De izquierda a derecha: Frank Portillo, Gastón La Serie, Frank Domínguez, Alfredito León y Dandy Crawford.
De izquierda a derecha: Frank Portillo, Gastón La Serie, Frank Domínguez, Alfredito León y Dandy Crawford.

Frank Domínguez: As in a dream

22 minutos / Sigfredo Ariel

29.03.2019 / Interviews

I visited it for the first time thanks to Arturo Arias Polo, who had enrolled me in the script of a documentary for University Television about Frank's music, which was never made for varied and rather stupid reasons. We had thought of Xiomara Laugart to interpret some of his songs and both -composer and interpreter- were delighted with the idea. That work would have been very good, I still think. From that visit we talked several times in his small apartment on 23rd Street, in Vedado. He gave me access to his scrapbooks and photographs; also to his records and some texts he had written with memories and poems. It had a beautiful handwriting, Palmer calligraphy, "normal teacher," clarified.

I interviewed him on various programs for the radio station for which I worked and we talked on the phone many times. "I am a telephone person", he defined himself, although he also liked to send letters and postcards by mail. I often required it, inconsiderately, to consult a date, a detail of a letter of any song or ask your opinion on this or that interpreter or composer. More than for any other reason, I called him for the pleasure that his dialogue provoked, always sympathetic and often incisive. We talked about music and many other things, he was a fantastic talker.

We met one afternoon, in passing, in the old studios of San Miguel Street, for the days when he finished one of his records with arrangements by Rey Montesinos and the participation of his comadre Elena Burke, a project that made him very happy. It had not been recorded for decades. The disc includes Take refuge in me, the first song he composed; Because you got used to me, the most widespread, best known by Tú me acostumbraste; Imágenes; You will remember me; A little piece of heaven and Moon over Matanzas -That Celia Cruz recorded-, along with other more recent ones, such as My song to Havana, The absent rose and Sad goodbye, youth. He had plans to make other recordings because he believed that the ice had already been broken, but that was not possible: the hole in the ice quickly closed again for Frank.

In a few pages that I keep -in which he organized part of his "resume" or Curriculum vitae-, typed by him, corrected and augmented by his hand, was portrayed from his zodiacal sign Libra, with ascendant Scorpion, in this way: "lover of harmony and justice", and later, "the air makes me eager for novelty and changes. " Perhaps that astral yearning was one of the reasons that prompted him in 1993 to go to Merida, Yucatan, where he had good friends, such as the singer and pianist Ligia Cámara. In that city, one night in 1994, I saw him sing and play the piano, at the Peón Contreras theater. The public received him and dismissed him standing. "Do you know that María Teresa Vera performed in this same theater?" Was the first thing she said to me as soon as I went to greet her at the end of the show.

Years later, by chance -for we did not know he was in Cuba-, Alina Torres and I found him again, in a leg of the National Theater stage, after a presentation he made at a Boleros Festival. We agreed to see each other, for a "download" on the roof of Alina, who a few days later called me, annoyed, to tell me that Frank had unexpectedly returned to Mexico. It was the last time I had to see him. He did not return to Cuba, as far as I know.

On November 1, 2014, the newspaper brought the sad news of his death in the Yucatan capital, where he lived with his wife Fina during his last two decades. Often, when I pass under his balcony, in the highs of the Karabalí, in the middle of La Rampa, the lyrics of one of his boleros comes to my mind -of the last ones he composed-: When the years pass and only the memory encourages us / maybe in an afternoon, when the sun goes down / you will think of me ...

From left to right: Mario Luzardo, Elena Burke and Frank Domínguez, in the club Scheerazada. Photo: Smoke Graphik.

From left to right: Mario Luzardo, Elena Burke and Frank Domínguez, in the club Scheerazada. Photo: Smoke Graphik.

Baptized as Francisco Manuel Ramón Dionisio Domínguez Radeón, he was born in Güines on October 9, 1927, "one Sunday at 7:45 in the morning". Shortly after his family had moved to Matanzas for work matters from his father, who was a technical expert in pharmacy. That's why he said: "I'm from Matanzas, like the danzón".

