Héctor Oviedo

e does not sing, he hums with a sweet doglike voice only when at a rehearsal he wants to suggest the exact intonation, the adequate intention to the male or female singer on the occasion. His bawling is something like the howling of a desolated poodle lost in the middle of a storm that is looking for familiar voices to find his way.

It happens that Bartolomé Palermo dreamed of being a singer; a tango singer. And it occurred that one evening serenading down there in his Santa Fe hometown, shorty Regi, his mate in those matters, suddenly stopped him and told him without euphemistic preambles: «Stop it, Bartolo; you can’t sing... you mustn’t sing». And right there and for good his Gardelian vocation was crushed. The categorical opinion of his friend did not allow any crevice for a doubt.

Palermo not only is a guitar virtuoso —if we understand this as regarding him as a “very fast player”—, but also he is a true artist that brings, together with his great musical training, an enormous amount of love, feeling and passion even at the least compromising times of his performances.

We, who know him, are quite aware of the beatific smile he displays when he is enjoying and is overwhelmed by the ecstasy of a right chord or an inspired phrase on the low strings. When he arrived in Buenos Aires he was not seventeen yet. That was an imprecise age in which the rearguard of adolescence and the dawn of youth were mixed. But his determination, his willingness to pave a road with his guitar playing was precise.

In 1957, he was summoned by Ariel Ramírez with whom he collaborated for many years on tours and recordings, including the complete version of “La misa criolla”.

Nélida Rouchetto used to tell us, some years before, about the encounter of Palermo with the great Alfredo Gobbi in 1964: «I have no doubts that because of that relationship and the luck of teaming up with Gobbi –who by that time was appearing as pianist- might have meant a deep influence for his later aesthetic development. Hence the orchestral sense he learned from that maestro and which he later knew how to transfer to his guitar groups».

Making his way through was neither nor is easy for him. The guitar, as a tango instrument, spent times of splendor that were later declining as long as radio stations were dismissing their staff aggregations. There were periods that had many guitar players who were very good, and the great singers —Carlos Gardel, Ignacio Corsini, Agustín Magaldi—, just to mention the top ones, needed them for their own accompaniment. In later times we can mention Héctor Mauré, Carlos Acuña, Horacio Deval and so many others. When the great orchestras sprang up their margin was smaller and, consequently, there were less guitar players. Today that kind of guitarist -the accompanist for singers- is almost an endangered activity condemned to extinction.

In 1984, José Canet died. In 1992, Roberto Grela also passed away. They were two maestros, two ways, two styles and equally valid points of view that are linked to the instrument and popular song and turn around tango. But before, much earlier than those losses, jobs for singers had declined for different reasons. Firstly, due to the decline of tango itself and because the few singers that went on appearing preferred another sort of accompaniment. And even now, with the blossoming of our music, the ways and the codes of singing have changed; nearly no one sings straight to the beat, so much so that at times you don’t know if you are listening to a tango that is being sung or spoken. And a guitar little can do in that context.

Putting together small groups was an alternative for guitarists. Teaming up with other instruments was another one. Examples: Roberto Grela with Aníbal Troilo and later with Leopoldo Federico, Ubaldo De Lío with Horacio Salgán, to cite some well-known examples, or simply as soloist performers, in the case of Aníbal Arias or Juanjo Domínguez.

Bartolomé Palermo was born in Villa Guillermina, province of Santa Fe and after 1950 he settled in the Capital city. He put together his first group -the Palermo Trío- in 1968 with his everlasting friend, Paco Peñalva, and Miguel Luna. The charts had been written in 1964. With that line-up he made his debut on radio, appeared at the Teatro San Martín, night venues, clubs and tours throughout the country.

By the late 1969 his first record, a long-playing disc which included the addition of Norberto Pereyra on guitarrón (bass guitar) was released. That record today is very hard to find and it is regrettable that is has not been re-issued. It is a pity because, among other very good renditions, there is a tango by Alfredo Gobbi, "El último bohemio", which neither was published nor is there any sheet music written. Palermo recorded it according to the way Gobbi himself had played it for him on piano.

The wide acclaim this recording had led the trio one year later again to the recording studios with more elaborate arrangements. Miguel Luna was replaced by Domingo Laine, and Pereyra by Ernesto Báez (El Negro). The repertoire included numbers by great composers like Francisco De Caro, Alfredo Gobbi, Aníbal Troilo, Anselmo Aieta and Lucio Demare.

In 1972 the Cabal label summoned the group for a work that included six pieces sung by Héctor Darío: "La noche que te fuiste"; "Tormento"; "Un poco de todo" (by Osvaldo Tarantino and Juanca Tavera, dedicated to Edmundo Rivero); "No serás un recuerdo" and "Romance para una vereda". While the guitar trio cut "Recuerdos de bohemia"; "Payadora"; "Danzarín", "Compadre y milonguero"; "Valsecito alegre" and "Del bajo fondo", a beautiful gem componed by the great Osvaldo Tarantino.

In this label —Cabal—, he accompanied Edmundo Rivero in 1975 and, the following year, he was featured soloist with his guitar in a notable experience with the Alberto Garralda orchestra. This was an exemplary release. With this string ensemble Bartolomé appears in four numbers: "La reja", "Caminito", "Mimí Pinsón" and "Vieja luna". In them, Garralda left the space so that the guitarist would improvise on a determined scheme. The result was excellent.

It is worthwhile to pay attention to the names of the members of that aggregation: Osvaldo Tarantino (piano); Eduardo Walczak, Reinaldo Nichele, Fernando Suárez Paz, Mario Abramovich, Tito Besprovan and Nito Farace (violins); Abraham Selecson (viola); José Bragato (cello); Kicho Díaz (double bass) and bandoneon, arranger and conductor: Alberto Garralda. A complete luxury.

Today Bartolomé exhibits an experience and an evident wisdom. He knows a lot of his métier and he knows that is not necessary to display all his knowledge in a composition. Only the necessary that is needed to create the mood that it demands. He knows the importance of synthesis; he knows that sometimes the expressive capacity of a rest is stronger than a waterfall of notes even though they produce a beautiful sound. The harvesting tools of his memory recall great models: Grela, Canet, the Negro Báez and many others that left milestones.

He knows, and also admits that the present job market poses future unknown situations but he faces them with calm and realism. He has projects and, still, dreams.

He played in the compact disc that Nelly Omar recorded in 1997 —Por la Luz que me Alumbra— as musical director and arranger and that made him very proud: «La Gardela —he says—, always chose the best players and the fact of recording with her suggests that I belong to that lot». He is also aware of that this work is a passport to history. «Everything she has recorded will be listened to for a long time, beyond the scope of our lives. The children of my grandchildren will listen to them when somebody plays them for them and, surely, they will be proud of the old guitar player that by that time will be perched on a little branch of the genealogical family tree of the Palermos».

Meanwhile, he keeps on teaching a handful of students, transferring experiences and knowledge to the young; training them –as Dino Saluzzi said not long ago- for illusion and hunger.

He goes on recording as accompanist of several singers, such as: Carlos Barral (1998), Abel Amorós (1999), Alejandro Muzni (1999), Pablo Banchero (2001), Walter Yonsky (1999 and 2001), Hugo Araujo (2006) and Hernán Genovese (2007), among others.