“I prefer just to call it music,” L.A. multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia replied to questions about the material and style of an unusual collaborative performance tonight, simply titled Vinny Golia and Friends, at Flux 53 in Oakland—a new, independent arts center on the site of the Egypt Theater, which closed last year after 35 years of community arts programming.
“People like to make distinctions between jazz and classical, but those borderlines don’t exist—or they’re there to be erased,” Golia said. “Jimmy Giuffre proved that in 1961 with the classical elements in the pieces he wrote for [alto saxophonist] Lee Konitz, and for himself on clarinet. Mingus and other people had done this for a long time. And Gunther Schuller, though as more of an experimentation. There’s a whole new breed of musician comfortable with playing Bulgarian music in 7/8, switching to a Monk tune, then rock fusion. They’re forced to diversify in order to make a living—and so extend the boundaries of music.”
Zack Reiheld of Flux 53 described the concert: “Vinny will be playing with an avant-garde jazz group, which is what you’d expect—but the opening act will feature him with a string quartet.”
“It’s an honor,” Golia said, “A night presenting music, all new stuff I wrote for these people. It was [bassist] Lisa Mezzacapa and [drummer] B. J. Anderson’s idea. They put a sextet together and got the string players. Most people just want to have a gig. They’ve really gone out of their way; all this work on my behalf.”
Golia’s worked with similar formats before.
“Years ago, there was Feeding Time, which had a string group with two violins, cello and bass—originally violin, viola, bass; it became all the permutations in between,” he said. “Nowadays, it’s easier to find improvisational string players. It’s fun to keep it as a project, playing so as not to overpower the strings, mostly with flutes and clarinets, though lately I’ve used some saxes: baritone, occasionally soprano—the foil, as it were, to the orchestration around it.”
Golia has taught for 11 years at CalArts in Valencia, where he now is full professor, holding a chair as performing composer. “Some of my older students—graduates now—are in a group that plays with me, takes it into contemporary music, with more latitude, from a straight feel to funk, pretty wide-ranging, with different stylistic approaches. A sextet, with one or two persons soloing. There’s more room, compositionally.”
Golia’s beginnings as a player are unique.
“I started as a painter,” he said. “Before I played, I drew musicians from about 1969 to ‘71. I met a lot of up and coming, and already famous players: Mingus, Pharoah Sanders, Benny Maupin, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp—they were interested in my painting. I got this idea for paintings as musical notation, a graphic score that the players would interpret. But I saw they were playing the same way they normally would. So I got a horn to show them. I worked at the Museum of Modern Art, and would play long tones on the sax I just bought in the sculpture garden, where nobody could see me. One day one of the musicians followed the sound and said, ‘It’s you!’ So I had to learn. Stupidly, I assumed everybody wrote their own music, so I wrote mine. I still draw, but composition takes the place of painting. My scores are still kind of visual.”
After going back and forth between coasts, Golia moved to Los Angeles in 1973.
“I thought I’d stay here until I stopped learning,” he said. “I haven’t yet. I’m from New York, I came out here, and it was the same music. It occurred to me the guys I knew in New York were transplants from L.A.”
He’s played often in the Bay Area over the years.
“After Beanbenders in Berkeley went away, it was hard to play here,” Golia said. ROVA had me in a couple of their projects. Weasel Walter and Damon Smith brought me up a number of times. And Henry Kaiser. I was in the Albert Ayler Project. Rent Romus had me in the Out Sound Festival ...”
Golia’s recordings are mostly distributed by Jazz Loft and indyjazz.com, “the majority” on the 9 Winds label.
Flux 53 started the beginning of this year when Brad Porter had the idea for a communal arts space after “happening on a property on Craigslist with two stages, seating and a storefront property in the middle, all connected into one building,” according to Reiheld, a Berkeley High alum, and Porter’s roommate, now one of 10 in the collective, “pretty much Oaklanders.”
When Porter and Reiheld first visited the property, “we took one look and said, ‘We have to make something happen here.’” The collective is seeking to incorporate and looking for sponsorship.
Flux 53 is on the site of the Egypt Theater (acronym for Experimental Group of Young Peoples’ Theater), founded 36 years ago by Minnie Gibson, who is in touch with Flux 53.
“We’re trying to continue the mission of the Egypt,” Reiheld said, “and serve an underserved community, as Minnie put it. There’s lots of activity in Oakland, in basements and warehouses. We’d like to give it a public space. And we try to make every evening an unusual one, to mix it up. That’s what Flux 53 is, what the Bay Area is—a hybrid melange. Scenes shift, and things are shifting to Oakland. There’s energy; it’s exciting here.”
Vinny Golia & Friends, jazz with strings
8 p.m. tonight (Thursday)
Flux 53 Theater, 5300-5312 Foothill Blvd., (at Fairfax), Oakland.