"We had neighbors who had an upright piano and my constant obsession was to run away from home to open that wonderful instrument and hit it with my hands, delighting in the strange noise that came from my handcuffs to the keys. When I expressed my vocation for the piano and my desire to study it, there was concussion and the refusal was collective and resounding. I remember excited that only my mother approached me and with a look of complicity and tenderness whispered to me: 'I will help you in your endeavor'.

"When I was eleven years old, in 1938, I began to study music formally with Professor Ida Nery Ortego, whose school was incorporated into the Benjamin Orbón Conservatory. I achieved sixth year of piano and second of theory and solfeggio with outstanding marks and honorable mentions. In 1945 I started doing musical activities with my friend Gilberto Aldanás in the school classrooms. The following year we already made presentations in almost all important activities in Matanzas and nearby towns; in the Sauto theater and in the auditorium of the Irene Toland school, as well as radio programs in CMGH, current radio station 26 of Matanzas.

In July 1947 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in the Secondary Education Institute and, in September of the same year, to continue the paternal tradition, he enrolled in Pharmacy at the University of Havana. His parents rented a room for him on Ronda Street, which, in addition to being located opposite the School of Pharmacy, was very close to radio stations, cabarets and bars. A few blocks away was the Radiocentro building, of the CMQ with its Warner theater: what a temptation.

"I always carried my book of verses and songs with me everywhere. When a teacher missed classes I went with some classmates to the so-called Physics Bar, where there was a grand piano, and thus, 'killing time', gave free rein to my true vocation: music. At Physics Bar I met Ángel Díaz, who approached me while I interpreted my version of You do not love me anymore, by Maria Greever. I never forget her words: 'What the hell are you doing with that sanitary dressing gown studying Pharmacy if you have nothing to do with it? Because you are an artist. '

"Stimulated by my colleagues from Pharmacy, I appeared in the program Looking for stars in a study of 23 and M, on July 9, 1948 and I won the second place of the week, but with great joy and surprise I reached the first place of the final elimination. I was introduced to the public by the immeasurable animator Germán Pinelli, and my teacher Orlando de la Rosa yielded his place to the piano, the archisimpático and romantic author that we admired so much by Gilberto Aldanás and myself.

"I can not forget the immense emotion I felt when the continuous applause from the audience attending the studio gave me the first place. I remember that I executed a very peculiar version of Begin the beguine of Cole Porter, but in time of boogie-boogie.

"When the CMQ producer council quoted several new values to work on their programs, I decided to do a test by singing and accompanying the piano on one of my then unknown songs: Tú me acostumbraste, that today [1987] to almost thirty-eight years I continue listening in so many and varied versions of international interpreters like the Chileans Monna Bell and Lucho Gatica; Nicola di Bari, Italian as Nila Pizzi, Paul Muriat, Altemar Dutra, Ruben Blades, Caetano Veloso and El Bambino, who did it for bulerías. A few days after the test I received a kind letter from the administrator of the station's finance department with hopes and flattering promises that would come true, yes, but less quickly than I expected at that moment. I continued to frequent different radio stations and to increase friendships in the farandulero atmosphere. I met half the world of art -or the whole world- during those years, while I was finishing my last year of Pharmacy, because I got to graduate ... for pure pleasure.

"In a hall of CMQ I was presented one day to Rolito Rodríguez, singer of the famous Casino group, who played in a very entertaining and popular program called The Show of the Noon, where Germán Pinelli, that master of comedy, did his. I sang a song and liked it to premiere: Take refuge in me. The arrangement was made by Niño Rivera. This is how my first composition was recorded on a 45-rpm Panart disc.

