I was born Vincent Gambella,
into an Italian family, as the second of five boys. Our family
mandate was, that you must start mandolin lessons
at 4 years old (if you wanted to live.) or
My mandolin teacher was a barber - Mr.Lipani, who lived across the street. A month of lessons cost 25 cents. When I was about 6 years old, my father would come home from work, and would ask Mr.Lipani, " Howsa my boy issa doona?" Well, you could have been a genius, but Mr. Lipani would always reply, "Ehhhh, E'ssa Putty Goulda ".... My father would say "WELLA, DENA YOUSA GATTA HID IM "! In the mean-time, this guy was killing me!
When Mr. Lipani gave a lesson, he held a small tree branch in his hand while he gazed out the kitchen window. If I'd make a mistake, he would swat me with the branch, while still looking out the window. Then he'd say ,(in an Italian prophetic tone)" I'mma maka you cry, so yousa willa LAFFA somaday" !!!
The branch struck the mandolin, my head and various parts of my body like he was swatting flies! Now, if I had gone home and have told my mother what this guy was doing to me, she probably would've ALSO given me a beating, thinking, "Why else would Mr.Lipani hit him if he didn't deserve it?"
I once came close to killing my teacher. I decided I would stab him with my mother's scissors, as he looked out the window. I actually hid the scissors in the mandolin-case. (Needless to say, I'm glad I didn't go through with it.)
Many times I have recalled that period of my life, and I end up smiling with the realization that Mr. Lipani really wasn't a mean person. It was just the only way he knew: the old Italian way!
I made my mandolin debut at age 7, in Mr.
Lipani's Brooklyn barber shop, and I'm still playing mandolin
I guess the lessons took.