Ástor Piazzolla was an internationally renown bandoneon player, composer and orchestra director of the vanguardia. He is famous for incorporating elements of classical music and jazz to Argentine tango thus contributing to the development of tango nuevo. Some of his most famous compositions include “Adios Nonino” (1959), “Balada para un loco” (1969), Libertango (1974) and Oblivion (1984).
Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata. He grew up in New York City where his family moved when he was 3 years-old. His father, Vicente Piazzolla, was very fond of tango music and bought him a small bandoneon when he was 9 years-old.
When Carlos Gardel came to New York in 1934, Vicente sent his son to deliver a gift. Gardel, who didn’t speak any English, adopted little Piazzolla as a guide and interpreter around the city and got him to appear in the movie “El dia que me quieras” as a newspaper boy. Their complicity was such that Gardel invited Piazzolla to join him on his tour, but the father refused to let him go. Gardel and his entourage died in a plane crash in Columbia shortly after.
When his family returned to Argentina in 1936, Piazzolla began playing in traditional tango orchestras. He became a regular at the Café Germinal where he could watch Anibal Troilo perform over and over again until one day he was invited to join the orchestra. There he remained for 5 years, playing for Troilo and making room for himself as an arranger.
Though Troilo was progressist in many ways and gave Piazzolla some space to innovate, this was not nearly enough for Piazzolla who wanted to see tango evolve in a more radical way. He formed his own orchestra in 1946 and began exploring more freely with the sound of a tango nuevo. Yet again, he felt restrained in this culture of dancehalls and traditional tango. With the golden age still in full swing, Piazzolla was way ahead in his mind and unable to find his place in existing conditions.
In an attempt to escape from what he perceived as an inmutable institution, Piazzolla moved to Paris in the early 1950’s to study classical music at the conservatory of Fontainbleau. His intention was to distance himself from tango and the unbearable limitations it imposed on his idea of music. And this is where, with the help of Nadia Boulanger, he finally discovered his real voice and true connection to the music of Buenos Aires.
Back in Argentina, Piazzolla formed his controversial Octeto Buenos Aires, a not so typical orchestra which had the peculiarity of incorporating a cello and electric guitar, as well as elements of swing and other alterations which would earn him a fair amount of criticism. In 1958 he spent some time in New York and recorded with his first Quinteto. Back again in Argentina, he formed the Quiteto Nuevo Tango and continued experimenting with various bands such as the Nuevo Octeto and Sexteto Nuevo Tango.
True to his vision, Piazzolla persevered in spite of harsh criticism, rejection and financial difficulties. But his success on the international scene was phenomenal, and soon enough he conquered Argentina as well.
Astor Piazzolla was declared Ciudadano ilustre de Buenos Aires in 1985 and received a Premio Konex for his contribution to the music of Argentina. He died in 1992, shortly after dictating his memoirs to Natalio Gorin. That same year he received a posthumous Grammy Award for Oblivion . The airport of Mar del Plata where he was born was named “Aeropuerto Internacional Astor Piazzolla” in 2008.
 Gorin, Natalio. Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir. Alba Editoral, 2003. Print.