Keeping their avant-garde up

When the history of new music and avant-garde jazz is written, two institutions will figure prominently: Cal Arts and the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock. The former figures into the monthly offering of the Center’s Open Gate Theatre series in a fascinating way Sunday.

Produced by drummer Alex Cline and composer Will Salmon, Open Gate (which will observe its 15-year anniversary in March) is currently the longest-running showcase for left-of-center music in SoCal — maybe for all time. Everything from modern composition to sound environments to free improvisation — and beyond — is featured and celebrated.

Two local stalwarts of new music, Emily Hay and Vinny Golia, share the bill. Their paths have crossed many times before as their respective artistic trajectories have intertwined. Hay is a flutist, vocalist, composer/improviser and pioneer in the use of electronics in new music. Golia is a reed omnivore, composer/improviser and bandleader, who plays in configurations that range from solo recitals to orchestras that hold scores of players. At the Center for the Arts, Hay will duet with composer/multi instrumentalist Amy Denio, and Golia will lead his sextet.

Hay is from rural Virginia, where she studied piano and flute. At Bard College in upstate New York, she came into contact with Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio, which stoked her interest in improvisation. She tried living in New York City, but tired of it. “It was hard to make headway there,” she explains, “if you didn’t already have a pedigree.”

She enrolled at Cal Arts in 1979 but was dismayed: “No one there knew anything about contemporary music.” What she did discover was the deep ethnic studies in African, Balinese and Indian musics. “The different world music was the most eye-opening for me,” Hay says. “I got to play it, sing it and dance it!”

Golia is a New Yorker who trained as a painter. In the early ‘70s, he found himself in the company of many musicians, and music took hold of him. Largely self-taught, he acquired one reed instrument after another and learned to play each one. Moving west, he found a receptive music community: Cline and his fraternal twin, guitarist Nels, keyboardist and audio engineer Wayne Peet, and violinist Jeff Gauthier, among others. Maybe most importantly, Golia found endorsement by two of L.A.’s new-music elders: the late clarinetist John Carter and his partner, cornetist Bobby Bradford.

A self-starter, Golia willed himself forward, as a composer, instrumentalist, sideman, bandleader and record label owner. His repute earned him a spot as a professor at Cal Arts, and it has opened up huge vistas for him. “There are so many great young players there,” he marvels, “and players who have come out of there that it’s continually stimulating.”

His sextet is a case in point, as most of them (trumpeter Dan Rosenboom, saxophonist Gavin Templeton, guitarist Alex Noice, bassist Jon Armstrong and drummer Andrew Lessman) are Cal Arts alumni. “They would come to me,” Golia relates, “and tell me that they wanted to play with me. Then they would ask me to write for them. I think that their interest in me moved me from an adjunct teacher to a tenured one.”

The music of the Golia Sextet uses very specific composition, yet allows for exceptionally free improvisation — a near paradox in practice. The ensemble sound is often thick, with the electric guitar and bass opposing the horns. Hay, by contrast, thrives on minimal structures. Her flute work is an organic, human expression, and her wordless vocals often grow right out of flute lines. She uses electronics sparingly: “I want it to enhance the voice,” she stresses, “not throw up a wash of sound to get lost in.”

Each aesthetic will find a welcome mat at Open Gate.

KIRK SILSBEE is a veteran writer and critic on jazz and culture and is a frequent contributor to Marquee.


What: Vinny Golia Sextet, Curiosities

Where: Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock

When: Sunday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m.

Admission: $10

Contact: (323) 226-1617 and

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