Something's Happening Here: LA's New Music Scene
“I am consistently humbled by the heartfelt generosity the LA veterans show to all of us new guys,” says Noah Phillips. “Steuart Liebig is a problem solver in his own way. In fact, in terms of composition he’s an old master. Steuart also has the uncanny ability to choose the right musicians for the right projects in much the same way that Miles Davis did. Nels Cline has been helpful to me because I see him as the sort of Muse of the Los Angeles scene. I must say in many ways he is very open minded and at the same time a bit dogmatic which is fantastic because these two viewpoints always give us stuff to talk about. Like Steuart, Alex Cline is very articulate and very capable of not only passing on his experience of over 25 years in the Los Angeles New Music Community but also has a fascinating ability to memorize music, which is consistently a wonder to behold. I can honestly say that I never engage in small talk with Alex, he always has something interesting to say and for that he is a great teacher. G.E. Stinson has become somewhat of an older brother to me. Out of anyone around the scene G.E. has had the most mainstream success in terms of making a lot of bread and dealing with a bit of fame and, of course, the whole twisted business side of music which gives him a certain amount of wisdom that I deeply cherish.
“I would be misrepresenting my experience in LA if I didn’t include my friendship with Lynn Johnston. He is one of the most wonderfully insane artists I have ever met. Lynn has been around LA for a while and has played with a great many well-established improvisers. Lynn has taught me a lot about letting go and just playing from the gut which is much easier said than done. Lynn is a true sick genius. He really needs to play out more. The people of the world need a good dose of Lynn.”
The robust health of the creative music scene here has given birth to several independent record labels dedicated to documenting the action. Bobby Bradford, Vinny Golia, Jeff Kaiser, Jeff Gautier, Adam Rudolph, Harris Eisenstadt, and Kris Tiner, have all taken on the cross of record company ownership, with more coming.
And more venues dedicate more of their schedules to presenting the new music. “Perhaps the greatest strength of the creative music community here is the resolve so many great musicians have,” says Eisenstadt. “People are serious. Alex Cline’s Eagle Rock series, Chris Heenan and Jeremy Drake with Line Space Line and all the stuff Chris had been doing at the Smell and whenever else he could before that. Chris Garcia with LIRA productions, Nels Cline, G.E. Stinson and the fabled New Music Mondays, Rocco and the all the amazing work he’s done with his spaces over the last several years. Jeff Gautier and Cryptogrammophone. Vinny and the incredible documenting he’s done with Nine Winds. Robert Jacobson has been doing a great thing at Fais Do Do. LA is full of excellent players, so even if venues move around some, the music being made is at a very high level. Be nice if more people came out to listen, but that the music is here and vital-that’s what matters most.”
“The players in the LA scene seem less dogmatic than other regional scenes in the US,” says Jeff Kaiser. “Here there is a willingness among players to move between the different shades of the new music, rather than pigeonhole themselves. People here can groove, bop, honk, squeal, burp, screech, groan, wheeze, whoop, and holler with the best anywhere.”
“The musicians out here are incredibly warm and receptive,” finds Jason Mears. “There seems to be enough venues for a healthy scene right now, but that could change overnight. People are doing very different and explorative music, challenging for most listeners. It requires active listening, not passive. Many are not ready for this commitment. I saw this little quote the other day. It said, ‘Listening is a selfless act.’ This strikes upon a great challenge in out society. If people could truly listen, leaving all preconceptions and judgements behind for the moment, and leave your self (you can critique and analyze later), then people would be more open and understanding to unfamiliar thoughts and ideas, music included.”
“It was almost impossible to get booked into the jazz clubs in LA if you were young and doing anything different,” remembers veteran Jeff Gautier, “so we were always looking for lofts, churches, or theaters to rent to put on shows. Having so many new music venues is a completely new situation and something to be treasured for the moment. There aren’t many cities in the US that can boast so many quality venues.