AKA: El Rey del compás
Violinist, leader and composer
(14 December 1900 - 14 January 1976)
Place of birth: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Juan D'Arienzo was in many ways the engine that drove the Golden Age - by virtue of his orchestra filling the dance halls. His beat, his sound and his musicians were just amazing. When he arrived in the latter 1930's, he infused a whole new life and energy into Tango.
Juan studied the violin from the age of 12. His first public performance was in theaters with D'Agostino and Bianchi. Through his 20's, he played in orchestras making all kinds of music. In 1926, he returned to Tango as the violinist in Orchesta Tipica Paramount. He stopped playing when he began fronting his own orchestra and became a recording star.
D’Arienzo's genius was in his simplicity, something he was also criticized for. Yet the evidence was clear: the crowds would line up to fill his milongas, to the point that he almost single handedly made the tango popular for all the orchestras at the time. As Anibal Troilo said about him:
“Laugh if you will... but without him, we’d all be out of work”.
D'Arienzo's orchestra was based on five violins, bases, five bandoneons, cantors and the piano. He rarely played with a smaller orchestra and often performed with a much larger one. The first element was the quintessential piano of Rodolfo Biagi: hard rhythm, uniformly stressing four beats in each bar, and filling any gaps of the melody. Next the violin: preferably performed solo, and highlighting serious changes in the bandoneon staccato, extremely fast.
Luis Adolfo Sierra, in The Evolution of Instrumental Tango, 1966, describes it as follows:
"And the phenomenon of the resurrection of the tango dance was the the result of a main character who created a mode of interpretation of a style: Juan D'Arienzo... That is, a rigid marking, cutting, accelerated, relentless movement in contrast to 'staccato' and silences, with frequent passages of piano emphasized strongly in the right hand, the subject of a melody or counter melody on the same form of execution... technically simple, but enhanced by a remarkable instrumental play."
D'Arienzo's directing style was also highly unorthodox: acrobatic; humorous on stage; going close up to the orchestra musicians, and imploring them to be more lively, almost egging them on. His, as they say, is the 'camp' style of directing; a most amusing thing to see on some of his vintage videos.