This is the text introduction to my article on Orlando Goñi. The article's twelve illustrations with captions are here.
Copyright © 2016 by Michael Krugman. All Rights Reserved.
Pianist Orlando Goñi is best known for his indelible contribution to Aníbal Troilo's orchestra between 1937 and 1943, and for the massive success of the brief solo career that followed, though it produced no commercial recordings. Born Orlando Cayetano Gogni in 1914 in Buenos Aires, Goñi made his professional debut at age thirteen in Alfredo Calabró's orchestra and soon after formed a sextet with his childhood friend Alfredo Gobbi. He performed with Miguel Caló, Manuel Buzón, and Anselmo Aieta. His unique, largely improvisatory style, influenced in part by the swing piano of Afro-American jazzman Teddy Wilson, was a key ingredient in the artistic success of the Troilo orchestra in its early years. Troilo tried to get his later pianists to imitate Goñi's style, with limited success. Goñi truly was insustituible, irreplaceable, as it says in the ad for his debut at the Palermo Palace.
Goñi met Aníbal Troilo while playing with Buzón and later with Juan Carlos Cobian. The two men shared not only a personal friendship, but an intense musical kinship as well. When Troilo formed his own orchestra in 1937 he invited his friend Goñi to be his pianist. Goñi, an inveterate bohemian, gambler, alcoholic, and drug user, took on an essential musical role in the group—his piano was its driving force—but he was often late for rehearsals and performances, or worse, absent altogether. Following a morning radio performance in September 1943, the story goes, Goñi told one of the band's violinists, Hugo Baralis, not to bother showing up for that evening's gig because he, Goñi, wouldn't be there. Both men were absent that night, both were sacked.  However, my researches to date suggest, but do not prove, that Troilo’s group did not appear on the radio during the month of September. It was a relatively inactive month for the band: they did not appear at the Tibidabo cabaret, their usual nightly haunt, until the very end of the month (28 September). My partial archive of radio schedules for September give no evidence of appearances by the Troilo orchestra. Further research is needed.
Historical accounts of Goñi's dismissal emphasize the pianist's dissolute lifestyle, portraying his frequent absences as the height of deliberate, devil-may-care bohemianism. The contemporary observer may wish to consider a somewhat tempered view of the situation. As a person suffering from multiple addictions—gambling, alcohol, and drugs are three that we know of—Goñi was seriously ill, and that illness may have produced any number of debilitating secondary symptoms including sleeplessness, mood swings, cognitive disturbances, adrenal exhaustion, tremors, etc. Furthermore, our study of the El Mundo newspaper reveals that Troilo was working his musicians quite hard during the weeks leading up to Goñi and Baralis's dismissal. One day in particular stands out: On the morning of Wednesday 4 August 1943, the band played five live segments in 2.5 hours on LR1 Radio El Mundo (three or four segments spread out over 3.5 hours was the norm). That afternoon, they recorded four songs for RCA Victor (two or three songs per date was the norm); the session must have consumed the entire afternoon and may have extended into the early evening hours. Next, the band was slated to appear at 9 p.m. on the wildly popular Ronda de Ases (“Round of Aces”) radio show, a tournament of típicas in which Troilo's men would meet and compete with the orchestras of Fresedo, Tanturi, Emilio Orlando, and Antonio Rodio, with most of Buenos Aires excitedly listening in. If, after that long day at the radio and in the studio, an exhausted, intoxicated Goñi had failed to show up for an episode of the all-important Ronda de Ases, forcing Troilo to drop out of the competition or settle for a pickup pianist, it's not hard to understand why the ever-kindly bandleader would have reached the limit of his tolerance.
In any case, it may be that Goñi's debilitated condition made it simply impossible for him to keep up with the rest of the band. Whether or not the fourth of August was in fact the day of Goñi's final, fateful default—the precise date is uncertain—our data from El Mundo gives us a very clear idea of the stresses under which this haunted soul was operating. The fourth of August was also the date of Goñi's last studio session with Troilo. The band would not record again until 30 September. By then, Goñi had moved on.
Upon his dismissal by Troilo, Goñi formed his own orchestra, with which he achieved instant acclaim and enjoyed extended engagements at the Bar El Nacional and the Palermo Palace—for a total of nineteen consecutive, sold-out weeks—as well as appearances on LR3 Radio Belgrano. As a "mere" orchestra pianist, Goñi had never before been named in newspaper ads, though he was well known to the fans. But as the leader of his own band, he was the subject of a remarkably vigorous advertising campaign rivaled only by those for superstar singers Castillo and Rufino. As a result, the ads in El Mundo provide us with rich documentation of Goñi's rapid rise to fame, and his ignominious decline.
 There are several versions of the story, differing in minor details.
Twelve illustrations with captions are here.