Astor Pantaleon Piazzolla was an Argentine tango composer and bandoneon player. His oeuvre revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. An excellent bandoneonist, he regularly performed his own compositions with different ensembles.
Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921 to Italian parents, Vicente Nonino Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti. His grandfather, a sailor and fisherman named Pantaleone Piazzolla, had immigrated to Mar del Plata from Trani, a seaport town in the southeastern Italian region of Apulia, at the end of the 19th century. Astor Piazzolla spent most of his childhood with his family in New York City, where he was exposed to both jazz and the music of J. S. Bach at an early age. While there, he acquired fluency in four languages: Spanish, English, French, and Italian. He began to play the bandoneon after his father, nostalgic for his homeland, spotted one in a New York pawn shop. At the age of 13, he met Carlos Gardel, another great figure of tango, who invited the young prodigy to join him on his current tour. Much to his dismay, Piazzolla's father deemed that he was not old enough to go along. While he did play a young paper boy in Gardels movie El dia que me quieras [*], this early disappointment of being kept from the tour proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it was on this tour that Gardel and his entire band perished in a plane crash. In later years, Piazzolla made light of this near miss, joking that had his father not been so careful, he wouldn't be playing the bandoneonhe'd be playing the harp.
At Ginastera's urging, in 1953 Piazzolla entered his Buenos Aires Symphony in a composition contest, and won a grant from the French government to study in Paris with the legendary French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. In 1954 he and his first wife, the artist Dede Wolff, left Buenos Aires and their two children (Diana aged 11 and Daniel aged 10) behind and travelled to Paris. The insightful Boulanger turned Piazzolla's life around in a day, as he related in his own words:Piazzolla, Astor. A Memoir, Natalio Gorin, Amadaeus, 2001, pp. 70-1