Derrick Finch

Listening to Jackie McLean’s Old and New Gospel. Ornette’s demented trumpet here reminds me of the time I was down on Degnan in Leimert Park going back and forth between the World Stage and Sonny’s Spot. There was some pretty Ornettish trumpet blowing going on at Sonny’s, though I think they were aiming for Miles. It’s a difficult instrument, the trumpet.  I headed back to the World Stage where Azar Lawrence was blowing his head off on tenor, utterly mad, and the vibe in the room got really deep. Nate Morgan’s hands ran blue pirouettes across the keys, crazy and beautiful and perfect. Afterward Derrick Finch sat at the piano and man, what a player. A lot of that old stride in his style that night. Richard Grant picked up his muted trumpet and played some absolutely gorgeous horn. Beautiful player. There was a fast “Autumn Leaves”. A Miles tune. Some others. Bass player joined in for one before splitting.  Then as a duo again they worked out two ballad interpretations: “Giant Steps” and “Confirmation”. Finch finally had to leave and the few of us left in the room walked outside. We hung out front on the sidewalk a bit, Finch talking about his jazz hopes and dreams. Big dreams. This was before the recession and everything seemed possible. Then it was time to go. As we were getting into our cars, you could hear Grant in there alone, blowing another “Autumn Leaves” into the empty room.

Derrick Finch handed me his business card that night. I just found it again, by chance, digging through a desk drawer. It brought all this back. I pulled it out of the drawer and tucked it into a folder full of obituaries and memorials, then put it aside. Things stuck in folders tend to be forgotten. But every time I drive east on the I-10, past the wind farms and Palm Desert and into all that nothingness, I’ll remember that card, and that conversation, and Richard Grant blowing the saddest, loneliest “Autumn Leaves” you ever heard.

(First paragraph was from 2005…the second added in  2009, after Finch’s death in a car accident near Palm Springs.)

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