Le Grand Tango

Le Grand Tango : The Life and Music of Astor Piazzolla

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Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) was the great pioneer of modern tango music, a masterly composer and bandoneon player who won increasing international fame with his Quintet in the 1980s, in Europe, North and South America, and Japan. Born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, he was taken by his parents to New York at the age of 4, and grew up on the tough streets of the Lower East Side. As a teenager he became passionately fond of both jazz and classical music, while also learning the bandoneon - the classic tango instrument, a member of the accordion family. On his return to Argentina at age 16, he quickly found his place in the flourishing tango world, then at its peak in Argentina, joining the most legendary dance band of the period, and in 1946 forming his own band. He studied with Alberto Ginastera and tried for a while to establish himself as a classical composer. In 1954-1955 he studied with the great Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She firmly told him to develop his own modern tango style, which he did in an extraordinary sequence of works, played by his notable groups - the Octet (1955), the first Quintet (1960), and the Nonet (1971). Piazzolla's revolutionary experiments with tango music brought him fierce hostility from traditional tango fans. He remained a highly controversial figure in Argentina for the rest of his life. In the mid-1970s, partly in frustration, he based himself in Europe, memorably collaborating with Gerry Mulligan and gradually becoming more widely known. He was briefly drawn into an unsuccessful 'electronic' phase (1975-1977) before reverting to his true strengths with the formation of the second Quintet (1978), noted over the next decade for its performances with the Italian singer Milva and the jazz genius Gary Burton. With the new Quintet and its brilliant 'contemporary chamber music', Piazzolla won genuine international renown, which has grown still greater since his death in 1992. In September 1997 Billboard Magazine called him 'the hottest composer around'.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 344 pages
  • 154.94 x 238.76 x 27.94mm | 635.03g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195127773
  • 9780195127775

Review quote

an excellent well written account ... rich in detail. Stan Woolley, Jazz Journal Internationalshow more

Table of contents

Foreword by Yo-Yo- Ma; Preface and Acknowledgements / Glossary of South American Terms / Family Tree; I STRUGGLE; 1. 'I was raised in New York' 1921-1937; 2. Into the Tango World 1937-1944; 3. The Road to Paris 1944-1955; 4. Octet and Jazz-Tango 1955-1960; 5. Leader of the Avant-Garde 1960-1967; 6. Piazzolla-Ferrer-Baltar 1967-1971; 7. Nonet and Breakdown; II MAN AND MUSICIAN; 8. Man; 9. Musician; III FAME; 10. All roads lead to Rome 1974-1975; 11. 'An electric Piazzolla' 1975-1977; 12. Up and down the Atlantic 1977-1981; 13. Sharks and Concertos 1981-1985; 14. Globetrotter with Bandoneon 1988-1992; 15. Sextet and Tragic Coda 1988-1992; Astor Piazzolla on Compact Disc / Notes / Sourcesshow more

About Maria Susana Azzi

Maria Susana Azzi is a board member of the Astor Piazzolla Foundation and the National Academy of Tango in Buenos Aires. This is her fourth book on the tango. She lives in Buenos Aires. Simon Collier is the author or co-author of seven books about Latin America, and is chairman of the Department of History at Vanderbilt University. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee."show more

Review Text

A composer and musician who went from pariah to legend in his own lifetime gets his first English-language biography from an oddly matched but somehow appropriate duo. Azzi is an expert on Argentine tango, Collier the chair of the history department at Vanderbilt (specializing in Latin America), and it would take two people to keep up with the mercurial and dynamic Piazzollaa man whose life and exploits took him from a small town in Argentina to New York's Lower East Side, then back to his native country and then, finally, all over the globe. The grandson of Italian immigrants to Mar del Plata, he spent much of his childhood in New York, a feisty little kid who managed to get expelled from a couple of the city's public schools. Introduced to the bandoneon, the sweeter-voiced cousin of the accordion that is the heart of tango music, Astor began performing at 11, and encountered tango god and international star Carlos Gardel at 14. Returning to Argentina, he studied composition with her greatest 20th-century composer, Alberto Ginastera, and would continue for the rest of his life to balance tango and classical music, as well as influences from jazz and even rock. It was those other influences that made Piazzolla a figure of violent controversy in the hermetic world of tango, while propelling him to international stardom, first outside Argentina and, finally, in it as well. Azzi and Collier tell the story of his arduous ascent in copious detail. Does anyone really need to know the name of Piazzolla's Parisian veterinarian (and why leave out his Buenos Aires counterpart), or the history of every personnel change in his band? Yet for all the interviews excerpted and reviews quoted, they tell little about the music, and assume entirely too much knowledge of both tango and Argentine history on the part of readers. Nearly definitive but utterly lacking in the fire that made Piazzolla so great. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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