Clare Fischer

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The death of my friend Antonio Carlos Jobim touched me deeply. Like me, he was 68, and I am still alive. After he died, I had a dream in which I was conducting his “Corcovado”, but it was not the usual version of that tune. There were these harmonic countermelodies in the bass. When I awoke I wrote down what I had dreamed. It became Jobim’s in memoriam, a piece I called “Corcovado Funebre.”
"Clare Fischer: The Best Kept Secret in Jazz"
Maarten De Haan
Artist Interview (1998)

Douglas Clare Fischer (October 22, 1928January 26, 2012) was an American keyboardist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, best known for his innovations in the fields of Latin jazz and vocal arranging (as well as his integration of the two), and for his preeminent position among late 20th-century orchestral arrangers of popular music.

Quotes[edit]

Chronological, by original publication date.

  • When I first heard the songs of Mario Ruiz Armengol I responded in awe at the totality of their musical expression. Mario's harmonic sense was one that I had never encountered in most Latin music; melodies which in themselves were distinctive and lingered in your mind after only one hearing; profound emotional content without being hyper-romantic in conception. Some of them seemed almost brooding in character, filled with a feeling of melancholia and reflecting the depth of his personality.


  • First of all, this is Duke's band, and this is Tchaikovsky. Knowing things in their original sources, I abhor taking a concert thing and trying to treat it in a jazz light. In the beginning they have a very nice orchestral usage, but the minute they start going into Johnny Hodges and 4/4, it just doesn't fit. It comes out neither fowl nor fish. The orchestration is enjoyable because, for one reason, they've done a nice job of getting nice, legitimate, straight-sounding things. The melodies are very lovely, but, of course, Duke is the master in this type of thing. But over-all, from a jazz standpoint, I don't appreciate it at all. If I didn't know it was Tchaikovsky, for instance, with the tambourine bit and all, I would feel it was straight out of an MGM Arabian movie. The harmonies he used, particularly some of the background things, interested me more than the melodies, probably because the harmonic part of music interests me more than any. From an orchestrational standpoint I would give this somewhere around 3½ stars; but from a jazz standpoint, none.


  • I have no idea who that is. It's a terrible performance, the band is horribly out of tune—is that Maynard Ferguson? It starts off at a dynamic peak and never deviates from it. It also starts out with what is supposed to be jazz musicians trying to play some sort of a Latin bag, which is not making it, because there's no solidity of rhythms. Latin rhythm sections being based on the constant contrast of instruments, and it never moves any place. And then that thing on the end—what's that supposed to be? An adaptation of Porgy and Bess of some sort? I guess it was some sort of an allusion toward Porgy and Bess. But then if it is, it's completely escaped all the rest of it. It's like giving a paragraph of reference out of a two-page article and then saying, Well, this is about this." That's one star for me.


  • Of course that's Bud and Laurindo. I liked Laurindo very much, and I love some of the tunes he does. In fact, I've been doing some piano transcriptions of some guitar things of his, and we recently recorded a tune of his. This particular thing again—how are you going to equate it? As jazz? As Brazilioan music or what? I wiould much rather hear Laurindo in his native habitat. I know he and Bud have been associated this way before, yet I don't feel that a real good rapport goes on between them. The constant mixing—half-jazz, half-Brazillian—I don't think it's good. You lose certain features of the one when you try to come out with the other. Let's give that three stars.


  • That's five stars to start with. That's five stars to start with. That's Gil Evans, isn't it? The only thing that disturbed me about this—the whole thing, in its entirety, was tremendously satisfying: performance, orchestration is good, the harmonic usage is beautiful, the contrasting texture of orchestra, the whole thing is just great—but there are certain sections there when the background was so lovely it just seemed like the alto saxophone was out of place. Now this is the type of thing that just makes me smile. I enjoy every minute of it. I don't have to go for a "peak" and then think about something else while I'm listening. Gil Evans' writing, to me, is such a boon that when he came along with the Miles Ahead album, I was thankful, because since about the Stan Kenton Orchestra of 1952, where the writing had been very good, between Mulligan and Rugolo and the whole works, between those periods there had been a void, a retrogression back to the roots, and this took writing back to a standpoint which just wasn't interesting. So when Evans came along, I just flipped.


