'That's Not Tango: Astor Piazzolla, a Life in Music' Comes to Jazz at Lincoln Center

Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Astor Piazolla Bandoleon performs on stage at The North Sea Jazz Festival on July 12 1985 in The Hague, Netherlands. 

Lesley Karsten, accompanied by a live band, plays Piazzolla: "He challenged all the rules. Well, why can't I challenge the rules?" she says.

The story of the great nuevo tango innovator Astor Piazzolla will be told onstage with a live tango band at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center on July 30 and 31.

That’s Not Tango: Astor Piazzolla a Life in Music features Lesley Karsten as Piazzolla, accompanied by a quartet performing the legend’s emotional, avant-garde compositions, with JP Jofre on bandoneón, Brandt Frederiksen on piano, Nick Danielson on violin and Pablo Aslan playing bass.

"I thought it was actually so much more interesting to have this kind of macho guy embodied by a woman." Karsten, a documentary filmmaker, pianist and singer, says. "He challenged all the rules. Well, why can't I challenge the rules? Why play it safe when you are developing a piece about a composer who didn't play it safe? That's part of his great strength and his legacy: He was brave and he took risks."

That’s Not Tango is a musical monologue in which Karsten, as Piazzolla tells the audience his mythical story, traveling from the musician and composer’s boyhood on New York's Lower East Side to Argentina and back again, laying bare Piazzolla’s family and internal conflicts, his genius and thorny character, his inspirations and complicated relationship with Argentina, his musical manifesto and milestones. The relevatory and compelling text is accompanied by Piazzolla’s songs including “Adíos Nonino” and “Milonga de Angel,” which, as any tango fans knows, make for a dramatic soundtrack.

Karsten wrote the musical biography performance piece with director Stephan Wadsworth after Natalio Gorín’s book Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir (translated into English by music critic Fernando Gonzalez.) It was previously performed at New York club SubCulture.

More performances and a possible tour are expected to be announced to coincide with the centennial of Piazzolla’s birth in 2021.