Friday, November 29, 2013

Origins of Jazz; Origins of Tango

It was 1906.  People were coming and going as usual along Perdido Street in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans.  A five-year-old child peeking out the window watched that boring sameness with open eyes and very open ears, as if he expected something to happen.
  It happened.  Music exploded from the corner and filled the street.  A man was blowing his cornet straight up to the sky and around him a crowd clapped in time and sang and danced.  And Louis Armstrong, the boy in the window, swayed back and forth with such enthusiasm he nearly fell out.
  A few days later, the man with the cornet entered an insane asylum.  
They locked him up in the Negro section.
  That was the only time his name, Buddy Bolden, appeared in the newspapers. He died a quarter of a century later in the same asylum, and the papers did not notice.  But his music, never written down or recorded, played on inside the people who had delighted in it at parties or at funerals.
  According to those in the know, that phantom was the founder of jazz.
-Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors

Since a late nite at a jazz club in Paris, I have held the notion that New Orleans wouldn't have been the one to invent jazz if it hadn't been for the French influence (or Haitian) on the Crescent City.

It was born in the River Plate, in the whorehouses on the outskirts of the city.  Men danced it among themselves to pass the time, while the women attended to other customers in bed.  Its slow, stuttering melodies echoed in the alleyways where knives and sadness reigned.
  The tango wore its birthmark on its forehead, harsh life in the lower depths, and for that reason was not allowed in anywhere else.
  But what was unpresentable managed to pry open the door.  In 1917, led by Carlos Gardel, the tango turned up in downtown Buenos Aires, climbed onstage at the Esmeralda Theater, and introduced itself by name.  Gardel sang "Mi noche triste" and tango's isolation was over.
Bathed in tears, the snobbish middle class gave it a raucous welcome that washed away its original sin.
  That was the first tango Gardel ever recorded.  It still gets played and it sounds better and better.  The call Gardel "the Magician."  It is no exaggeration.

I can remember a big picture of Gardel in the Paris Underground, and I dream of Argentine Tango Diplomacy and Empanada Diplomacy to connect Europa to Argentine's Southern European outpost and colony existence.  But Argentina's tangoed state of affairs means that I don't expect much from it, let alone more cultural diplomacy outreach.

No comments: