José Damiani

Podestá - Alberto Podestá’s memories

he appointment was at one of the venues where the figures that work in Buenos Aires by night are accustomed to meet: El Tío Felipe. There the charming talk of its thoroughly Italian owner makes even more pleasant the dialogue with an artist of our city song tradition in vogue since the 40s up to the present. For over half a century he has been in the crest of the wave, where he knew how to keep his balance, in spite of the waves and the tides that our tango music underwent during that period.

Our interview is with Alberto Podestá and what, in many cases, is made like a chat, with the lovable talkative Gordo (Fats) becomes a monologue:

«Roberto Caló, made me the connection to sing for the orchestra led by his brother Miguel. Its members where the most promising figures of the new generation of our city music. But among them there were two whom I want to highlight, because with the passing of time they would become my brothers-in-life: Armando Pontier and Enrique Francini.

«The first four numbers recorded with Miguel Caló I made them under the name Juan Carlos Morel, because there were then other singers with the family name Podestá, which was my mother’s, but Caló was not willing to have any trouble with family names.

«I gigged at the Singapur cabaret, located on Corrientes and Montevideo. I lived on Piedras Street near the corner with Alsina. Between one place and the other I used to get a streetcar at the beginning. Later when I started to earn my first “bucks” I used to take taxi cabs.

«When I was working at that place, one evening somebody brought me a card, it had been handed to the waiter by a gentleman named Vázquez, that was Carlos Di Sarli’s agent. He wanted me to meet him at a nearby barroom after my show was over. At the beginning I held it in my hands. As I realized I was creasing it, I put it into my pocket. Since the time the card was handed to me until the end of my performance my body was shivering. But I swear that I sang as never before. Imagine, to have the chance of singing with Di Sarli before I were 18. It was like a dream come true!

«The interview was quite normal. I hadn’t said anything about that to anyone. Not even to Armando or Enrique. We talked for a long while until he made me an offer. I didn’t even think it over and soon said yes and we agreed to meet the following day at the maestro’s place.

«To make it short between my affirmative answer to Vázquez, the meeting with Di Sarli and his approval, trying on the suits needed for the shows and telling Enrique and Armando that I was quitting, to comment it to Miguel Caló, being heavily reprimanded by the latter as well as by his brother Armando, and my debut with Di Sarli many things happened that in another talk I would like to clear out. But as the question was about how success was appearing in my career, I’m going to mention my hits, but before that I remember that Di Sarli after he asked me my surname he said: “Boy, not Alé, please. What’s your mother’s?” I answered: “Podestá”, and I added that there already existed several vocalists with that surname. To what don Carlos Di Sarli wisely replied: “Boy, from now on you’ll be Alberto Podestá and from all those who bear that last name you’ll be the only one who’ll sing for the longest time”. See how much Don Carlos knew!»

«When I was vocalist with Di Sarli and we appeared at the Marabú cabaret, among the patrons who usually visited that venue several soccer players of River Plate, a club I’m a fan of, were there. They came very often and we became close friends: Vaghi, Ramos, Héctor Ferrari, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Labruna, Pipo Rossi, Adolfo Pedernera. Furthermore I used to go to the stadium frequently. Soccer and River Plate are two passions for me.

Podestá’s monologue goes on by enumerating the hits he sang with different orchestras:

«With Caló, in different periods: “Percal”, “Bajo un cielo de estrellas”; with Di Sarli, “Al compás del corazón (Late un corazón)”, “Nada”, “La capilla blanca”.

«Pedro Laurenz meant another stage in my career. With that great man and excellent musician, leader and composer I recorded for the first time: “Alma de bohemio”, “Garúa”, “Recién”, “Paisaje”...

«With Francini-Pontier, “Margo”, “Qué me van a hablar de amor”, “El milagro”, the waltz by Francini and Sanguinetti, “El hijo triste” —dueting with another great friend: Julio Sosa—, “Calesita de mi barrio”, “La cumparsita (Si supieras)”, “Sin palabras”; with Enrique Francini: “Bailemos”, “Fueron tres años”, “Un tango para el recuerdo”. With Armando Pontier in 1963 I premiered the last boom for our tango music: “Qué falta que me hacés”. Also “Pecado”, “Es nuestra despedida”, among many others.

«Furthermore I recorded in Colombia with Cristóbal Ramos, Ramón Ozán and Joaquín Mora, who played as bandoneonist and not as pianist.

