Samstag, 20. April 2024

Gardel in New York - Chapter 2: The first radio program


Chapter 2: The first radio program
by Terig Tucci with annotations by Camilo Gatica and José Manuel Araque

The following day we met at the music room of the hotel. Rested now and after a succulent breakfast, in which we could appreciate the magnificent morning appetite of Castellano, the pianist, Gardel vigorously rubbing his hands together, with the impetus of an explorer who comes to conquer new worlds, all infinitely more cordial and enthusiastic than the previous evening, we began to go over the songs with which Gardel would debut on NBC in those same days. Mariani suggested as rubric of the programs the tango "Buenos Aires". This song, which seemed to us a happy choice, met with Gardel's immediate approval.

Buenos Aires was the city most identified with the artist's career. Since his arrival with his mother from his native France, when he was a very young boy, it was Buenos Aires where Gardel made his first steps. Buenos Aires, which later consecrated him as his favorite artist and baptized him with the name of El Zorzal Criollo.

When we had compiled the first program and after some instructions from Gardel and Mariani, I took the piano and singing parts to my house, to begin to prepare the orchestrations.

We had to make the most of the limited time we had, working on eight orchestrations and rubric, for an orchestra of thirty professors, which had to be ready in forty-eight hours. I worked all that day, that night, the next day and part of the night. Fortunately, I completed my task in just enough time to take a few hours of much-needed rest.

Bright and early that morning - the day of rehearsals and the program - with my assignment brought to a happy conclusion, I left my house, exhilarated as a child, heading for the NBC studios. We had a piano rehearsal beforehand. Some observations and corrections by Gardel were duly taken into account. With great satisfaction on my part, I was able to observe that Gardel was an extremely cooperative, accessible, approachable artist. His remarks were made as suggestions, almost shyly, fearful that his corrections might offend us.

After piano rehearsals we all went to the Santa Lucia, a small but magnificent Italian restaurant, located on 54th Street and Seventh Avenue, a few blocks from the NBC studios.

That same afternoon the orchestra rehearsals for the radio program were to take place. I was quite nervous, knowing the responsibility that fell on me as the author of the orchestrations and I kept asking myself: Will he like my work? will he challenge my efforts? Trying to overcome my doubts, I said to myself: I will know how to interpret his reaction by his gestures, by his expression... But, even though I was trying to get my courage up, terror tormented me and a cold sweat ran down my body.

It was time for the test. The professors were seated at their respective music stands; Gardel, completely self-possessed, was examining his songs; from his podium, Hugo Mariani, getting ready to start the rehearsal and clanging his baton, called the orchestra to order.

The first piece that was rehearsed was "Buenos Aires", the song that was to serve as rubric. Before an orchestra of that size, Gardel, fearful that it would interfere too much and thus hinder his work as interpreter, listened to the accompaniment with great attention and a certain suspicion, while he sang the lyrics in a low voice. He did not tolerate that anything could interfere with his singing, from time to time he would cast furious glances in the direction of the musicians. It was obvious that the artist considered the orchestra to be an opposing group... and dealing with this gang of musicians was no easy task. He was used to singing with guitars, which accompanied the singer in the simplest, sometimes naive terms, entirely subordinated to the fantasy or whim of the interpreter.

Until then Gardel had never sung with an orchestra of thirty professors, like the one that confronted him that afternoon, and very rarely with any orchestra, in which case the orchestral accompaniment had always been just a timid, shy murmur, reduced to filling the gaps in the melody, sometimes with true instrumental virtuosity, but generally anodyne, insubstantial chatter.

Before I began writing the instrumentations, I had taken the precaution of studying a number of Gardel's records with orchestral accompaniment. With rare exceptions, I found them inadequate. Accustomed to the aesthetics of North American instrumentation (the introduction of the microphone brought great modifications in the art of orchestral playing for radio and record) that Gardelian premise of musical shyness was difficult to accept. However, we could not upset the performer's wishes too much by abruptly introducing sound combinations to which he was not accustomed. My aesthetic credo is to merge performer and orchestra into a single sound mass; that the orchestra comments on the infinite emotional gradations of the song with the same intensity infused by the performer and that together, performer and orchestra, running through the range of human emotions, reach the vehement culmination of the interpretative realization, as in the climax of a drama.

