Singing and playing tango and jazz at an unexpected music party

Henry and Franklin performing El Choclo

I suddenly got email from Henry on a Friday afternoon while I was at work. He invited me to join him at some guy’s party in the evening to play some tangos, since the party was going to have an “Argentina” theme. My first thought was that Abby was not going to be able to go, and I myself had made plans to rest up before my very important training run Saturday morning for the Pittsburgh Marathon, but the opportunity to meet some new musicians and other people, and express my love for passionate tango music, made me decide, after consulting with Abby, to attend the party.

The good news was that I had done some tango music earlier, so there was some reuse possible. Last year, I had finally worked up the courage to do some singing, and rather enjoyed singing classic traditional tango in particular, such as “Por una Cabeza”. And this year, I had finally given a shot at playing tango on flute, playing both “El Choclo” as well as “Por una Cabeza” (as a flute-violin duet).

The bad news was that someone else was already going to play “Por una Cabeza” on violin, so that left me with only one other tango I had played with Henry before, “El Choclo”, whose contrasts of staccato/legato and minor/major, with a lot of room for rubato and ornamental bravado quite appeal to me.. I wanted a tango to sing, and by sheer coincidence, I knew exactly which tango I always wanted to sing, but had only half-sung it to myself in private: this was “Uno”, by Mariano Mores from 1943.


By coincidence, only a couple of days ago, the Spanish actress/singer Sara Montiel died, and in her memory I rewatched and reposted a video clip of her singing “Uno” in a film:

I believe that I first came across “Uno” by accident when some years ago I found Montiel’s performance while searching for other tangos. In any case, it was love at first hearing, and made it to my list of tangos I wanted to sing some day. I’d put off this project for some good reasons, but today I decided I wanted to give it a shot!

So I hastily found a score, printed out the lyrics, and after eating dinner at home after work, and just an hour or so before the party, I worked on being able to sing the Spanish lyrics without completely stumbling over myself. Most songs in Spanish I can sing with no problem, but “Uno” features a huge number of words in the lyrics, which means there are considerable challenges:

I knew I wasn’t going to get everything perfect in time in less than half an hour of determining where to break things up and where to link things, and actually doing this fluently, so I was nervous, but I’ve learned that when it comes to music, perfect technique is not the most important thing; I felt I could reasonably well convey the emotional content of this song despite imperfections.

The party

It was a great party, with food, music, and conversation, and I was excited to meet a whole bunch of new people of all ages. I hope the next time Bob and his wife host another music party, Abby will be able to attend too!

Before the musical part of the party began, Henry and I spent about five minutes in the basement, with him on the upright piano down there, and me singing, trying to read through “Uno” together so that it would be at least halfway presentable.

We performed “El Choclo” and “Uno” near the end of the program (since we were last minute additions that didn’t make it onto the printed program). I was physically shaking while doing both of them, because I was in front of a completely new crowd of people and just wasn’t as prepared as I would have preferred. But it was a friendly crowd, and the audience seemed to enjoy our music-making. I was happy to have contributed something to the “Argentina” theme with some authentic Golden Age tango music.

What was really enjoyable about this music party was that so many of the guests participated in performing something: young and old, amateur and professional. This welcoming atmosphere was wonderful.

Jazz, improvisation

After the official music program ended, some people continued to jam. This guy I met, Keith, was particularly interesting to me, as he is a wind player, and played both soprano saxophone and flute on the program, and then after the program, was doing jazz standards on alto saxophone. I was so inspired by this that I decided I wanted to do some jazz also. I bring a little binder of music nowadays when I go to musical parties, just in case, and happened to have on me “Sweet Lorraine”, which I had never played before other than to myself with a CD track. So I got Henry to the piano so that we could just go for it and improvise to the chord changes. We totally got into it and I really enjoyed the jamming. I really enjoy nothing more than improvisation, and appreciate that Henry is game for doing this with me, as when we were doing it with Latin jazz (bolero and cha cha) last month.


I had tremendous fun attending Bob’s party, seeing so many people sing or play an instrument, all of us sharing our love of music together. I was very inspired by everyone who contributed something of their unique soul there, and I feel like this is what life is all about.

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