«In Venezuela with Los Caballeros del Tango. In Uruguay with El Potrillo César Zagnoli. As well I performed in Chile with Lucho Ibarra. As soloist in our milieu with Juan José Paz, Leopoldo Federico, Alberto Di Paulo, Luis Stazo, Jorge Dragone, Ernesto Rossi (Tití) and Roberto Grela and his guitars.

«I met Enrique Francini and Armando Pontier when we were kids. We witnessed a lot of things together, there were many stories among the three of us. I'll tell you two to clearly show the friendship we shared. On a Sunday Maderna and Caló had an argument, they almost came to blows. Out of that quarrel two orchestras were born, since Maderna decided to split and put together his own. Armando and Enrique had in mind to split with Miguel in December or, at the most, after the carnival balls the following year. But because of that they also told Miguel they were leaving, and that he would have to put together an orchestra with new pieces. Caló's behavior was completely different since he congratulated them and told them that they could count on him for anything they would need, money or else, for their new orchestra. That evidenced Enrique's and Armando's goodness since they made easier what would have been a problem for Caló.

«After they split with Caló they devoted themselves to put together their new orchestra. On a rainy Monday in May 1945, they came to my place located on Concepción Arenal Street. They greeted my mom, and "Gordo Francini" asked her if there were biscuits. It was to make the situation easier. They started to talk; Armando did it with the aplomb and the tact usual in him. They told me they had decided to put together their orchestra and that I was going to be their vocalist. What could I say? We embraced each other, and we wished each other good luck. Two or three days later, during a rehearsal I came to know that the bandoneon section was comprised of Juan Salomone, Nicolás Parasino and Ángel Domínguez. The violins were Mario Lalli —who later switched to viola—, Aquiles Aguilar and José Amatrain; Rafael del Bagno was the double bassist and Juan José Paz, the pianist. See what a good friendship we had, I earned a lot of money going with them but at that time friendship and a man's word were much important than a signature.

«One of the greatest characters I met in the world of tango was Pedro Laurenz. He was a high-life man. We can say that he was one of the most elegant orchestra leaders at that time. When he summoned me up to sing with him, after we came to an agreement, I asked where the orchestra members had their clothes made. When they told me it was at Spiro y Demetrio I almost fainted, it was one of the most expensive tailoring shops in Buenos Aires. With Laurenz, you had to bear all the clothes in the same color: Shirts, stockings, ties and handkerchiefs. I spent a wonderful time with him and with him, the audience identified me with the number “Alma de bohemio”, that still today is my trademark song.

Fate did not allow me to sing with Troilo: «In 1947 while I was vocalist for Francini-Pontier, Troilo came to see me, and he asked me, like in all those situations, to be discreet because we are «friends» of the boys Francini and Pontier and he told me if I would like to sing in his orchestra. As Alberto Marino had split I had to replace him. He talked to Enrique and Armando. They didn't like it, but they did not want to hamper my career. Everything was already arranged. But Di Sarli wanted to hire me for a month in Montevideo. With him Jorge Durán was singing. But there they asked him Podestá as reinforcement. I commented this to Pichuco and he told me: «Gordurita —so he called me— do it».

«When I came back I found that the singer was Rivero! I would have died. As they did not tell me anything I asked nothing. Later with the passing of time, in 1955, I was singing in Chile to great acclaim. Somebody phoned me at my apartment. It was Pichuco himself. He asked me to go down to Buenos Aires, because Raúl Berón was about to quit and I was his choice of singer. By that time Francini and Pontier split as well. Julio Sosa and Armando, with different percentages, were partners and I had to be the other singer.

«I told them why I was in Buenos Aires. Armando reminded me what had happened, and that they had in mind with Julio what tangos we were going to sing and the songs in duo we were going to perform. I told them I would not. But once again a «black hand»! I neither sang with Troilo, nor did I reunite with my friends Sosa and Pontier. Fats Francini knew of it and made me join his orchestra. But the story is that a «black hand» prevented me from joining the Troilo Orchestra. With him we were close friends all our lifetime. I never asked him what had happened. He kept that secret until the day he died, I think he only knew about that.»

At this time of the chat he stopped, called Carlitos, Tío Felipe's son, and did not allow us to pay. I am left alone at the table with a friend, witness to the talk. We looked at each other, I ordered two coffees and said to him: «Did you realize it? With all he said and the things he lived, can't a book about the history of the forties be written? But who can tell it better than he did?»

Excerpted from "Cuadernos de difusión del Tango", Nº 23, directed and published by Salvador Arancio.