  • I really don't know what to say about this without sounding hypercritical. First of all, the style of playing is so tremendously behind the beat, it gets to the point that I feel he's in opposition to his rhythm section, and I can't get a nice swing out of the thing. The pianist is tremendously heavy-handed, which I think gets in the way of what he's trying to do, so I feel that in some spots he's stumbling, instead of having the feeling that the man is executing what he wants to play. The whole thing strikes me as a sort of comme-ci-comme-ca performance of a like tune. Two stars.


  • Now that to me is lovely music. Really, that type of thing really moves me. This, of course, is Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, and Paul Motian.... Even Scott's playing on this particular album should disprove all the "naughty" things people said about him, about his being too active, getting in people's way; because the one thing about Scotty, with all his technique, was that he had a perceptivity, which let him use it judiciously. He started this record by playing on the first beat of every bar. He wasn't even playing in two, and any man who has that much technique, who knows where to limit himself, to me, is just great. And of course Bill plays lovely on the thing. That's another five-star.


  • The subtlety of Brazilian rhythms comes from the type of instruments used. Afro-Cuban music has a scraper called the güiro which is played with a solid stick producing a loud scraping noise. This same instrument is paralleled in Braziliam music with the reco-reco, the difference being that the reco-reco is much smaller, less resonant, and played with something like a brush. The cabasa is a gourd wrapped in beads that is incapable of extremely loud noise. The same is true of the chocalho or cylinder, and the tambourine. A regular set of drums contrasts this. The result is a light rhythm that, unlike the conga, bongos and timbales of Afro-Cuban music, does not engulf the listener but permeates him. To this is usually added the guitar (unamplified) played finger-style, which completes the subtlety.


  • I firmly believe that the more one is exposed to bossa nova, the less one is interested in how he can fit it to his jazz concept and the more he becomes interested in what his improvisation can do for bossa nova.



  • Johnny has never written a tune – at least none I've ever heard – that wasn't melodically and harmonically perfect.


  • I'm gonna take a wild guess—I think that was Buddy DeFranco, and possibly the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The band strikes me as an enigma, in that, first of all, some interesting harmonic things are happening as far as the individual voicings are concerned, but yet it's played in an older, tighter fashion. For instance, the bass player, if there are chord changes happening every two beats, plays the root for two beats, then the next root for two beats—that type of sound. The harmony, especially in the opening part where the theme is established, is a lot more modern than that kind of band would normally sound. I think that they're playing that way to keep that Miller identity, with that rhythmic tightness


  • When I asked Sergio Mendes why he still called his group Brasil '66 in 1967, he said "'66 was a very good year!" That's his group and the French song from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It's not one of their better tracks. Some of the things they've done I have enjoyed tremendously, though it's getting to the point where he's had commercial success doing what he's doing, so it's now somewhere in between strong Brazilian music and quasi-rock. Joao Palma is an excellent drummer. Here they have John Pisano of the Tijuana Brass playing an amplified guitar. He is one of the few people who, on the regular amplified guitar, has really got the Brazilian thing down. He can play in the Baden Powell style, which is so compelling and so dynamic. Sergio is usually a much more melodic pianist, but here he's trying to give a hardness and vitality to the over-all commercial sound, and he comes out lacking what he usually has—his lines are usually very smoothly melodic. This has nothing to do with jazz, but I find it pleasant; on the other hand, some of the things they do, like O Pato [from Mendes' previous album], or some of the faster things, I enjoy much more. Two stars.


  • That's wild! I'll start off with five stars and work backwards from there. Now there, to me, is the most perfect band in existence, whether you're thinking of it orchestrationally or in terms of Duke's immensely creative writing. I can't think of anybody I admire more than this man; nobody could even be compared with him, except Billy Strayhorn. Duke does something with this old, tired instrumentation of trumpets, trombones and saxophones, and he has a perfect way of utilizing the men's specific sounds. Anything he plays is a work of art. The band is out of tune, for instance, and it doesn't even matter. They almost have their own brand of intonation. Duke can take an exotic-sounding idea and create something – you might call it sophisticated crudity. It gives both the qualities that I look for – an earthy quality and the sophisticated quality.


