Courtesy of Vinny Golia
CHAT WITH VINNY GOLIA
I am no expert on this music, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.
Vinny Golia is the most unheralded barn burner in a town full of unheralded
barn burners, most of whom sat down with the Roadshow. I lost count of
how many reeds and various winds Golia plays about a year ago at twenty
something. I think Golia gets a handful of new arrows in his instrument
quiver every year. At this rate, I think Golia will need a U-Haul to get
all his material from show to show. But he is just that good. While most
musicians I hear can't seem to get one instrument right, Golia has pretty
much all of his down packed. I am proud to say that I have interviewed
Golia more than anyone I know. That is an honor to me that I relish. I
am honored to present Mr. Vinny Golia (soon to be proud father), unedited
and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
GOLIA: I started not in music, but I used to listen to a lot of music.
The thing that got me into really wanting to get a horn was basically
listening to Coltrane, of course. Everyone starts that way and especially
the soprano, I wanted to play soprano after a while and that's what I
did. That is how I pursued it, through the soprano. I had a great affinity
for Eric Dolphy and from that, my next instrument was the flute and then
I went to the clarinet, actually, I think I went to the bass clarinet
before I went to the regular B-flat.
What was it about John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy?
GOLIA: Well, the sound. The sound was, I couldn't figure out what that
was or what that was about, what that soprano sound was all about. It
was just something magnetic. I don't know what it was. I just would stay
awake at night listening to the same kind of tunes over and over, just
trying to figure out why (laughing). Why is he doing this? I just wanted
to know why.
Did you ever come to a conclusion?
GOLIA: No, I never figured it out (laughing). Inside that sound there
is so much stuff, it just is because. It led me to question all the things
I was doing and just trying to be more pure about what I was doing and
eventually, I wanted to get into the world of music through the visual
art world, which is kind of how I got in there.
Where you listening to early or late Coltrane?
GOLIA: I started, I think the very first Coltrane record I got was the
Impulse record, it was just called Coltrane. It was a blue cover and I
bought it just because of the cover. I bought it just because the cover
looked cool. That was just amazing. It had all these great tunes with
"Tunji" on it and I think "Out of This World" and all those tunes. I was
like, "Whoa, this is really deep," and so I started buying more of them
and instead of buying earlier records, I bought mostly the Impulse stuff,
which everybody says is that classic group. I mean, you can take any period
of Coltrane and that's classic. That was my entry point. The funny thing
about this whole thing was that even though I went to rock concerts and
blues concerts, I was just as a listener now, I wasn't a player. I was
a listening to a lot of this music. I was listening to music from Africa,
the Four Tops, and Indian music, and blues music, but it never dawned
on me that you could actually go see these people play. For some stupid
reason, I could never figure it out until one day someone said, "Hey,
you really like this music. Why don't you go see it?" And I said, "Where?"
And somebody said, "There is a little place down in the Village called
Slugs." I became a resident (laughing), but I never saw Trane because
the day after this guy told me that he saw Coltrane and Dolphy on the
same stage together, and I was like, "Go on. They never played together."
I knew absolutely nothing and the next day after he had told me that,
the next record I bought was Expression and he was dead. And that was
it. After that, I went to almost every concert that I could possibly go
to, mostly in the clubs. I started drawing the musicians and painting
stuff and doing stuff and that is how I met a lot of these guys.
Is there one show in particular that sticks out in your memory?
GOLIA: I can name a bunch of them. At Slugs, in particular, was the first
concert of the Tony Williams Lifetime. It was their inaugural concert
and they played simply two sets at Slugs and it was really amazing. No
one had ever heard music like that before. It was just amazing. One of
the other times I remember being particularly good was Cecil Taylor played
with Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille and Sam Rivers. And then the last
night, Cecil didn't come and Archie Shepp played piano. That was also
a really good concert. Then there was all the straight ahead concerts
there, Mingus and Lee Morgan, Sonny Stitt. Woody Shaw was there and was
like a regular there. As a matter of fact, I went there the night that
Lee Morgan got shot. We were there. I went there and then I left and then
I heard the next morning that he got shot. I had seen his a number of
time. I had seen him a lot. I was a regular. I really liked the way he
played. Do you know who was also fantastic, Fred? Sun Ra, for a while,
he had every Monday nights and one night, they came in about 7:30 and
I was there early because I was getting a table for my painting stuff.
