Abel Palermo, a chat among friends
Singer and Todo Tango contributor
|By Néstor Pinsón|
e invited me to his place where we spent more than four hours talking about old times and, between one coffee and the next, nostalgia leaked into the conversation and the ambience was filled with memories. While we were reminiscing characters, places, artists and some secrets paraded before us. When I left I had the feeling, for a moment, I had been throughout, not only all his career but also times of my own youth.
«I’m a porteño, I was born in the neighborhood of Santa Rita, popularly known as Floresta Norte, into a family of Italian ancestry.
«Music appeared very early because one aunt, back in the 30s, was a renowned popular singer called Tina Palermo. She was married to the guitarist Pascual Avena, a staff musician of Radio Belgrano. He was one of the many accompanists of male and female singers along with Jaime Vila, Antonio Ciaccio and José Cortese or with De Masi, Toto and Rolando. They used to appear at the radio program “La matiné de Juan Manuel”, besides his performances at different tango venues.
«Like my dad I pretended to be a radio speaker and admired tango and the night scene. I was brought up in that environment and when I was eight or even before I spent many afternoons in the house of the Avenas which was located on 265 of what today is Ángel Gallardo Avenue. There was music and all the singers who used to appear on the radio went there to rehearse. Of course, it was at that place where my inclination for singing and tango began. I remember the son of Agustín Magaldi, and Roberto Quiroga who later was successful and, by that time, sang in the Alberto Soifer orchestra and thereafter became a soloist backed up by the guitar group led by my uncle.
«In the summer vacations after school I stayed with my uncle and aunt and returned home only in March. A cousin of mine was also a singer, her name was Anita del Mar. She died very young, she was Ana Avena, sister of Carlos Fontán, my other cousin, "El Duende", whom you met when we went to his place to dine together with Ricardo García Blaya. He was the one who premiered and recorded “Quedémonos aquí” and was vocalist of José Basso.
«He was quite a character, he had his own philosophy of life and, with his guitar, he was welcome in cabarets and other night venues. He earned a lot of money. Furthermore, he encouraged the boys who wanted to become singers. He was a beautiful person but with ideas of his won, a truly bohemian.
«A few blocks from here, on this same Elpidio González Street, my dad ran a Unidad Básica (a political commitee local) and when there were festivals all these singers used to come. Some of them had been quite famous. One of them always came to visit my home and, of course, was a close friend of my dad’s. I’m talking of Ernesto Famá.
«Certainly, as a boy, I was appearing at all the contests that were organized by the clubs of Villa del Parque and its surroundings. By that time they were naturally customary and they all were associated with tango.
«I was sixteen or a little bit older when, before going to the military service, I had the chance of an audition with Alfredo Gobbi. He was on Radio El Mundo and there he used to give an appointment twice a week. I sang with his piano accompaniment. This went on for a month, I think he liked it. One evening at the Richmond tearoom, the one on Esmeralda Street, he introduced me to Alfredo Del Río, who was already his vocalist –a nice guy-, and asked him to take me to vocalization practice.
«My chances to join the orchestra were rather great because Del Río was talking with Francisco Rotundo about joining his aggregation. But everyone has his own destiny. Soon thereafter, on January 2, 1956 I was drafted for the military service. It was in the Air Force at El Palomar and that kept me completely away from tango. Finally, Alfredito joined Pedro Laurenz and Gobbi hired Mario Beltrán. It was a lost chance. I was discharged from the Air Force in February 1958.
«Thanks to a relative of Julio Ahumada’s, at that time bandoneonist in the orchestra led by Enrique Francini, I had another audition also on Radio El Mundo –it was to choose a singer for that aggregation-. The person who auditioned me was a great person: the pianist Juan José Paz. I went there four or five times but Paz quit the orchestra for another job which was more convenient and, almost immediately, Francini dismembered his orchestra.
«For a year I did nothing. Then another friend turned up. For some time he was interested in tango but later he devoted to other things. His name was Carlos Arolas. When he heard me sing he advised me I had to take classes with maestro Eduardo Bonessi. Time later I became a close friend of this teacher.
«At the beginning he worked in his home on 34 Pasteur Street and later, on Corrientes Avenue. I remember its old green door, next to the Libertador movie theater which today no longer exists. Right from the start he told me that my voice color was similar to Alberto Marino’s who was one of my favorite singers. I attended classes three times a week and I was very enthusiastic. I admit, without being boastful, that I achieved a solid training.