"At the beginning of the 50s, television was beginning to take off and sponsors were looking for new figures in a program called Estrellas para la TV, which was marathon. I signed up to participate and won a double prize: that of the applause of the present audience and that of a secret jury that determined 'the most televisable'. A few days later I received a letter from the American producer Miss Clara Ronay to offer me work in her program Musical Saturday, of CMBF TV by Gaspar Pumarejo. So I alternated with Olga Guillot, René Cabell, Minín Bujones, Jorge Félix, Esther Borja, Fernando Albuerne, Marta Pérez and Rita Montaner, among others. Rita liked it Take refuge in me, but when that did not record discs anymore. Olga did record it, in Mexico, before leaving Cuba, with a beautiful arrangement of strings and the great orchestra of Saber Marroquín. All her life she has sung to me, that makes me feel like one of the most fortunate composers on the planet. "

Cartel del filme "El hombre que me gusta", donde la música de Frank Domíguez es parte de la banda sonora. Foto: Humo Graphik.

Poster of the film «The man that I like», where the music of Frank Domíguez is part of the soundtrack. Photo: Smoke Graphik.

"How did I start professionally? I tell you. One day, as soon as I received the money transfer from my parents, I went to Havana to visit bars and to download with a group of university friends. In the afternoon we landed at the Ocean Club, at the Hotel Océano, located on Genios Street, on the corner of Malecón. It was a small, but cozy place, with a small Spinet piano, several pullmans, tables and a detail that caught my attention: behind the bar was a fish tank lit with different types of fish.

"I asked for the owner and a bartender He asked me what I wanted. I answered: playing the piano, and he answered that the Spinet was by Mario Fernández Porta, who was very stupid -which I checked later-, and was strictly forbidden to be played by the public. At that moment, perhaps emboldened by the drinks, feeling bad in front of my friends at the refusal, I replied: 'Hey, sir, tell Fernandez Porta that I'm not going to break your piano because I'm a great pianist too'. Then a very elegant mulatto who was next to the cash register, whom I had not distinguished in the semidarkness, changed an accomplice look with the bartender and they opened the piano Maybe they did it for fun, to hesitate, since we were the only customers that afternoon.

"Pride and dignity took hold of my hands and I played a Cumaná, that of having listened to me Carmen Cavallaro would have paled with envy and left by the door of the bar as persecuted by a hundred rabid dogs. I do not know what time I was playing, nor did I notice the moment when the mulatto left his cash register and stood next to me. Looking up at him, a little scared, thinking he was going to say to me: 'Pleased ?, it's good', I heard these words, that at first I did not understand: 'Would you like to work here?' I looked at my friends, as surprised as I was and said, 'Please, you are kidding!' And he replied: 'I am not a man of jokes. I am the owner and I offer you ninety free dollars, with breakfast, lunch, food and room at the hotel. ' When I managed to babble 'When do I start?', The man told me: 'Well, if you want, today' ".

"Actually, I was not ready for that job. I had left my clothes better in Matanzas and in the guest house I only had things of sport, sanitary gowns and a pullover or guayabera, but I promised that in less than a week I would return with change and everything. When I told my parents they thought I had had a few more drinks. I bought the most elegant combination I could and there, at the Ocean Club, I started to give my first notazos as an artist".

"A Minín Bujones, beautiful woman, great actress who had starred in novels like The Right to be Born and she was a television star, she liked to sing and she had become a friend of mine, because I accompanied her to the piano whenever she wanted to. She recorded a 'thing of mine' called No te vayas. By Minin I met Ramón Antonio Crusellas, owner of a famous brand of cleaning products and dressing table, which was very music lover. He began to attend the bar that, little by little, was filling up with his friends and the first admirers of mine. I dared, in confidence, to sing for them my songs, which I had saved for an opportune moment.

"A bohemian and stellar night of my life arrived Minín with Crusellas, the composer Hugo Cruz Artigas and the actor Eduardo I drink Egea We greet each other, like other times, but I was paralyzed when Minín said to me: 'Hey, you have to show off, because René Cabell is also with us and I'm crazy with your song, that one, the one I like'.