  • I had a chance to play that instrument for six days. Hearing German spoken around me made me think of my father, who died in 1960, and whom I hadn't thought much about in recent years. And I remembered what he meant to me. I played "Du, du liegst mir im Herzen" because my father used to sing it to me. So I sat there, thinking of my father, and weeping.


  • Crassness of youth
    Concluding only half of the truth,
    Exuding only one small percent
    Of what I surely felt for you.

    And then one morning
    That brought a day so gently
    We set apart
    Things of the heart
    And lost love long ago.


  • Bill and I were pretty much the same age bracket, and strangely enough, we both went through the same influences, starting with Nat Cole, going into Bud Powell during the bebop period, and then getting into the Lennie Tristano school orienta—in my particular case, Lee Konitz more than Lennie. I mean, in an era when everybody else was playing funky piano, we... I suppose, in a general category, that made us both the same. Whereby [sic] to my mind, we were both radically different. But after I put out that first album, the reviews started off by saying, "Clare Fischer owes much to Bill Evans." And then, when I would write an album, they would say "Clare Fischer owes much to Gil Evans." And I would call that my Evans brothers syndrome.



  • [M]ost of the pop music out today I consider to have become a homogenized product. It gets to the point that so much of what is going on is copying everything else that is out, because there is a businessman that knows what he has just sold millions of records with, and so he keeps trying to get every group that comes in to do it, you know. You know, you approach somebody who is well known as a booker or manager, and the first remark will be, "I love what you do, but you would have to change this to this, and that to that, and this to this, in order for me to be able to sell it." Well, by the time you've changed that, of course, it's like everything else that is out there. And when Prince first started sending me songs, I thought maybe that by the time I had done four arrangements that I would have started getting some sort of a repetitive something or other. I have been extremely surprised to find that each one is as different from the last as the next one is going to be different. Some of them are like little art songs. Some of them have dealt with heavy things like friendship and death. I mean, death of a friend. And yet, some of them are as baudy as...


  • Because of the limited keyboard. This is a very strange thing. When I play the piano, I get clear down to the left edge of the piano. Now, unlike Art Tatum, I don't take runs that go up, that always end up on the extreme high "C". But I really do like the low end. Even as an organist, it has bothered me that the keyboards are five octaves and stop at "C". I've always wished that my pedal board went down to "F". My harmonic thinking gets involved clear down to that "F" and to be cut off at the "C". I can't explain it. It's as if somebody were standing right next to you while you were playing and you just kept having the feeling like: "I can't go there; I can't go there." It does something to me. Whereby [sic] having the full keyboard just opens up a world of things to me.


  • I'm about as Nordic and Germanic looking as they come. It doesn't matter whther I'm skinny or fat. I'm just that way. So, there have been dates: for instance, the date that I first met Alex Acuna, Luis Conte, Alfredo Rey, Sr., Alfredo Rey, Jr., Cachao, the Cuban bass player. I mean, all of these people. The night I met them, on a recording date, I was there with a bunch of Cubans and I walked in, and at first, before we recorded the music, they were all standing around, hanging out. And of course I wanted to join, so I went over and started joining in. Now my Spanish certainly is not street Spanish, it's book-learned Spanish. And Cubans speak a patois all their own, and I could tell, when I first was speaking there, you know, they kept saying, "Well, he's speaking our language, but he certainly doesn't sound like us; he's still an outsider. Maybe not as much an outsider as he was before." And yet, what really happens is that, by the time we start playing, then I felt like somebody gives my visa a stamp. You know, on the passport. Because at that point, suddenly I start getting smiles from people, and different things, and that's an experience which happens over and over and over.


