With more than sixty years behind him as a bandoneón player, Victor Lavallén remains an unknown to the general public. Yet he played in the best orchestras, travelled the world and was summoned by the great masters. Have a read and get to know this great musician who recently took a big step and dared to head his own ensemble.
In a bar of the neighborhood Abasto Victor Lavallén is just another regular customer. He has neither the attitude of a star, nor of a philosopher when it comes to tango. He speaks in an unpretentious manner and uses expressions from the past, like hacer capote (extremely successful). He could be taken as Porteño, but comes from Rosario; he could be considered to be just one more bandoneón player, but is an outstanding artist. He's what you would call 'low profile'.
That's the only way to explain why his second CD as a soloist, Buenosaireseando, in which he leads a quintet combining spirited versions of classics like Canaro in Paris and La Tablada with inspired tangos composed by himself, like Meridional and Romance de primavera, passed by without too much attention. This is something that can be said of his entire career. Words like "marketing" do not exist in his vocabulary and in his unconscious they go against how he understands tango. "Maybe I should get a manager", he mumbles at one point during the interview.
Let's have a look at his long history: Lavallén started to play in the fifties when the entire city breathed tango and there was a circuit of people who fed the basic necessity to hear the great orchestras. When he started he played the bandoneón for directors like Miguel Caló, Enrique Mario Francini, Joaquín Do Reyes and Lorenzo Barbero.
But the most important step he took was entering the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese in 1958, which had reached its zenith and needed a musician who was bandoneón player and arranger at the same time. There he met other "kids" like Osvaldo Ruggiero, Julián Plaza, Emilio Balcarce, Cacho Herrero and Alcides Rossi. In 1968 the same musicians packed their suitcases and moved with him to Sexteto Tango, which remained on the publicity boards for some twenty years and still cries out for belated recognition. "It was the same old story: we didn't know how to sell ourselves. The Sexteto Mayor, Libertella and Stazo were smarter and really made the orchestra get around."
Today, at the age of 76, Lavallén is very active, has his own CD recently released and concerts coming up. A talk with him is also a good excuse to find out firsthand this other tango history, which is not found in any of the glorifying and anecdotal books. Although he's not aware of it, his stories are authentic vignettes of the everyday tango, far away from its mystification.
"As a child I lived in Rosario," he starts his story, "but I spent some years in Buenos Aires too and in 1943 I happened to be neighbor of Aníbal Troilo. But at that moment I was not at all interested in the bandoneón and even less in tango. I was passionate about jazz and the trumpet. Everything changed though at the age of 14, when I started to study the bandoneón."
I went back to Rosario and the entire family of my father consisted of musicians. My father, Luis Chera, had an orquesta tipica. Destiny was sealed: we had piano players and double bass players in our family. They gave me a bandoneón and my uncle, Héctor Antonio Chera, started to teach me and I slowly turned into a musician. Later on I went back to Buenos Aires to study. I met Eladio Blanco, who played with D'Arienzo and taught me for about a year. At the same time I started to perform live with the ensemble Los Serrano in the Piccadilly. They were good musicians, but they threw me out after three days because I didn't have any experience. They advised me to start by playing with the suburban orchestras.
Generally yes, because there were plenty of orquestas tipicas in the suburbs and they were all busy. But there was a lack of bandoneón players and Los Serrano called me again and for two years I played with them. After that other jobs came up: In 1951 I played with the orchestras of Antonio Arciari and Miguel Caló. I remember a journey to Brazil with Caló, which was a big success. He was also well known in Peru and Chile.
No, it was more to listen. At the time of this first tour to Brazil I was 15 years old and it felt the same way it would feel today to tour with a rock band. In the audience there were girls who threw flowers and really listened to us, as tango drove people mad. People tend to forget that today: Music and musicians, at that time, hacian capote, were extremely successful. The orchestra of De Angelis, for instance, overwhelmed Chile with its singers.
In plenty of them. I was part of the orchestra of Joaquín Do Reyes and Enrique Mario Francini, who had just left Armando Pontier. I was the first bandoneón player and was lucky to play with the great masters of the instrument: Leopoldo Federico, Máximo Mori and Julián Plaza. But I most loved the style of Osvaldo Ruggiero.
I admired him a lot and he played the style of the orchestra of Pedro Laurenz. He had a very spirited way of playing, very extroverted With Laurenz I was lucky to perform in Radio Belgrano; but there are great masters I never listened to, like Pedro Maffia for instance, who was certainly famous. He had a style very much about the phrasing, and introspective, like Aníbal Troilo, like Ciriaco Ortiz.
No, it was only a job for us. An enjoyable one, of course. Nowadays tango has become a heritage of humanity, but for us it had a different meaning, we didn't think of tango that way. We enjoyed playing and there were so many places to do it. A musician who played in an orchestra had a lot of work. Consider that we had three important tango radio stations, Belgrano, Splendid and El Mundo, and plenty of less important ones. They all had their stable orchestra. On the weekends we played at the dance events. I started work at noon and reached home at 2 in the morning. I spent more time away than at home.
Yes. That happened to me when I played with Osvaldo Pugliese. I still remember it very well: We travelled to Russia in 1959. When we came back Billy Cafaro appeared and all these people from Club del Clan, which was created by one of the directors of the RCA, Ricardo Mejía: a disaster. It didn't happen from one day to the next: Pugliese kept on filling the clubs, tango was still attractive, it's not that it disappeared all of a sudden, but certain worrying symptoms started to appear.
His orchestra was very famous, but besides that he had a great idea. Initially he wrote all the arrangements himself, but later on musicians entered the orchestra and changed them. Julio Carrasco, for instance, wrote some arrangements, Osvaldo Ruggiero added new ideas for the harmonies and Emilio Balcarce did orchestration right from the start. From then on everybody who entered the orchestra had to play and arrange at the same time. That's why the orchestra went so far. It never got stuck to one way of doing things: in each period it had very good musicians taking care of this. Only towards the end the orchestra kind of faded and was not as before. One of the great ideas of Pugliese was to lead the orchestra like a cooperative, honoring those who worked more than others.