Samstag, 20. April 2024

Gardel in New York - Chapter 4: Francisco Vagnoni


Chapter 4: Francisco Vagnoni
by Terig Tucci with annotations by Camilo Gatica and José Manuel Araque


A Uruguayan musician, Francisco Vagnoni, who began his career in New York as a violinist, later reached one of the most important administrative positions in American radio. Rather tall, good-looking, cordial, with a "cachador" mustache, Vagnoni spoke little and listened a lot and displayed an enigmatic smile, which lent his attitude and personality a certain oriental inscrutability.

At the time, he held the position of assistant administrator of the station's music department. To him we owed the orchestra of thirty Latin American musicians, among them Remo Bolognini, Osvaldo Mazzucchi, Domingo Guido, Rafael Galindo, Joe Biviano, Joe Kahn, besides the entire staff of "El tango romántico" and, of course, Hugo Mariani in the orchestra direction and myself in the instrumental arrangements.

A day or two after Gardel's first program, we met an old Argentine friend, Mr. Vicente Piazzolla, father of Astor, the remarkable bandoneonist and composer, who recapitulated his impressions of the program by saying to me:

-You have brought a piece of Buenos Aires to Northern lands; it is as if the Rio de la Plata flowed into New York Bay....

The enormous success of Gardel's presentations and the criollo flavor of his programs were due, to a great extent, to Francisco Vagnoni. It was imperative that we treated this man with all the deference; which was not difficult at all, given his pleasant personality.


Francisco (Frank) Vagnoni is a bit of a mystery. On September 23, 1925, Vagnoni (a violinist) arrived in New York from Uruguay in the company of Abraham Thevenet (pianist) and Doroteo Andrada (violinist). In his immigration papers he declared that he had been to New York in 1921, but we found no record of that entry (did he come via Tampa?). Thevenet and others in the group used Mariani as reference. 

We speculate they were summoned by Mariani to record with his Orquesta Típica for Gennet Records.

There were not that many opportunities for recording Tango after 1926, so Mariani went to work for Radio. He became one of the top orchestra directors in the roster of NBC, and starting in early 1927 he appeared many times on the Blue Network (WEAF, WJZ and others). A few months after Mariani's first public performance on radio, and for a couple of years, Frank Vagnoni was conducting for NBC too. Since 1929 Victor and NBC were part of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), the airwaves had become the dominant medium for music distribution. The evidence points to a solid relationship between Mariani and Vagnoni, but we do not know who was working for who or when. The fact that Tucci dedicates an entire chapter of his memoir to Vagnoni seems to indicate that Vagnoni was the bigger fish, and that he brought Tucci to lead the orchestra that played on movies and recorded with Gardel with Mariani's blessing. Vagnoni went on to work for NBC and ABC and was an executive of some prominance for more than 20 years, but he is never mentioned among the musicians that played with Gardel.

Tucci names the musicians he directed in the 13 Gardel recordings he directed, two in August 1934, the rest in March 1935. Remo Bolognini was there of course, in the company of Joseph Kahn, Osvaldo Mazzuchi and Rafael Galindo, all men of the New York Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini. Mazzuchi, a cellist, was from Uruguay, and was in New York since at least 1919, and in the New York Philharmonic since 1925. Galindo, a violinist, was from Mexico, the son of a notable cellist. He was educated in France and came to New York from Madrid in 1927.

In 1929 Mazzuchi and Galindo joined Leon Fleitman (viola) and Angelo Sasso (violin), also of the Philharmonic, and formed the American Pro-Art Quartet and played on radio for a couple of years. When Toscanini formed the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1937, all these men were part of the ensemble. 

In 1926, at 18 years of age, Joe Biviano was discovered by an NBC executive playing the accordion in the Staten Island Ferry. He was the go-to accordion player at NBC for years, and we think he played with Mariani since 1928.

We don't know why Tucci only names Joseph Kahn as the pianist. Abraham Thevenet is officially listed by the Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) in the 1935 recordings, maybe Kahn played the single recording session of 1934. We do know that Kahn had a long and lasting friendship with Bolognini. In the picture below, Kahn plays the trombone while Remo plays the clarinet aboard the USS Uruguay, in Toscanini's tour of South America in 1940.

Tucci does not mention violinist Horacio Zito, listed by the DAHR in a handful of iconic Gardel recordings like Volver. Zito, also from Uruguay and a friend of Mariani, was in New York since 1928, and recorded for Brunswick in 1931/1932. When Gardel arrived in New York, Zito's Poema Orchestra was playing regularly at a Thé Dansant in the Empire Room of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (as did the orchestras of Xavier Cugat and Enric Madriguera, while Ramón and Rosita danced). One open question is whether Zito's Orchestra was really Mariani's old Típica.

Finally, Tucci also fails to mention Vicente A. Navatta, also from Uruguay and a cellist, and also listed by DAHR in the 1935 recording sessions. Navatta came to New York in August 1923 using Domingo Guido (bass) as reference. Guido came to New York in 1920 with Hugo Mariani using Mazzuchi as reference, which begs the question: why didn't Mariani direct his men in the Gardel recordings? One  possibility is that Toscanini's men (and the rest of the project) were under contractual obligations to Victor, and Tucci was Victor's man.

To round up his short chapter on Vagnoni, Tucci name-drops Vicente Piazzolla, who came to New York with his son Astor in April 1925. Astor was a pupil of Andrés d'Aquila, a pianist that on ocassion played in a trio with Tucci. A few days before Gardel's arrival, 11-year Astor had been playing the bandoneon in a fiesta at the Central Branch of the Brooklyn YWCA. Alas, Tucci did not use Astor in the Gardel recordings.