  • To me, there are two different types of musicians. Those who are display oriented and those who are content oriented, Bill Evans being a prime example of the content orientation. I am not interested in the displayers—guys who want to be playing a lot of notes to try to impress you that they got a lot of things that they can lay in there. I'm more interested in somebody picking something that has some really great feeling and laying it in, in a really good time concept. Jimmy Rowles is a perfectly good example of that. His choice of notes may not be uncommon, but boy where he lays them down is so individual that I will go for that every time. The same thing applies with composers. When you're a young composer and you first have a chance—and this goes with everybody—you write your most complex works when you're a young man. And then, as you get a little bit older, you find that you can lot simpler things [sic] and still enjoy the devil out of what you're doing.


  • I've talked to him on the phone, received notes through the mail, but I've never seen him face to face. I sent him my last LP and I understand that he turned his head away as he took the disc out, saying, "I don't want to see what he looks like. I have this image and I don't want to destroy it." So there's a certain amount of mystery involved. I suppose if he knew I were a gray-haired, older guy with a big paunch, he might say, "Oh, that ruins it."


  • Playing that music delivered me from the pressures of my life. I played with my eyes closed and found that my backaches ceased and my headaches would go. The response to that rhythm was "My God, this makes me feel good." I never really remembered having that much fun with it before or thought about jazz making me feel good. But, at 46, it suddenly dawned on me that my body had priorities that my mind didn't allow, and I decided to (play Latin/jazz) for myself and started having a helluva fine time.


  • You don't ever get a chance to play what you really do; and if you do, you notice that you can't play, because you haven't been. And often I'd be asked to play like somebody else, like Joe Sample. I'd say, "I can't play like him. He's an original." I'd be asked to try and the producers would love it, but I'd feel rotten. Then one time I ran into Joe and he told me, "Man, I'm tired of people asking me to play like you." My jaw dropped. Then I found out this is a common practice.





  • I pointed to the side of the road and then I pulled over and parked. When the guy got out of the car he was stripped to the waist. A typical young macho stud. He put his face within two inches of mine, and he was telling me what I was and what he was going to do to me. So I did the natural thing. I reached in and got a headlock on him, and I had him very firmly while he thrashed around. I felt I was doing just fine because I had stopped what was going on, but his girlfriend decided that he wasn't doing very well. So she ran and jumped on us. They both fell on top of me and my head crashed into the pavement. I landed on my left ear, got a hairline fracture and concussion.
    [...]
    It was like some kind of nether world. Most of the time I didn't know where I was. Like I'd wake up and find I.V. units in my arm, and I'd rip 'em out and say, "What kind of a hotel is this? You tell them I'm never coming here again."
    [...]
    When I came home from the hospital I was having terrible nightmares every night, sometimes to the point where I started not wanting to go to sleep. And I still have occasional migraines, dry eyes and short-term memory loss.
    [...]
    If I discovered anything in that strange, 10-month period of recovery, it's that music is the one thing that makes me sane.


  • It's funny. People come to my house because I was recommended to them to do some writing. They've never heard of me, and you can see the reticence written all over their faces. Then they look at the walls and see the platinum and gold albums and they say, "Oh. That one's from Prince! That's from Robert Palmer! Oh my God, Paul McCartney!" And then they say, "You're a really fine composer"--without having heard any of my music.


  • In 1992 by chance I witnessed a drum and bugle corps competition on television and became aware of three-valve bugles. A year later my wife, Donna, and I attended a performance in La Mirada of the previous year's winner. I have experienced fine concert band performances and also good symphonies in my life, but what was not prepared for what I experienced that day. The entire bugle corps was turned away from us playing softly and suddenly they turned toward us and projected a very thick chord. Every hair on my body stood up (and I have a lot of it) and I decided at that moment to buy some of these instruments. In the next year I purchased approximately $14,000 worth of bugles. After having completed an orchestrational family all the way down to the contrabass bugle, I began writing. This album is the result of this particular interest in my sixth decade in music.
    • Written in 1997, from the liner notes for Clare Fischer's Jazz Corps (1998)


