexican dancer José Ramón Reachi. Martínez went to Miami to join Conchita Vila, they were a hit dancing at the Venetian Casino in Coral Gables, and others. The large Spanish troupe included the great tonadillera Amalia Molina, also based in New York since 1922. Conchita was now referred to as "La Vila". Vila and Martínez were in Miami until Spring, and then moved to Cuba where they performed with the New York Follies at the Teatro Cubano, the Campoamor and others. On occasion they joined singers like Príncipe Cubano and Teresita Zazá, or notable actors like Arquímedes Pous. They did not see Pilar Arcos in Havana though, as Pilar was already gone when they arrived. They stayed all Summer in Cuba.

In January 1925 Cabaret in Cuba spent a few days at the B.S. Moss Flatbush Theater in Brooklyn (Church Avenue). Their engagements in New York were short, and their time on stage was also short, and Infantas' Orchestra was barely in the credits. Cabaret in Cuba then moved to England, where a minor diplomatic incident ensued when the Cuban consul in London, Rául Mejer, complained about the violent murder and dance to death scene that was the climax of the show. Clearly the Apache dance was over the top, the consul said "it misrepresented the Cuban people". Maybe that was not the only thing misrepresented, yet the story helped sell even more tickets. 

Cobián finally went on the road, though the Vaudeville circuits may have been tired of Tango already. It almost feels like he took this route because he had no other choice, this was not Cobián natural place, and he must have seen the writing on the wall: Vaudeville's days were numbered. On March 5 he appeared with Cortez and Peggy in Poughkeepsie, at the now defunct Rialto Theater. Curiously, Cobián’s group used the sobriquet “Havana Orchestra”, and there was a tenor with them. Cortez and Peggy had stayed together despite the bad press generated by Cortez's divorce. But their main engagement now was a musical in Brooklyn and Cobián was not quite part of their new plans, so their involvement with the Poughkeepsie was tangential or temporary at best.

On March 22 Cobián and the Spanish dancing couple The Marinos played in the Riviera Theater in Brooklyn, José Moriche joined. Cobián had a lasting relationship with Moriche since, they appeared together several times in the coming years, which is surprising considering the limited Tango repertoire of Moriche. On April 20 Cobián, Moriche and The Marinos were at Keith-Albee's in Baltimore, Maryland, and on the 25th they were at the Lyric Theater in Richmond, VA. And then, in early May they were back in Brooklyn at the Flatbush Theater. From June 7 through June 11 they were at the New Brighton Theater in Coney Island, and on June 8 they did one show in Newark, New Jersey.

By now Cobián must have heard the news about Francisco Canaro's rotund success at the Club Florida in Paris since April. There was a better way to reach an audience than playing in Vaudeville theaters, he surely thought. On July 12 Cobián and his troupe were at the Chateau Theater in Chicago. Cadícamo says that they spent a month there, though Cobián is not credited by name, and the engagement at the Chateau itself was short. Later that month Moriche and the Marinos moved on to the Pantages circuit in the Midwest, but Cobián was not with them anymore. Moriche returned to the Victor recording studios in New York by late August.

In the slow Summer of 1925 season Anton Scibilia's Land of Joy ended its run in Pennsylvania. And on July 15 María Montero was at a showing of Douglas Fairbanks' new movie Don Q (Son of The Zorro). The event at the Globe Theater was broadcast on radio by Newark's WOR Station, and it had speeches including one by Montero lauding her homeland of Spain. A small musical part followed with Juan Pulido accompanied by Cobián's orchestra. Pulido didn't stay far from New York too long or too often those years, probably due to his recording schedule for Victor.

According to researcher Ángeles Cruzado, Montero had been at the new season of El Patio, but there is no evidence that either Medrano or Cobían were there. And Montero had been to Chicago again in Spring, but without Medrano, who instead danced with Catherine Crandall at the Embassy Club, and continued teaching Tango. Medrano's favorite pupil was Donna Landwher, a young dancer from Michigan and the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Donna had come to New York around 1923 to perfect her art, she was in the Ziegfeld Follies for a short time. By August 1925 Medrano and Donna were appearing together in Miami. In September Medrano appeared at a showing of Don Q at the Strand with one Mlle Klemova, who was one of the regulars at the Strand when he danced with Montero. But his longest lasting union would prove to be the one with Donna, they were soon married.

That same August, in a revealing interview with The Miami Daily News, Medrano had somewhat inserted himself in the public discussion about dancing Tango. He did mention that the steps had recently changed, as the news from Paris seemed to indicate, and that in the United States Tango was only done on the stage. In his homeland, he said, all men took the time to learn to dance correctly, in the United States men "always had to go to the office to make a few more thousand". He advised: "Nothing in dancing is more difficult than breaking in a new partner. Before two people can dance together they must understand one another. Unless they do that it is mechanical, and when it is mechanical it is not dancing. Six months of practice are necessary before two people can appear in public together. They must appear 3 years before they are any good, and 5 years before they are perfect".

