Reviews & Opinions

GOOD EARS: Interviewing Radio Jazz Host Gary Finney
Following Gary's World Jazz Travels

Gary Finney“I don’t know who’s out there,” says WQLN Radio Jazz Host Gary Finney.  “I hope I’m turning somebody on to music with which they’re unfamiliar, finding things they like…and things they don’t.  I hope they hear something new.”

“A movie for your ears.”

Gary, now a ten-year veteran of Erie’s airwaves, currently hosts a WQLN (91.3 FM) radio slot, “The Third Set,” from 11 p.m. until midnight, four night a week.  This Mon.-Tues.-Weds.-Thurs. schedule is demanding, often taking four hours of preparation for a one-hour show.  “I want to tell a story with each broadcast, with a beginning, middle, and end…a movie for your ears.”

It’s about you.

It’s the listener on whom Gary focuses his attention.  Not his boss, not some musician he admires, or someone else he’s trying to please.  It’s you, the listener. And he wants to bring you something you haven’t heard before, or heard in that context before.

"More and more, advertisers and others – Google, for instance – are tailoring what you see and hear to what they think are your established patterns – everything from your politics to your taste in soup.  But where’s the chance to broaden your horizon?  To experience surprise and wonder?  I try to span the universe of jazz music, from Anthony Braxton to Kid Ory.”

“Not a child of jazz.”

“One of the things I hope I bring to the table is that I’m not a child of jazz.  I grew up on Rock & Roll.  Jazz was just an exotic spice.  I played in the Junior Phil (percussion) and, as a 20-year-old in a Rock & Roll band covering top 40’s hits.  We
had a lot of gigs.  After a while it all started to sound the same to me, and I started to hate it.  I decided I didn’t want to do that any more.”

Weather ReportWas there a burning bush moment?

“Yeah.  I had a friend who was a jazz freak.  I was the R&R guy.  He played a bunch of stuff for me.  Some I got; some I didn't. Then I heard Weather Report.  I was fascinated by the layers: rhythms on rhythms, harmonies and lines.  Then I began to listen to electric Miles – to Shorter and Zawinal – and I had to hear more.  It’s been like that ever since.

How did you come to your DJ experience?

I did six years at WQLN as a DJ in the 1980’s.  Tom McLaren was the boss, and he knew me and encouraged me, and I know Rob Hoff put in a good word, but I still had to make an audition tape and earn my way in.

Then I turned to other things, and returned to WQLN again four years ago with a 1-hour-a-week show.  My chance to do my current four-hour-a-week show came up in July of 2012.

Day job?

“As you know, being a WQLN Radio Host is a volunteer job..  And of course I have to earn a living.  My daytime work is as Manager of Engineering Services at Erie Magnetics.  I’s an Erie company that custom-builds machines to purify and cleanse products for a number of very large companies, including Hershey Chocolates and Campbell’s Soups.  A lot of my job is keeping assignments and data/records in order. My music interests feed my creative side.”

John McLaughlinI know you mostly from your ‘Jazz Road Trip’ articles in JazzErie Notes and web page. How did that get started?

“In May of ’73, when my interest in jazz was dawning, I heard a concert at Kent State University with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.  It was my first live jazz concert experience and I was blown away.  Ever since then, whenever I could afford it and could get away, I've gone to live concerts and I love them.  I went last summer to Newport; I've made a number of trips to NYC and elsewhere.  I’m going to hear Chris Potter’s quartet at Lakeland College this weekend..”

Our good fortune.

Gary’s continually developing love of jazz is our good fortune.  His knowledgeable, enthusiastic commentary and eclectic choices feed our ears and imaginations through his radio show and writing.  His participation on the JazzErie Board helps keep this great music in Erie.

Interview by Dick Thompson
February 26, 2013