EB: How did the economic crisis change the Buenos Aires jazz scene?
PP: Before the crisis in 2001, a lot of groups came here. People like Dave Holland would come to play in clubs—not in big theaters—and they’d get paid really well. We’d get Madonna, Michael Jackson. And this was every week.
So, the truth is that for local musicians, it was very difficult to compete. One time, Dave Holland was playing in the auditorium of the Bauen three nights in a row. I couldn’t go, because I was playing two blocks away with my jazz group. It was really difficult.
EB: So Dave Holland was direct competition?
PP: Yes, and it was also one-to-one. [During the 90s and early 2000s, the Argentine peso was pegged to the value of the US dollar.] A ticket that cost $20 dollars would cost $20 pesos. It wasn’t expensive. Now, when artists come from abroad, they might still charge the venue $20 dollars, but now it’s $60 pesos for us. It costs a lot to go. But back then, Dave Holland would charge $20 pesos, and I would charge $10 pesos. That’s the situation we all faced.
When the whole dollar-to-peso peg exploded during the crisis, all of those artists stopped coming to Argentina. So what happened? The real music fans weren’t going to stop going out, but who were they going to see? Local musicians. I think those fans got a big surprise. Guillermo Klein had just started living here, and he had inspired a lot of musicians to create a new kind of music.
But it goes back before Guillermo, too. Quinteto Urbano released its first album in 2000, and that first track was a chacarera. I think it was the first jazz chacarera that I’d heard in my life.
The crisis really made us look inside ourselves. It was a time when everyone was leaving the country. All the musicians went to Spain or Italy, and those of us who stayed said, “I need to put my heart on my sleeve. I’m Argentine! I love Argentina! I’m going to play Argentine rhythms! And by doing that, I’m going to represent my country.”
EB: So, in a way, you became more Argentine than you’d ever been before...
PP: Totally. We stopped looking outside of the country. Sure, I still listen to Miles Davis, but before, you’d never hear a jazz musician talking about playing a bombo [an Argentine drum]. Now, it’s something that every jazz musician is interested in.
EB: And did the opening of places like Thelonious help build the scene too?
PP: Before playing jazz here was something very underground. I remember when I was younger going to hear Luis Salinas playing with Daniel Maza. I’d go from 11 at night until 6 in the morning. I’d just be sitting there drinking a beer or a whiskey, and nobody else would come.
There were only two places and nobody went to them. I remember those years with a lot of fondness, but I also remember how difficult it was—not to play, but difficult to be in that kind of a scene. The vibe was strange—empty clubs, no life. Now, it’s more natural. The new jazz feels like it has a real identity and people can really connect with that.
EB: And that has to do with the actual music that’s being played?
PP: I think so. It’s a movement that has a lot of power. Yesterday, we were rehearsing with Nicolas Sorín, the pianist, and we were talking about the quantity of groups there are right now that play original music. There’s Nicolas’s group, there are trios everywhere, there’s Inmigrantes, there’s Juan Cruz, there’s Argentos, there’s Mariano Otero’s band, there’s Rodrigo Dominguez, there’s Ernesto Jodos, there’s Sergio Verdinelli, there’s Pepi Taveira, and, yeah, a thousand other bands.
EB: And that’s only happened after the crisis?
PP: Yeah, before 2001, we all played in commercial projects. I played with Lito Vitale, a famous pianist from here. I played in a salsa band, I played rock. You had to do that. Now, between the classes and all the groups, I can play the music that I want to. Before, there wasn’t room to play this kind of music, there wasn’t a movement, there weren’t people who would call you to be a part of these groups or to record a new album. All these people are writing new music, and that was just never the case.
This interview has been translated from the original Spanish. It was conducted on July 9th, 2008 at Piazzolla's home in the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires.