At the end of the 19th century, in the brothels of the city of Buenos Aires, music began to be danced. That was the result of the mixture between the gauchos (Peasants born in Argentina), the Africans who were brought as slaves and the European migrants who had been fleeing from economic crises. At first, it is a dance and music relegated to the working classes, and it is also considered vulgar music, but that little by little is climbing the social scale to become the definitive music when I speak of Argentina.
First, we can speak of a pre-tango stage, with the payadores, who were troubadours who sang improvised lyrics accompanied by a guitar, using traditional Argentine rhythms such as milonga or candombe as a basis. But after the migratory wave of mostly Italians and Spaniards, the payadores are left aside to make way for new violin, guitar and flute or violin, harp and flute ensembles. On the other hand, with the arrival of the Europeans, the wind ensembles, traditional in Spain, also arrived playing. But quickly the most characteristic instrument will arrive, the bandoneon and later on, the piano will replace the guitar -or sometimes harp-, taking away the characteristics of a nomadic group. This is how the new tango ensembles began to be violin, bandoneon and piano. By 1916, there were already established orchestras such as the Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro orchestra. And it is precisely Canaro who incorporates the double bass into the tango, to help the rhythmic support. This is how the double bass initially has a very percussive function, which will be reflected in the different effects and marcatos when playing.
Although tango was no longer a marginalized and exclusive music of the working class, to become a music that was also listened to by the middle and upper class. Also, thanks to the arrival of the piano, orchestras began to settle in specific places where they played frequently and where playing tango was already considered a job. Until now, tango music is played A la Parrilla, which means without scores or arrangements. Because tango was a knowledge of oral tradition, but thanks to the social and economic advances that the growing Argentine society was having, access to education began to be easier and this came that many musicians began to study formally in schools and conservatories. . Thanks to this, tango music begins to develop not only with more virtuous and trained instrumentalists, but also with scores and arrangements which incorporated new colors, new instrumentation, new harmonies and more sophisticated elements. Thanks to these advances, tango in the mid-twentieth century was a music of cultural interest which was performed in concert halls.
History of double bass in Tango
The double bass began to be part of the history of tango in 1917, when Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro noticed that the orchestras needed a rhythmic reinforcement, because this music in the beginning was mainly for dancing. So that year, Leopoldo Thompson, who was a guitarist, began to play the double bass, thus becoming the first tango double bass player in the history of tango.
Thanks to the fact that the piano had already begun to replace the guitar, many guitarists began to play double bass or bandoneon. As was the case with “El Negro” Thompson, who was a guitarist in Canaro’s first ensemble. Then, thanks to Canaro, the double bass was established as one of the key instruments in tango.
As we said before, the double bass enters the orchestras to reinforce the piano rhythmically and to incorporate percussive sounds into the music. But thanks to the fact that many musicians began to study in conservatories and discover new possibilities, tango began to have more technical and musical challenges, which directly affected the performance of the double bass. Thus, in 1952, with the work “contrabajeando” written by Anibal Troilo and Astor Piazzolla, dedicated to Enrique “Kicho” Díaz, the double bass had a melodic line for the first time in history. Although in 1961 with his quintet, Piazzolla made a new arrangement of double bass, which is the best known version nowadays and where the double bass has a more prominent and virtuous role.
After contrabajeando, which was a piece with a leading role for bass, but it was not a piece written for solo double bass. It was later that pieces such as Kicho written by Astor piazzolla in 1968 were also dedicated to Kicho Díaz, De tal palo written by Leopoldo Federico dedicated to Horacio Cabarcos or Poema en gris by Horacio Cabarcos.
Thanks to these bass players and all of the orchestras that developed many different styles, nowadays we can find many pieces for double bass as a soloist or with an important role in this genre.