There have been a number of jazz performers who have additionally expressed themselves in the pictorial arts, including vocalist Meredith d'Ambrosio, whose eggshell mosaics have enjoyed shows here and abroad, and Miles Davis, whose sketches were exhibited at last weekend's Capital City Jazz Festival. For most, music came along first. Yet in the case of multireed and woodwind player Vinny Golia, it is just the reverse.
"When I was out of art school I started teaching and doing some things in New York, some shows and stuff," recalls Golia, who grew up in the Bronx and relocated to Los Angeles a dozen years ago. "I worked on rather large canvases, wall size -- small for me would be about six feet high, maybe seven, eight feet long -- and I was finding that visual art was lacking a little bit in immediacy for me."
Golia was a jazz fan with a large record collection, and he often had a disc on the turntable as he painted. "I could actually hear the lines when I was painting," he says, "and I had certain favorite albums that would always turn up." He hung out at jazz clubs, and found himself sketching the musicians. "The drawings would take the shape of the way the person soloed . . . What I was trying to do was get the essence of the solo into some kind of form, the player being the actual receptacle."
Drummer Tony Williams, pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Ornette Coleman were some of those captured by Golia's pencil. "The ideas that I had sketched in the club I would use later to paint from."
One thing led to another, and in 1971 Golia found himself doing a show with saxophonist Dave Liebman's trio. "We had a dancer and a percussionist, and I did live paintings -- big canvases right on the wall." Similar sessions with Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton and others followed, and Golia also experimented with musicians playing to his completed paintings. "Each musician was assigned a color, and he could follow it through the painting. Since I was into doing a lot of optical illusions, he could start at any point and travel through."
Soon after the painter did a cover for a Corea album, he made the transition to musician. "I made enough money to buy my first saxophone," says Golia, "and started to get serious about it." Serious, indeed -- for the next few years he spent 16 hours a day on self-instruction. As a result, he now performs on virtually all the saxophones, flutes and clarinets, as well as exotic instruments such as bamboo flute. His musical associations have included pianist Horace Tapscott and classical contemporary bassist Bertram Turetzky, and he produces his own label, Nine Winds Records (available from 6325 De Soto Avenue, Suite J, Woodland Hills, Calif. 91367).
Tomorrow night Golia brings a sextet to d.c. space. He'll perform original compositions on alto, soprano, baritone and contra bass saxophones, clarinet, flute and piccolo, along with multibrass player Herb Robertson, alto saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Wayne Peet, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Joey Barron.
Asked if he has any self-portraits, Golia laughs. "No, I don't," he says. "I never thought of that -- I guess some of the albums are that."