"You will understand that I knew perfectly who the Lord was Tenor of the Antilles, which was a very respected voice, but also had a reputation for the barbarities he said, his jokes and rudeness. I wanted to die. When Cabell arrived I whispered to him Tú me acostumbraste expecting the worst. He only heard the piano, of course, which was the only thing I was sure of. There he gave me a first lesson: 'Look boy, the music is very nice, but I want to hear the lyrics and you sing inside. Put the damper on the piano and sing without fear, because the message is carried by the lyrics, and that is what interests me. So, get in my tenor voice and up! '

"I was full of courage and, with the modal pedal, I told him the best I could about the song with the mastery of who owns everything: lyrics, music and instruments. It seems that I was successful when, in the end, he told me: 'Damn, what a cramped song! I believe that you do not know what you have done when writing it ... Or do you? If you give it to me, in less than a month I'll record it and it will become popular throughout the island of Cuba. ' This is how the first version of Tú me acostumbraste by René Cabell, with the Riverside Orchestra, for the Puchito albums ".

Portada del disco "Frank Domínguez canta sus canciones", GEMA, 1957. Foto: Humo Graphik.

Cover of the album «Frank Domínguez sings his songs», GEMA, 1957. Photo: Humo Graphik.

In 1956 Frank Domínguez signed an exclusive contract with Peer Southern Music Inc., a company that begins to publish its scores and sends the editions of its numbers to several countries in America and Europe for international dissemination. For those years, it is presented simultaneously in the Club 21 and in the crowded Sans Souci. He organizes shows for that cabaret and performs at the Nevada Coctail Lounge with a combo that counts, on guitar, with César Portillo de la Luz. Soon after, the singer Dandy Crawford joined the group.

The Magazine Advance and the chroniclers of radio, cabaret and television choose it "The composer of the year 1957". That year premieres new sentimental compositions -Luis García records Do not ask for impossible for RCA Victor, who also took to the album Arturo Gatica-, and begins writing special numbers for the Sans Souci shows, including Aloha Kamoa, production of Hawaiian atmosphere with Las D'Aida, Sonia Calero and Lorenzo Monreal. This show was followed, among others, This is Paris, Nights of Baghdad, and Endoky, with yoruba rites, premiered by Sonia Calero with montage and choreography by Alberto Alonso and musical direction by maestro Rafael Ortega.

"One day came to Havana Tulio Demicheli, Argentine producer, who was looking for an author to write a sexy jazz melody to be incorporated into a Columbia Pictures movie, with Silvia Pinal and Arturo de Córdova, and went to see me at the Club 21, where I worked singing and accompanying several figures. Actually, I accompanied every artist who passed by that club that at that time was magical, a kind of obligatory stop for singers and musicians.

"I completely did not know what it was like to write music for movies: they read you the script with the idea of the theme that has its characteristics, the points of view that a cinematographic script demands and nothing else. The rest runs on your own. When he proposed the work to me, my mind flew to the celluloid, I thought about the Mexican stars and I told Demicheli that I was going to do the test. In a few days, with my paper in hand and very nervous, I sang to the producer, in the presence of Pinal and Arturo, the number I had just composed. When finished, the kiss of Silvia and the embrace of Demicheli, with his phrase: You are a genius! He made me understand that my music would go in the movie The man that I like to me ".

At the beginning of 1958, due to the volume of sales of Tú me acostumbraste, Frank returns to be elected Composer of the Year by the press of shows, and in May he begins to record a long duration, as author and interpreter, for the firm Gema of the Álvarez-Guedes brothers.[1] In its Latin jazz dictionary Nat Chediak, forty years later, warns that the LD Sing your songs -With Rafael Somavilla on the vibraphone, Papito Hernández on bass, Guillermo Barreto on drums and Frank on piano- shows influence of quintets cool Americans and that "his broken voice is the perfect instrument to tell the ravings of love"[2].

At the end of this album Frank makes an extensive tour of the island that begins at the International Hotel of Varadero, to the Reno Club, in Ciego de Ávila, as a pianist accompanying René Cabell. Back in Havana, he continues working in Club 21 del Vedado, one of his headquarters. Not the only one: he is one of the protagonists of the golden age of nightclubs in Havana.

