Astor Piazzolla, who would revolutionize the sound of the tango, was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina on March 11, 1921. He spent most of his childhood in New York after his family moved there in 1925. While living in New York, the youngster was exposed to jazz, the compositions of J.S. Bach, and he became fluent in four languages.
When Astor was eight years old, his father saw a bandoneón in a pawn shop window, and because he was homesick, he bought it for his son at a cost of nineteen dollars. A bandoneón is a type of Argentine accordion. He had no idea that by playing this instrument his son would become known as the “Father of New Tango.”
Piazzolla had a gift for the instrument and returned to Argentina in 1937 where he performed with several orchestras. Pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, who was living there at the time, advised him to study with innovative Argentinian composer, Alberto Ginastera. The composer urged Piazzolla to enter one of his compositions, Buenos Aires Symphony, in a contest. As a result, Piazzolla won a grant to study in Paris with legendary French composition instructor, Nadia Boulanger.
The visionary Boulanger turned his life upside down. When reviewing his work she said, “These are well written but here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but do you know what’s wrong? I can’t find Piazzolla in this.” She helped him find and focus on his own musical voice which eventually became known as nuevo tango.
Nuevo tango is distinctly different from traditional tango because it is an audacious fusion of jazz, classical music, and experimental sounds. He also uses improvisation, contrasting, intricate rhythms, and extended harmonies. Piazzolla’s use of his native country’s bandoneón, also gives his music unique character.
Throughout his career Piazzolla performed and recorded extensively. He held concerts in around the world and the popularity of his complex nuevo tango style grew. He was also a prolific composer who wrote approximately 3,000 pieces and recorded nearly 500 of them. In 1990 Piazzolla suffered a stroke in Paris and died two years later in Argentina leaving his legacy of nuevo tango to be continued by the next generation of innovative musicians.