  • Since suffering a concussion eight years ago, I find my inside emotions are right to the front and as such, when I heard that Antonio Carlos Jobim had died in December of 1994 I was much affected, I experienced happenings like no other time in my life. While sleeping one night, I dreamed that I was conducting a recording session with strings in Brazil and we were performing Jobim's "Corcovado," except that besides thje melody and harmony, there was polyharmonic bass line. As I awakened from this dream, I went to my piano and wrote down what I had dreamed.
    • Explaining the genesis of the track "Corcovado Fúnebre" in the liner notes from Clare Fischer's Jazz Corps


  • Sometime 30 years ago I wrote a piece for the Stan Kenton Neophonic Band. The night of the concert at the Music Center Auditorium in Los Angeles Stan counted it off much too fast. When it came to the recapitulation at the end, the woodwind instrumentation had changed to mixtures of piccolos, flutes and saxes; and being too fast, it turned into a woodwind knuckle-buster. I was hiding on the floor between the seats. Later, when this was recorded, Stan counted too slowly. That recording was released without my piece. Years later when Stan created his "The Creative World of Stan Kenton" record company, Capitol was so angry that he had left them and released everything they had in the can to jeopardize his market. My piece was released with the first third cut off. I rewrote this for my present instrumentation and when we first went through it, while conducting, I was in tears to finally hear what I had written 30 years ago.
    • Discussing "Piece for Soft Brass, Woodwinds and Percussion"; from the liner notes for Clare Fischer's Jazz Corps


  • As a teenager I had already arranged pieces for the school band in exchange for music lessons. I also played cello, clarinet, and some other instruments regularly. Thanks to that experience, as an arranger I was able to understand the specific sound and tuning of an instrument and to work intuitively.


  • Nepotism. My brother’s son, André Fischer, was the drummer in the band Rufus, with Chaka Khan. Apparently, the arrangements I made for their early records were appreciated, so in the following years I was hired almost exclusively by black artists. I am surprised that my arrangements are now considered one of the prerequisites for a hit album. People feel that they make a song sound almost classical.


  • Prince is intelligent. He never visits the studio when I am working for him; and I have never met him in person. He sends me memos and we talk over the phone. Once I sent him my Grammy-winning CD. I heard from people that were present at the time that while he took out the disc he looked away from the cover, saying, 'I don't want to know what he looks like. It is working just fine as it is.' Prince does not want to meet me because he knows that the minute he walks into a studio he will start interfering. It is uncommon that a person with such a strong ego realizes that I have an ego too.



  • For my whole life I can’t remember not doing what I’m doing now, and I’m seventy. I was picking out four-part harmony at eight and nine years of age on the piano. Why? I don’t know. I don’t care. All I know is it’s there and harmony is something that really stimulates the hell out of me. I just saw each thing as a logical exposure to something which I developed further.


  • I had a concussion nine years ago, and that changed things. I had always been sensitive musically, but now, since the concussion, I find the emotion is there immediately. There is no build. I hear several chord changes — it could be three or four chord changes from a string orchestra — and, man, I’m just gushing tears. I don’t take it as a weakness. Sometimes it might get slightly embarrassing to observers. On the other hand, I’m not putting it on. I’m in no way trying to exaggerate feeling. My feelings are exactly the opposite. Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t be quite as sensitive because then I wouldn’t have to go through this thing when I write.


  • You have to recognize those writers who are artists in the same sense as the musicians. “Catching colds and missing trains.” Man, I wish I could say something that clever. Johnny Mercer was a wonderful lyric writer. You have to appreciate those. And then you get into the other thing where the lyricist says, “It’s not the composer, it’s what the lyricist did that’s important.” Come on. When I find a song that is equal parts of both, that’s a damn good song, and that’ll be one of the songs I use all the time.



  • I found, once I passed the age of forty, that I have a good sense of humor. It’s only through that I can keep stuff off and go through my life. If you sit and try to take on everything that is going on out there, you’re going to end up with problems. That’s where I feel music. And music becomes the way in which I express feelings. And, because it allows me to have contact with my emotions, it’s a constant catharsis, not just playing and writing. By doing that, you alleviate something inside of you. And who knows where that comes from?


