On most days, Richard Savino toils on the Sacramento State campus, his accomplishments unknown to many around him.
Few know that this mostly unsung classical guitarist is in high demand, both nationally and internationally.
That could well change come Sunday when winners of the 2012 Grammy Awards are announced. This year, Savino's recording "The Kingdoms of Castille" has been nominated in the small ensemble recording category.
Locally his reputation rests with his position as professor of guitar at California State University, Sacramento a post he has held since 1985. In that role Savino has nurtured the talents of a generation of guitarists.
His résumé includes being a pupil of classical guitar master Andrés Segovia and holding three music degrees including a master's and doctorate in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He has also studied under renowned guitarist Eliot Fisk, who has become a mentor and friend.
"Richie is unique because he basically locked himself in a room and taught himself," Fisk said. "He sought me out for a few classical guitar lessons at the start of his career, and I knew right from the start he was an absolutely unique musician."
Indeed, Savino's trajectory to a Grammy nomination as a classical musician does not fit the usual pattern of the virtuoso. Having grown up in an Italian neighborhood of Brooklyn and later Long Island, N.Y., Savino describes his youth as that of a "street urchin." At home, he was influenced by his father's recordings of trumpeters Al Hirt and Dizzy Gillespie. For a while he also took up the trumpet, but it was not a good fit.
"Trumpeters got shoved into the marching band," Savino said. "I'm not that kind of guy. I'd rather put a fork in my eye."
It was the early 1960s, yet Savino was listening to such artists as Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson and the music of Jerome Kern.
Then he heard the Beatles for the first time.
"It was Feb. 9, 1964. They were on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' " Savino said. "That's when I asked my parents for a guitar."
Savino was mesmerized by the vibrancy of the band and was intrigued by the fact that they were singer-songwriters.
"This changed my life much to my father's chagrin," he said.
He taught himself guitar. In high school, stints in dance and rock bands followed, though his eclectic tastes limited their popularity.
"We'd do Frank Zappa tunes at dances," he said. "We were antisocial musical freaks."
At 19, he came to a realization: He didn't want to play electric guitar anymore.
"There's too much gear and if I played it for the rest of my life, I probably would have ended up a junkie," he said.
At the time, he was enrolled in an undergraduate college music program, with a major in composition and minor in voice. On the eve of turning 20, Savino encountered the classical guitar repertoire a late age for most noted classical guitarists.
Under the tutelage of Jerry Willard, Savino's talent evolved quickly. "I owe it to the fact that I'm a workaholic," he said. Six years later, he was accepted into the first class that Segovia ever gave in New York City.
"It was a trip; it was like meeting Buddha," he said. What he learned from Segovia was more conceptual than practical, Savino said.
Typically, studying with Segovia suggests a guitarist contemplating a career as a soloist.
"The idea of a solo recital where I'm playing sonatas for a very quiet audience? That's not what I enjoy the most. I like playing with other musicians," said Savino.
What followed was the development of a guitarist with a fondness for ensemble music, namely that of Latin American and Spanish composers.
That focus is fully fleshed out in a Grammy-nominated recording that reveals Savino's talents as both the conductor of and a performer in the ensemble El Mundo, a group he founded in 1999. Much of the music the group performs was written or performed in Latin America where state and church support created an evolved music scene, Savino said.
Fisk believes that discovering works from the Spanish colonial period is one of Savino's most distinctive attributes as a musician.
"He's turned himself into an intrepid and creative sleuth, discovering old music in forgotten nooks and crannies around the world," Fisk said. "He edits this music, finds musicians to play it and serves as his own impresario to find multiple performances so that this music could be rescued from obscure archives."
As Savino has learned more about this music and its history, he has grown to believe that Latin America boasted a richer musical environment than its northern neighbors.
"If you compare what was going on in Boston in 1670 to what was going on in, say, Guatemala City, there is no question the latter was way ahead," he said.
To prove his point, Savino likes to cite the fact that the first opera composed and performed outside Europe was in Lima, Peru, by Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco Sánchez.
"There was nothing to that extent going on in North America," he said.
Savino's nomination is the second time in as many years that he has been involved in a project up for a Grammy. Last year, a recording of Johann Adolf Hasse's 18th-century opera "Marc' Antonio e Cleopatra" was nominated, with Savino drawing positive reviews for his guitar work as part of that recording.
Savino's category won't be part of the televised portion of the ceremony, but he will be in Los Angeles for the awards show. He hopes being there will allow him to mingle with some of his musical heroes.
Of all of those, one is the ultimate hero: Paul McCartney. The 14-time Grammy winner is scheduled to perform.
"Meeting him would be a real treat," Savino said, "because he's the guy I owe a debt to for what I do."