"Around that time they called me to open an intimate and cozy place called La Gruta, located in the basement of La Rampa cinema, where I stayed for many years and where I have felt best in my entire life as an artist. I have not met another team of gastronomy so skilled and friendly. In La Gruta I shared musical moments with the sparkling pianist and singer Esther Montalván, the maestro Pepé Delgado, the dynamic and tremendous Susy Ramos, my great friend Ela O'Farrill ... and Elena Burke. Elena and I then inaugurated the Scheherazada and El Gato Tuerto. We worked a lot in the lobby bar of Saint John's and did, with his guitarist Froilán and the trumpeter Aguiló, a long-playing album -Beautiful memories in the year 64 where it appears The sweet reason, one of my songs that he likes to sing the most.

Elena Burke and Frank Domínguez. Photo: Smoke Graphik.

Elena Burke and Frank Domínguez. Photo: Smoke Graphik.

"Elena has mounted lots of my numbers. On his first album he put The man who likes me and then, with Eddy Gaytán, What has remained. I have fun with your version of Love game (As a child I had a great doll / that was all, all my passion ...), and she has a lot of fun too when she sings it. I was his companion for a long time. We are family, or more than that. Few know her as I do, and nobody knows me like her. I am the godfather of his daughter Malena, who is an exceptional singer. The saying 'From caste comes to the greyhound' is well done, in this case, very clearly.

On July 3, 1959 the Capri Hotel cabaret premieres the show Consume Cuban products, first production after the triumph of the Revolution. With production and choreography by Alberto Alonso and costumes and scenery by Anido, they sing and dance the music of Frank Domínguez: Rosita Fornés, Armando Bianchi, Mitsouko and Roberto, Los Riviera, Los Bucaneros, Tino Rodríguez and Los tres pimpollos. In that show the quartet Los Bucaneros interprets Imágenes.

"I used to show up for that date at the Ali Bar on the show Romantic Nights along with René Cabell and Fernando Álvarez, who premiered at that time You will remember me, If you want and later on, Blank page, the first two orchestrated by Bebo Valdés and the last one by my dear friend Felipe Dulzaides. Then came the nights in the Images, in front of the Villalón park, very luxurious and with a good grand piano, which was named after my song that some people call for their first verse: As in a dream ... and that they have recorded, among many artists, Olga Guillot, Luis García, Doris de la Torre, Pacho Alonso, Fernando Albuerne ...

"In the Images I worked a lot with the excellent Marta Justiniani, who premiered me several songs that nobody else could interpret, because they were made with her voice in mind, in her way of saying. Together we made an album -Cocktail- with my music and a great string and jazz orchestra led by masters Guzmán and Somavilla. That long play has a bit of everything: bossanova, charlestón, samba, songs, boleros and a carol: Real Christmas, who recorded Los Zafiros on their first album.

"Snowball left me as a substitute in the Monseigneur when I went on tour. I did not want another there. I said to him: 'Oh, boy, why are you doing that?' But deep down I was proud. I joined the wave of the Mozambican rhythm, and composed Mozambique in carnival for Pello the Afrokán; The Modernists won a prize at the 65th Varadero Festival singing a song of mine called Spin spin and for the Aragón I composed I know everything, goodbye, a chachachá. I also worked a lot in Maxim's, El Bohemio Corner, the Caribbean and for quite a long time I formed a combo. Now I would like to record a solo piano record, to see if it is possible ... but let's leave it there.

"I can continue to mention people, places and songs, but I will never end. From the difficult times that came after I do not want or I will remember. Another afternoon, when the sun sets, we continue talking, do you want? "

(Conversations between 1987-1990)


[1]              Frank Domínguez sings his songs (LD Gema 1197) contains: "You got used to me"; "My heart cried" -which Benny Moré had recorded with his band Gigante in 1956-; "Images", "The angel that you are"; "If you want"; "A little piece of heaven", "How dare you"; "Privacy"; "Do not ask for impossible"; "Where are you" and "You will remember me".