  • I had gone to hear the winner of that year's drum and bugle corps competition. That band played a chord that made every hair on my body stand up. I've been in front of great symphony orchestras, and the greatest bands, but I've never had my hair stand up quite like that. That's when I decided to write for the bugles.
    • As quoted in "Voicing With a Heart" by Ernie Rideout, in Keyboard (August 2000)


  • You get tired of dealing with how other people think of what you're doing. It finally gets to the point where you realize that if you're going to do it the way you want, you have to do it yourself. That might mean putting up the money to do it yourself.
    • As quoted in "Voicing With a Heart"


  • I'm a writer who plays the piano. As I write, I find new things I like. I make them into what I call principles, and they become part of my playing vocabulary. That's the secret of what you get from composing. You get to discover things that you wouldn't ordinarily do. Much like a speech pattern, your improvisation patterns can get stale if you don't keep building your vocabulary. Each time you re voice something, you change the sound. When you do this enough, you get used to those sounds, and they start to come out as you play. You end up using voicings that aren't common, which gives you an auditory identity.
    • As quoted in "Voicing With a Heart"


  • How did I get to Lee Konitz, when everybody else was doing Charlie Parker? The sound, for one thing, the notes that he played—man, it just knocked me off my feet! When Lee was first playing, God he was inventive! I worked out so many solos of his off the records, from when he began recording with Tristano and Warne Marsh in 1949. I listened to Charlie Parker but I was not a fan—he was repeating himself too much.


  • Tristano was too contrived for me; he sounded terribly planned. Lee is very intuitive. One of my proudest achievements was when I finally got to play the saxophone well enough that I could improvise on it. I aimed to have a tone like Lee Konitz—but I don't necessarily think I got there!


  • When I had a big band in the late 1960s, though, Warne and I were working quite a lot together. Warne would be turning time around, and dealing with cross-the-bar structures, and starting phrases in odd places—his intuition was really far out! He was one of the greatest players ever.


  • Scotty and I became good friends. We had an immediate musical rapport that was sensational. We did a lot of listening and talking. Besides technique, he had governing, control. I think he was the first bass player who was fleet-footed in the musical sense.
    [...]
    What a trauma! It struck me right down—that someone I was developing such a relationship with would suddenly not be there.


  • Wow Factors: Absolute integrity is a must, but it's also the emotional content that will get the listener.
    A Memorable Performance: Taking my children to see Duke Ellington perform live in L.A. with his big band around 1970. His sax section is irreplaceable.
    Advice for Achieving "Wow": There is only one level and that is professional. You must do whatever is required to achieve that in every performance.
    Audition Tips: Anybody can show off with flashy displays, but when a performance exudes maturity, that can only come as a result of deep, heartfelt contemplation. That person will stand out.
    Sensing Something Extraordinary: When you are reduced to tears by the sheer beauty of what you are hearing.
    Who Would You Like to Hear? To be able to hear J.S. Bach take a melody and improvise what amounts to a spontaneous composition is the most amazing thing I can think of.
    Have Wow Factors Changed? Audiences tend to be fickle. I've been lucky enough in that many musicians attend my concerts, so that I can just be myself.

Quotes about Fischer[edit]

With special thanks
2 Clare Fischer 4
Making Brighter the Colors
Black and White
Prince
Under
the
Cherry
Moon

Alphabetical, by author/speaker.

  • His chord voicings, whether in the left hand alone or in the frequent two-handed block chording, are simply extraordinary. When the inner voices shift while the bass note stays the same, it can be difficult to tell just what the chord is and how it’s functioning in the phrase, but the sense of movement, of progression if you will, remains clear. This dense harmonic interplay reaches an apogee in “Du, Du, Liegst Mir Im Herzen,” a traditional tune that Fischer makes very affecting by keeping the melody virtually intact while the chords quietly tie themselves into knots.
    • Jim Aikin, from his review of the Fischer albums Alone Together and Salsa Picante, in the September 1979 issue of Contemporary Keyboard