«In 1964 the TV Channel 13 organized a contest entitled El Festival de los Desconocidos (Festival of The Unknown Ones). It was a contest for different genres, among them tango. Oscar Sabino, who had been pianist of Francisco Canaro, was the musical director. There were several rounds and in September the final took place at the Luna Park. I turned out the winner. I was awarded with appearances for a year in several programs of the channel alongside Claudia Mores, Horacio Molina, Sandro and Marito González –who later would be known as Jairo-, among others. But rock ‘n’ roll was going strong and tango was declining.
«The following year I appeared in “Sábados Continuados” emceed by Antonio Carrizo. Thereafter I signed to appear on Radio Splendid for one year and a half accompanied by the staff orchestra which was led by Ángel Domínguez. It was a nice period. Then until 1969 I was also appearing on radio and night venues. In one of them, La Querencia, I had a rather long tenure but then I was married, had responsibilities and was unable to devote myself completely to it.
«I never made a living with singing. I had my job as dental prosthesis technician. I was at the Hospital Nacional de Odontología and as I was always interested in politics, I was a union representative and, after some misunderstandings, to say it some way, I had to leave. Luckily, I went to a good place: the Dental Institute for Children created by Benito Quinquela Martín in the neighborhood of La Boca.
«On one occasion I was auditioned by Osvaldo Pugliese at the café Callao 11 –now closed down- where at its basement a large number of musicians used to rehearse. I sang “Por qué la quise tanto”, the number with which I had won a contest on television but I had to sing it one tone lower to fit the arrangement and that made me sound darker. I admit that my style did not match that orchestra. By that time Abel Córdoba sprang up.
«When Eduardo Bonessi died I kept on with my vocal practice with Dante Gilardoni at the academy run by the pianist Alberto Suárez Villanueva. I sang on Radio Libertad under the direction of Leo Lipesker. But it was then a difficult period for tango. As from 1960 the best venues were closing down, the orchestras became trios or quartets, there were but a few cabarets. Everything began with the military coup against the Perón’s goverment in 1955 and, since then, the national culture was invaded by things made abroad. Folk music, instead, was not affected, because it was played by guitars that accompanied the singer or, otherwise, by a vocal trio or quartet which was less expensive.
«Through Joaquín Fabré, a great musician and harmonizer that worked as copyist for the Fermata publishing house, I came to know Ben Molar. I went there to rehearse one of the numbers of the album -“14 con el Tango”-, “En qué esquina te encuentro Buenos Aires”. The musical director was Alberto Di Paulo who preferred another singer.
«Despite I never cut my links with tango I was gradually withdrawing. I continued with politics and by 1980 another opportunity came: a contest for new authors and composers organized by SADAIC with not renowned singers. I reached the finals which were aired on Radio El Mundo. I turned out second; I had the pleasure of being accompanied by Osvaldo Tarantino, Julio Pane and Aldo Nicolini.
«I was lucky to be backed by high level musicians. I stand out Roberto Pansera whom I met through Roberto Lambertucci at the Neumann publishing house on Maipú Street. Pansera was a talent, for many years the arranger of Osvaldo Fresedo. With him in 1969 I cut a 33 rpm double-disc (Disquería label) with three tangos I co-wrote with Octavio Martingano: “Aquellos que pecaron”, “Con la luz de tu mirada” and “Mis besos y tú”, and also “Miedo” by Pansera and Ángel Cortese.
«Furthermore, I recorded “El último escalón” with the accompaniment by Pansera on organ. Regretfully, for some reason it was not released. And that became a habit in my career.
«Fortunately, in my job everything turned out all right. I ended up being head of the service at the Dental Institute for Children. But when the military coup took place in 1976, a controller who disliked my face or, probably, my activity in the union, intending to damage me, sent me to the Hospital Posadas in Haedo by the time the prosthesis laboratory service was created. And there I easily adjusted myself to the place until I retired.
«When democracy was back, I devoted exclusively to politics. However, I sang when I was invited by friends just for the fun of it in friendly company and to recall for some hours the pleasure of singing, but my professional career was over.
«I met a great number of people of the milieu, but now my only work with tango is focused on my contributions for you, being part of the Todo Tango team, by taking advantage of the knowledge I acquired, to set to writing some episodes in the careers of so many boys.«As the perfect finale for my career I gave myself a little pleasure and in 2005 I recorded a compact disc backed by Salvador “Quique” Greco and Pablo Agri. I presented it at the Café Tortoni.»