Memories of Level 1.5 in Locorotondo by Alessandro Bruno

Date or timeframe: 05-06-1990 / 10-06-1990
Venue: Istituto Tecnico Agrario Statale Caramia
City: Locorotondo
Country: Italy
Category(-ies): / /

As I came out of my first course I didn’t know I’d have gone to another one; actually I was feeling frustrated as the “circus” would have left Italy and never come back. When the second course in Italy (Level 1.5) was confirmed I didn’t really have to think much…

Here are my memories in bits and pieces:

At the inaugural meeting, during the first evening, I notice a guy with silver hair, it was clearly not a fashion thing, more something like… a medication? I ask around and someone tells me he’s Tony Geballe, a member of The League Of Crafty Guitarists, actually the whole team is here, as they’ll tour Italy after the course. Trey Gunn introduces himself and says: “I’m here because Guitar Craft is here”; that brief and simple sentence evokes in me a sense of belonging and a spirit of service which strike something deep inside me.

By the end of the meeting Tony asks if playing music to wake up people in the morning can be avoided, I don’t understand why he’s asking such a thing as it was the most amazing experience during my previous course; I’m disappointed.

Next morning, after the Morning Sitting and after breakfast, it’s time to get my new guitar, I’m quite excited, another League’s member I never met before announced at breakfast that he’d deliver the guitars to the new owners. I go there, in the ballroom, quite few Ovation hard cases are placed in a semicircle line, there are more than twenty guitars lying there, I never saw anything like that; the guy standing in front of that line is Hernan Nunez, he grates me kindly and picks up a guitar, a black one as I asked for, he tells me it’s a fine instrument as he tested it during the last part of the tour the League just did. I believe I look like a kid opening his present under the Christmas tree…

Personal meeting with Robert: I get in, sit down, show him with pride my new guitar, he congratulates with me, I ask him to check my right hand, he completely resets it; then he takes his guitar, shows me a part, not difficult at all, but still challenging for me in that very moment, he waits until I have it, then he begins to play on top of it, he looks to me as he’s having fun, just like a guitarist when he plays, as I realize the situation (almost surreal I’d say) I get overwhelmed and lose my part, he waits for me to recall it and then plays again, then he asks me to play, I can’t know how I look like in that moment, but I play nevertheless, few pathetic notes with the face of a fool. My ten minutes are gone already, I suddenly remember that I have a question: “Would be possible for me to attend the next L2 course which will take place in two months in France?” R.: “Of course you can! You’re most welcome!”. I’m not sure why that makes me feel so happy, does it mean a promotion to L2? Or it’s just that I’m formally accepted in the tribe? Whatever, I’m just floating one foot from the ground, out of the room when R. says: “remember to ask Tony to show you Hammer Head!”. I close the door behind me and immediately realize I’ve no idea about what he suggested I should ask Tony; I don’t dare to knock and ask again. I keep floating in the long corridor, I’ll address Tony’s matter in few minutes.

While floating I begin to look for Tony, many rooms along the corridor but no traces of the man, I approach whoever looks non-beginner with the most weird question: “ do you know a piece/exercise the name of which is made of two short words…?”, nothing at all, people actually look at me with a certain concern as if I was losing it… Eventually I enter a dormitory, three-four people in it, and say something like: “I beg your pardon, I need your help, I’m just coming out from a personal meeting with Robert and he suggested me to ask Tony to show me something or other, it has a short name…”, a voice from the back says “Hammer Head!” “Yes! Thank you”; it’s Ralph Gorga, making his bed; now, as I’m sure that I’d forget it immediately again, I ask what does that mean, and he says with the widest possible smile on his face and in a perfect Neapolitan accent: “Capa Tosta”; that makes it for me, it makes me feel again accepted in the tribe, and he becomes my hero. Now, since I know what to ask, I look for Tony with more confidence; I find him in a big empty room, he’s practicing, I realize I’m disturbing him, maybe better to leave him alone, I explain him the situation, he doesn’t look very happy, but asks me gently to sit down nevertheless: my first personal meeting with Tony; once I get the pattern the focus goes on the application of the “Principles” for the left hand (succession, completion of flow, release, constant release and so on), it goes smoothly, still I perceive that he cares about me to understand. I thank him before to go, and it’s not just politeness, I do feel grateful.

It’s midmorning, along the corridor with the doors of the dormitories on one side and big windows on the other, a young German chap, a L1.5 fellow but capable of playing quite few fast lines of that kind, is showing me patterns from the bass part of a piece called “Flying Home”; while I’m struggling with the instructions I’m receiving, he indicates me a guy sitting further along the corridor who’s practicing facing a big window with his tools (tuning fork, metronome and watch) laying on the windowsill; He says something like: “Can you see that guy over there? He’s the author of the piece I’m just showing to you, Curt Golden!”. He can’t really hear us from such a distance, still he turns his head and smiles.

At some point in the middle of the course, lunch time, kitchen is on a different floor and is equipped with a service elevator presumably to bring food from the kitchen to the dining room. We’re just there eating our lunch when the elevator’s door opens and three guys with guitars and sunglasses step out of it: Trey Gunn, Hideyo Moriya and Steve Ball; they play a Trey’s piece called “Scaling The Wales”: quite a treat…

We have another AT teacher this time, a Swedish lady living in London, Ulla Simmons, she’s a Cathy’s friend; very discreet and inspiring. We’re just about crossing the middle of the course when she offers a AT lie down, early afternoon, while we relax on the floor she recites a prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Sometime before dinner, a meeting without guitars in the ballroom, among the Italians two characters stick out from the bunch, one from the far north east, intellectual, literate, confident, and the other from the deep south, arty, emotional, confident, poles apart but both edgy in a way; they developed a growing dislike for each other. Now, the north one, as his English is quite good (at least compare to the rest of the team), is helping with the translation, so, whenever it’s time to translate something that the south one says, you can tell that he feels uncomfortable, more and more, to the point that, when the south one asks him (for me with a certain degree of malice): “Can you please tell Robert that I think he looks very much like Bela Bartok?”, he refuses to do it. In that suspended tragicomic moment I think they’ll end up killing each other before the end of the course. Instead, with my surprise, they went better and better together, to the point that by the end of the course they even traded their guitars…

It must be the last day or the day before that, when The League Of Crafty Guitarists offers a performance to the people in the house; in the ballroom. The chairs are set in a semi-circle at one end of the room while the audience is supposed to fill up the space sitting on the floor where pillows and blankets have been provided.

I don’t remember seeing them walking in, as if when I enter the room they are in place already.

Robert Fripp, Tony Geballe, Paul Richard, Tobin Butram, Pietro Russino, Hernan Nunez, Ralph Gorga, Trey Gunn, Hideyo Moriya, Steve Ball, Curt Golden (am I forgetting someone?).

They play through their set, a life changing experience, not much more I can say; although I’m tempted to see that moment from where I am now, at the time it is all “for the first time”, my mind is blown away, but also literally a turmoil of sensations and feelings. Also, standards are set, like that level of intimacy (no stage, no lights, no amplification, no distance whatsoever between performers and audience) is such that the intensity of music can steadily reach the hearts of everybody in the room. I’ve been attending many concerts since then, some of them were remarkable, but they never quite reached that intensity any more.

Unfortunately one of the students seats very close to Robert (one meter or even less) and is steering at him all the time; Robert is disturbed by it, he glances at him, makes many funny faces and gestures too to wake him up, but no way, he either doesn’t notice that or just doesn’t care…

The impact this course had on me was such that, although I didn’t know it yet, I entered the way of no return.

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