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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Charles Owens at the World Stage

(from an LA Weekly article–2005. My editor Greg Burk and I went down to Leimert Park and wandered about. Talked to a bunch of the local jazzers. He wrote it all up in a piece and then added part of this account of a gig at the World Stage. Space limitations let him use only about half of it, but here it is in all its raging glory.  To this day, I look on this Charles Owens performance–if that’s the word, it seemed more than that–as one of the most spectacular nights of saxophonery I’ve ever witnessed.)

Went down to Leimert Park on Saturday night to check out sax player Charles Owens and trumpeter Richard Grant at the World Stage. Inside, the place is just a tiny storefront with folding chairs, really, and it was stifling. Nedra Wheeler was squeezing her double bass behind an unused drum kit. Derf Reklaw, up front by his three congas, was tearing the folks up with an outrageous story about some nearby African gig where he was yelled at by the bandleader for not dressing African enough. “What you mean, man? These clothes are from Senegal! I bought ‘em there!” Owens walked in decked out in matching powder-green shirt and slacks and a big white Stetson. Absolutely incongruous; someone cracked wise about the hat. A guitar player, whom I did not know (it was a very young Steve Cotter) took one edge of the stage as Owens busied himself taking away that unused house kit a piece at a time, giving the band some breathing room. A local loony took a seat in back, chortling a little too intensely, and the doorman hushed her — for the first of several times. Outside on the street, a trumpeter was blowing loud, flat, cracked notes. Someone went out and shushed him too. Owens was doing mostly Joe Henderson tunes. Reklaw laid out some Elvin Jones rhythms that kicked up the energy — certainly got the loony going; she was squirming in her seat and shouting like Moms Mabley on bad acid. In the second set, Owens’ “Shake Your Booty” was genuinely funky; he took his solo from the back of the room, and the whole place seemed filled with the music; the loon was going even more nuts. Owens took his solo outside—literally, out onto the sidewalk, playing for all the folks out there–came back in, dropped out and Wheeler took over, laying down a swimmy groove. The encore on Joe Henderson’s “Jinrikisha” was the best, Grant blowing like Freddie Hubbard, Owens filling the air with flurries and screams, Wheeler and Reklaw locked in a monster groove, the guitar player darting around all of them. After most of the folks had wandered out, it still wasn’t over. Don Littleton came up, started messing around on the congas, Reklaw picked up his bongos, and suddenly there was a new jam, with Owens playing “Cherokee” at bop tempo over the manic hand drumming, crazier and crazier till, just like that, it ended. Reklaw, shaking has stinging hands, sat down. Littleton started up again, and Owens jumped in even madder, freer than before. When it stopped, the dozen people remaining burst into applause. They’d seen the most dangerous jazz created anywhere in L.A.that night.

Charles Owens

Charles Owens

(Photo is by Rick Loomis from Greg Burk’s fine piece “Charles Owens, spreading the jazz faith worldwide” in the Los Angeles Times Sept. 17, 2011. Make sure to follow the link to the full profile.)