There were quite a few places for learning and dancing Tango in Manhattan by 1925. Don Leno was still the best known teacher, specially after his claim that he taught Valentino to dance. Tango was not as popular as it had been before the War, and now it faced a formidable competition from Jazz. Joaquín Ortega from Spain, and frenchman Fred LeQuorne were teaching Tango too. And there was private instruction by some minor players. The Social Clubs ocassionally held Tango dancing contests.



In July 1925 Carlos Cruz commissioned the recording of two tracks to aid his Tango classes. Cruz sailed from Liverpool to New York in December 1923 and worked invited by Evelyn Hubbell, who taught "the simple French Tango" since 1922. Apparently Cruz's clientele in New York was mostly the kind that payed for individualized instruction. Cobián sat at the piano and recorded two new works, also inserting himself into the discussion about what "authentic" Tango was like. These recordings "show the exact tempo and rhythm” of Argentine Tango. 

Carlos Cruz's real name was Carlos Bareiro-Pereyra. He was a Paraguayan based in Paris since 1913 that wrote for the Argentine magazine Fray Mocho. In New York Bareiro also worked with Fred Lequorne at the Broadway Central Building, the previous location of the late Club Maurice, and across the street from the recently opened Club Mirador. In September he attended the convention of the National Association of Masters of Dancing in Cleveland with the Cobián records in hand, and he introduced his new manual on Tango dancing. In his book Bareiro claimed a child could learn Tango in two hours. His Tango was reduced to 4 fundamental steps, the March, the Half Turn, the Lace Steps and the Promenade, but he listed 15 additional (optional) steps. Like Fowler and Tamara's, Bareiro's standard didn't quite stick, though some well known Tango dancers like Victor Silvester of London used it. Soon after presenting his work Bareiro returned to Paris. 

In late August Cobián was in Chicago with María Montero and mexican tenor José Mojica in the opening of the lavish Uptown Theater. That month the news from Paris were still peppered with stories about the new Tango fever taking over the French capital since the arrival of Canaro. Even London was caught in the new "Argentinitis", and the Prince of Wales went to Buenos Aires. Cobián's former associates, De Caro, Petrucelli and Maffia were now leading their own formations, filling the void left behind by Cobián and Arolas. De Caro played for the Prince, who danced Tango and even brought back a bandoneon to London with him. New York was supposed to be next. In early October Tito Roccatagliata died in Buenos Aires, vice took away the best of him. And then the trail of Cobián goes dead cold.


1. Here's one of Canaro's few recordings of Cobián, the gorgeous Tango Pico de oro from 1920. Also, the Tango Nobleza de arrabal, composed and played by Canaro in 1920. Canaro also recorded Cobián's Letanía in 1927.

2. John Perona is the stuff of legend too. In 1929 he, along with Sherman Billingsley, opened the Stork Club on 132 W 58th Street. Then in 1931 Perona split to open the nightclub El Morocco. Both spots were the places to be seen in New York for the next 3 decades, known for their exclusive clientele of Hollywood stars, and the rich and famous. And in their beginnings both places walked the very thin line of Prohibition. There are suggestions that Martín de Álzaga Unzué was an investor in one or both ventures.

3. In researching the History of Tango in the United States, the records digitized by the Heritage Foundation are a great aid, they document the entries to the New York area via Ellis Island (next to the Statue of Liberty). But there are many holes that Tampa helps explain, many of the performers that came to New York in that era made it through the Havana-Tampa connection. Sadly we have no records of this very busy port of entry.

4. It's very hard to tell the difference in the recording process in issues from 1923 through 1926 by listening to Columbia 78s, and maybe this was intentional. The labels did not want to come out saying "this new process sounds so much better than the old one" for fear of disrupting the market for old issues. And maybe the difference was not that much in the beginning, though the electric recordings eventually sounded much better than the acoustic ones.

5. The Yale Glee and Banjo Club was formed at least 58 years before Sleepy Hall came to El Patio. In the 1920s they toured the East Coast every December, touching as many as 20 cities in a series of Christmas concerts that was very popular. Sleepy was part of a new generation of players that made people not just listen but dance. His jazz orchestra recorded with many uncredited crooners for Brunswick's budget label Melotone in 1930 and 1931. It is said that Rudy Vallée recorded with him, though we found no such recording yet. In Christmas 1923 The Baltimore Sun wrote about Sleepy: 

The performance reached a climax when Sleepy Hall brought out his "enchanted" banjo. He is long and lanky, and so is his banjo. He sat down, wrapped himself around his banjo, grinned and went to sleep. The enchanted banjo played itself. It sounded like a jazz band. 

6. Here's two additional steps in Fowler and Tamara's Tango. Ahhhh, the hammock! 

7. As a label Okeh was not just a "niche player", it was instrumental in the rise of Jazz.



1. Enrique Binda

2. The Library of Dance by Nick Enge & Melissa Enge

3. Aníbal Kravchik

4. Dick Spottswood

5. Leonardo Palludi

6. Michael Lavocah

7. Camilo Gatica

8. Mark John


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

   SADAIC / Colección Testimonios

2. The blog Daytonian in Manhattan

3. Néstor Pinzón biography of Tito Roccatagliata for TodoTango


To my beautiful Lola