[2]              Nat Chediak: Latin jazz dictionary. Author Foundation. SGAE. Madrid, 1998.

Sigfredo Ariel

Sigfredo Ariel

Author of twenty books of poems, guilty of intrusion in several other disciplines: plastic arts, scripts, journalism. Obsession: the fragile memory of Cuban music.

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    Jose Cabaleiro-Ascanio

    17.06.2019

    This is the best biography I've read of the great Frank Dominguez ... rather, of any musician in general. Made with love, respect, rigor and professionalism, reveals so much to the human being, something sometimes thrown aside with the artists, as unknown facets of the musician. I read with great pleasure, fearing the moment it would end. Do you know, Mr. Ariel? I think there are many of us who want to read something similar about that great singer unknown in both Miami and Havana who was Doris de la Torre.

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    NESTOR

    14.08.2019

    EN ESA LINDA ENTREVISTA, FRANK OMITIO UN GRAN MOMENTO Q FUE CUANDO EL, SU PIANO Y MARTA JUSTINIANI COMENZABAN SU FUNCION A LAS 12 DE LA NOCHE AL CORRER LA COBERTURA DEL TECHO DEL PISO 25 DEL HOTEL HABANA LIBRE, EN LO Q SE LLAMO ‘EL TURQQUINO», Q NOS QUEDABAMOS BAJO LAS ESTRELLAS DEL CIELO DE LA HABANA, ALGO INOLVIDABLE, E IRREPETIBLE, SERIA 62-64.

    POR LOS AÑOS 90, EN EL SALON LIBERTAD DEL HOTEL NACIONAL, FUI CON AMIGOS A DISFRUTAR DE UN JOVEN NUEVO Q LLEGABA DE ORIENTE Y HACIA BONITAS INTERPRETACIONES A LO MARCO ANTONIO MUÑIZ, SE LLAMA MUNDITO GONZALEZ, PERO DESDE LA MESA NOS PERCATAMOS Q A EL LO ACOMPAÑABA UN PIANISTA, Q A PENAS SE MOVIA, SOLO MOVIA AQUELLOS DEDOS PRODIGIOSOS SOBRE LAS TECLAS, MUNDITO TENIA UN REPERTORIO DE COMPOSICIONES DE MEXICO======LO LLAME A LA MESA Y LE PREGUNTE SI EL CONOCIA QUIEN ERA EL PIANISTA Q LO ACOMPAÑABA?….INCREIBLEMENTE ME DIJO Q ESE ERA SU ACOMPAÑANTE Q LE HABIAN ASIGNADO Y Q SE SABIA EL REPERTORIO MEXICANO DE SUS CANCIONES…….ASOMBRADO LE DIJE, MUNDITO ESE ES UNO DE LOS MEJORES PIANISTAS ACOMPAÑANTES Q HA TENIDO CUBA Y UNO DE LOS MEJORES COMPOSITORES Q HAY EN HISPANO AMERICA, MUCHAS DE LAS CANCIONES Q HAS INTERPRETADO SON DE EL, NO SON MEXICANAS, EL ES EL MAESTRO FRANK DOMINGUEZ, SUS CANCIONES LA HAN INTERPRETADO, ELENA, OLGA, CELIA, LUCHO, MARCO ANTONIO,. RENE CABELL, NICOLA DE BARI, MINA, LUIS GARCIA, MARTA JUSTINIANI, SOLO TE NOMBRARE LA Q ACABAN DE APLAUDIRTE «TU ME ACOSTUMBRASTE», «COMO TE ATREVES», E «IMAGENES», ESA ERA PARTE DE LAS INJUSTICIAS CON FRANK, GRACIAS X RECORDARLO……..LO VOLVI A VER EN MIAMI EN UN CONCIERTO DE MEME Q LO LLEVO DE INVITADO, DONDE EL APLAUSO LO EMOCIONO Q FALTO POCO PARA Q NO PUDIERA DELEITARNOS, FRANK UN ORGULLO DE LA MUSICA DE CUBA


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