They started playing and they didn't stop until 4 in the morning. They
just played. It was just incredible. They did the first hour and it must
have been just percussion and the dancers were dancing. It was just percussion.
And then the trumpet player took a solo and all the horns started to play
and then Sun Ra at one point raised his hand and they broke into "Autumn
in New York." It was just spectacular. It was gorgeous. It was just gorgeous.
Those are the things that I remember. It was just all music, all the time.
After a while, they wouldn't even charge me. I would just go there and
they would say, "Go ahead. Get out of the way," or they would say, "Don't
take up too much space tonight. We're going to have a lot of people."
The cats were very nice to me. I say this all the time when I talk to
you, Fred, but I have been very fortunate. Other people went to school
to learn music and I was in the clubs.
Getting hip to the soprano from Trane, how come you didn't just stick
to the straight horn?
GOLIA: I did for the first year and what happened was that the band I
was in said, "That soprano is nice, but we really need a flute." I said,
"OK, I will learn that." I just figure that flute and soprano is nice.
That's cool. But then they wanted something heavier and so I had to bring
on the tenor and stuff. It was mostly from that band. I was still painting
at the time, so it wasn't like I was going to do this or this or this
over this. It was just a choice that seemed to be happening without me
realizing what the reality was.
How big is your arsenal now?
GOLIA: I think I have twenty-six Western instruments and a number of different
instruments from other cultures and stuff. It's grown a bit from there.
Most musicians who play a multiple number of instruments are not very
proficient on any of them. You are quite capable on all of your instruments.
You must spend every waking moment practicing.
GOLIA: I do spend a lot of time (laughing). There is no way around it.
If there was a shortcut, I would know it, but there is none. Actually,
years ago, when I first started doing this, starting late and starting
on one instrument and switching to another instrument that I wasn't as
proficient as I am now, but I was starting to have doubts about it. I
talked to Bennie Maupin on the telephone about it. I had met him in New
York. He had some pictures I drew of him and I knew he was out here and
I found him. We talked for a minute and he remembered me and I told him
that I had started to learn music and had some doubts about playing more
than one instrument and he asked me some serious questions like if I really
heard the sound of more than one instrument. If that was going to be what
I wanted to do, you would have to make it so that every time you picked
up an instrument, that it would have to be that no one could tell what
instrument was your first instrument. So everything had to be equal facility
and equal tone structure that your emotion to project on any instrument
that you pick up. And I talked to him a long time about this and he said
that that is what Eric Dolphy had told him (laughing). That was great
advice. He really came out of the blue for me with this searing truth.
It was like if I was going to do that, I had better get down to brass
tax and really hit it.
Let's touch on your relationship with the late John Carter.
GOLIA: One of the things I learned from John Carter was that certain instruments
can't do what other instruments can do in a different setting and once
you approach it from the instruments that you are playing and you are
working within this setting, than you have to think in that matter. I
know that sounds kind of abstract, but you have to think more like a chamber
player, like a chamber musician when you are playing in a woodwind trio
setting, where it is just all woodwinds or when it is like the clarinet
and string group, you have to play the music like a little bit more classically
oriented and leave the improvisation in not so much a jazz context or
so. Once the conception is pretty clear in your head about what you're
doing and on what instruments, then it is not so hard. Sometimes the problem
is the concept isn't clear. More instruments just muddies up the pot.
So what you want to do is really clarify the concept first of what it
is that you want to do and what it is you want to say and find the instrument
that will project that message as clearly as possible. I find that when
other people hire me to do things that that is the challenge. A lot of
times, they know you play more than one instrument, but often, you have
to play their music with one instrument because they are not seeing the
whole tonal pallet of one instrument. So you have to sometimes diplomatically
say, "I don't need to bring four instruments. I can just do this on the
baritone." So once that gets cleared up, then it is not a problem, but
sometimes it can get a little muddy and you have to find ways to think
through it on a number of instruments before you can really get to where
you need to be.
How long have you been operating your Nine Winds label?
GOLIA: We formed it in '77, so what is this, the twenty-third year.
Couple more years and you will have to buy yourself a watch.