That same afternoon I had the opportunity to verify that my strategy was well founded. One of the pieces being rehearsed was Charlo's beautiful tango "Cobardía". The refrain begins with the words:

“Yo sé que es mentira
todo lo que estás diciendo,
que soy en tu vida
solo un remordimiento”.

Thus he describes the painful via crucis of the tormented lover.

A stubborn crescendo of mortifying unhappiness reaches its climax in a strong emotional explosion, in which the instrumental forces, following the cumulative curve of the performer, burst into a powerful chord followed immediately by the echo, noble and resigned in harmony, which is almost a sigh of four brass instruments -two horns and two trombones, pianissimo- over which the performer announces the end of his immense tragedy:

“Lo sé, y sin embargo
Sin esa mentira
No puedo vivir.”

For an instant, we were all galvanized by the masterful interpretation of this superb artist, even those present who did not understand the Spanish text. We all, as one person, applauded with frenzied enthusiasm. Gardel, happy for his first triumph in New York, turned to me, and with the typical gesture of complete approval, consisting of holding his thumb and forefinger to the right side of his upper lip, as if twisting an imaginary moustache, he announced in the purest porteño accent:

-Che Tucci, macanudo viejo. ¡Macanudo!

That same night, the triumphant voice of Carlos Gardel, the zorzal criollo who came to conquer new laurels in the northern skies, was heard in countless millions of American homes.


The day after his arrival, on Friday December 29 at 1PM, Carlos Gardel attended a lunch party in his honor at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Madison Av at 46th Street (walking distance from the Waldorf). Hugo Mariani attended too, the event was sponsored by NBC to introduce Gardel to the Latinamerican diplomatic corps. The "King of Tango" was finally in New York (sadly this monicker was now overused, Eduardo Bianco was still in town and also called himself "king"). The event at the Ritz-Carlton was transmitted live on a handful of stations including WEAF in New York.

The Ritz-Carlton was built in 1911 and was the very definition of extravagance. It featured a palm court, a japanese garden and a roof garden, an a large main dining room open to events. It probably had seen better days in 1933. Of course Gardel sang.

Tucci had little time to work on his arrangements, though there must have been a plan in place before Gardel arrived. For one thing, NBC was going live with the singer in 48 hours, and the singer had barely met his Orchestra for rehearsals. Mariani brought his old "Orquesta de Maestros" to play with Gardel. This group was associated with Mariani for years, it was likely a studio orchestra that Mariani could mold to the incesant change of programming in radio, it played everything from jazz to latin rhythms and more. Mariani poached from this NBC stable and likely added one or more of his South American associates to the group. This Orchestra probably had some familiarity the material before meeting Gardel. They only had one shot at it.

Who was Terig Tucci? Not much is known about the historical Terig Tucci before he met Gardel. He was born in Buenos Aires on June 23, 1897. He learned to play the piano, violín, bandola and other stringed instruments. In the early 1920s Tucci is said to have conducted some minor groups. He arrived in New York on July 13, 1923 (a few weeks before Cobián), and apparently worked odd jobs (construction) for a while. In September 1930 Tucci played tangos on the independent radio station WRNY, with a group called "Trio Pampa" that included pianist Andrés D'Aquila. In November of the same year Tucci directed an orchestra for Columbia in two recordings by Spanish singer Consuelo Moreno, his first and only documented credit conducting in the studio before Gardel. Moreno and Tucci worked on and off through the rest of the decade.

Tucci was then hired by RCA/Victor/NBC as an arranger, and he became close with Alfredo J. Cibelli, an Italian mandolinist that had risen to become director of Victor's foreign music department. Perhaps confused about Tucci's origin, Cibelli asked Tucci to work on Colombian music, which started the long association Tucci had with that genre. Cibelli would later be credited as session supervisor for Gardel's Victor recordings.

In 1931 Tucci appeared on WOR radio accompanying the Trío Los Charros, formed by young Mexican singer Tito Guizar with Chago Rodríguez and Juárez H. García. Los Charros soon disbanded, and in September 1933 we find Tucci credited as the composer of two Rumbas recorded by Chago Rodríguez.

At 10:30PM EST on Sunday December 31, 1933, as the country waited for the start of a New Year, Gardel and Mariani and Tucci went live on the Blue Network. The show was re-transmitted to stations across the eastern United States.


Curiously, on the same schedule a 15-minute live program was brought over short-wave all the way from Argentina on competing station WABC.