GOLIA: (Laughing) Yeah. I better be careful. Two more years and I might
lay myself off (laughing).
We have spoken about the difficulties of running your own label, but rather
than be negative, let's touch on the perks of having your own label.
GOLIA: One thing is that people come to you and you find these players
that are really spectacular players like Paul Sundfor. He's from San Diego.
He had a beautiful tape with Fred Hersch and Drew Gress and Tom Rainey
and on a couple of cuts he had John Swana on trumpet. It was a bop record.
And it was really good. There was just something about it and he had told
me that he had sent it to a hundred and fifty labels and no one wanted
to put it out and I said, "Why? This isn't the kind of stuff that we usually
do." Still, he said, "I know, man, but I have no place to go," and I said,
"Oh, I will help you," and that is a big reward, when you get to see somebody
that is as talented and as good of a musician as somebody like that and
they just come to you. Then you send the record out for reviews and then
people respond in a nice manner and they say, "This is a nice discovery.
This guy is a really good player." I think things like that is one of
the best things about the label, that you can find music of others that
reaches this level that you kind of wish you could do. To me, that is
one of the best things. For example, like Rich Halley, the guy from Portland,
the tenor player. His writing is really good. He's like the closest writer
to a Mingus thing that I have ever heard, but it is not like Mingus. It
is totally his own thing, but to me, it has that vibe. I really like his
music and so it is fun to put out music by him. The music is good. The
writing is good. The playing is always very strong and he is a hell of
a tenor player. He has got this gutbucket thing happening that is really
great, but he has a beautiful tone, so it is nice. One of the other things
when we put out John Gross' record with Putter Smith and Larry Koonse,
it is some really brilliant chamber jazz. Even though we are not distributed
that well and these things are happening and no one really cares, at least
it is out there for some of the people to get it. I really like all the
music that we have put out. One guy out of two hundred read something
the wrong way and was bent out of shape about something what wasn't true,
but everybody else has hopefully benefited, somebody like Dave Ferris,
who is a piano player in town here. He did a nice record (The Quiet Ones)
with Bob Sheppard. It is really nice compositions and it is really more
straight ahead than what I do, it's a lot more straight ahead than what
I do, but it is a really good record, nice tunes, really challenging chord
progressions, and you can sit back and listen to this. That is the main
thing, you just get to enjoy music.
You must sleep well at night.
GOLIA: No, I don't sleep much at all (laughing). Well, I think it is only
as good as the guys who are backing it up. I get recognition for it, but
it is their music. It is pretty cool.
Assess the impact (should they ever open) the Knitting Factory in Los
Angeles will have on energizing the local scene.
GOLIA: I have got to say more power to them. I don't know how well they
know what they are doing here in the sense that no one has talked to me
about anything, but I know that they have talked to Nels and G.E. Stinson.
Nels had the Monday night series, but since that time, there hasn't been
a regular every week series. There have been like monthly series going
on. I think they need to do a little bit more homework in terms of the
players here. You don't want to forget about players like Nate Morgan,
Charlie Owens, Teddy Edwards, and those guys. You want to include all
the new music people. I think you have to include all the alternative
rock people. They are part of the creative force that makes Los Angeles
a creative music scene. In this sense, Nels knows a lot more of the alternative
rock people than I do. I know more of the improvised and classical music
thing and those people have to be included too. I don't think you can
run it the same way as you do in New York. I don't know if it can support
it. To me, I would make different nights. Tap into what the city has,
ethnic diversity. Take a week and make it Latin week. We've got a lot
of great Latin musicians here, who don't get to play where people see
them all the time. They play in their own community, same thing for the
Asian community. Mix it up. You can have a really nice overview of what
the city is about and still bring in your main line groups to pay the
And what is the release schedule for Nine Winds 2000?
GOLIA: We have the Trignition, which is the trio with Barre Phillips,
Bert Turetzky, and myself. It is another in Bert's never ending quest
to find out what improvisation is to him. That is a really nice thing
because the two basses together is like an orchestra and so it is great.
We have a Bonnie Barnett CD come out and Tom Tedesco, who is a guitarist
that played with Bobby Bradford and we had a Large Ensemble double CD
that was recorded live at Yoshi's.
Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and has an IQ of 8000. Comments?