  • Rule #2: In general, the higher notes of the basic chord structure (the 9th 11th, and 13th) should be placed somewhat higher in the voicing than the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. There are many exceptions to this rule, and at least one highly respected jazz pianist, Clare Fischer, develops his unusual harmonic colors specifically by violating it.
    • Jim Aikin, outlining ground rules—which, he concedes at the outset, are "made to be broken"—for voicing chords, from "Chord Basics Workshop II" by Aikin, in Keyboard (March 2000)


  • My “super idol” (since the time in the early ‘50s when we played together in dance bands in Northern Indiana at various summer resorts) is Clare Fischer. The consistent, high quality of his work sets him apart. For me, his command of melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation and “LINE” is unequaled – he is my present-day Bach!
    • Buddy Baker, from his liner notes for the Buddy Baker Jazz Quintet CD, Exit Sliding (1999)


  • When I met Clare Fischer I was 27, and I was very impressed with his beautiful harmonies. At that moment it was very important to me because I was more into jazz than commercial music. And in that sense it changed my harmonic concept and opened up a wide spectrum of possibilities. Later, when I started working more in pop and jazz and in conducting and arrangement, that remained forever, even though those harmonic concepts don't apply to everything. But everything is always there.


  • Clare Fischer is my friend. He’s not only a great musician and an exciting performer, but is an excellent composer and arranger. He’s bi-lingual and can bore you to tears on any subject from medicine and astronomy to politics and world history. I try to avoid all of these in favor of theology (about which he knows more than some preachers in my acquaintance). Since Clare assists me in my choir clinics, we travel by plane together a lot, so we talk about theology a lot (and occasionally disagree a lot).
    • Ralph Carmichael, the widely acknowledged "father of Christian Contemporary Music" (and a frequent Fischer employer), summing up his staunchly atheistic cohort in the liner notes for Love is Surrender: Ralph Carmichael Presents the Multi-Keyboards of Clare Fischer (1971)


  • Clare’s harmonic concepts are not limited to intriguing sonorities created by harmonic appoggiaturas and illusions. He also stretches the limits of the chord structures themselves, structures that remain unresolved, creating entirely new, stationary chord sounds. Read, for example, "Coker’s Blues" (from Extension), and "Quiet Dawn," where you’ll find many examples of new vertical sonorities.
    • Jerry Coker, from his Foreword to The Music of Clare Fischer, Vol. 1 (2000)


  • He is a master of thematic development. Like some of the masters of the Classical and Romantic periods of music history, I’ve seen Clare ask for a theme from an audience, then proceed to spontaneously render endless variations on that theme, at the piano, in the manner of a performance. Listen, for example, to his awesome nine and one-half minute performance of Yesterdays (from the album, Alone Together at the Brunner-Schwer Steinway), treated like a theme and variations form, taking it through several keys, in 4/4 and in 3/4, changes of tempo, and several different styles.
    • Jerry Coker, from his Foreword to The Music of Clare Fischer, Vol. 1


  • I visited Clare’s home in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1952 (before he moved to the West Coast). He had to respond to a last-minute gig offer, and so I had the opportunity to speak with his mother in the meantime. She told me that Clare used to run home from public school each day to sit at the piano and improvise music that closely reflected his mood of that day. When he was happy, inspired, thoughtful, or at peace, she would hover in a nearby room to hear and love the beauty that would emanate from the piano. But she said that on those occasions when he returned from school depressed or in a foul mood, the resulting musical pathos would force her to run out into the back yard to escape being affected by the highly-disturbing, heart-wrenching sounds. Clare feels very deeply about his music, never writing or playing anything that doesn’t agree with his true feelings (at the emotional level) and his unwavering sense of musical integrity.
    • Jerry Coker, from his Foreword to The Music of Clare Fischer, Vol. 1


  • What the chord symbols [B(flat)13#11 and A(flat)13#11] of the final two bars don't reveal is that the right-hand voicings are generated from two rising chromatic lines in a rather Clare-Fischer-like way(three names now?). In fact, the problem with this tune, now as when I wprote it, is that the chord symbosl alone don't tell the whole story. [...] As I discovered in my own version of "Wayne's World" - now, why didn't 1 think of that? - certain sounds can fit in between the counterpoint of melody and bass without reference to "proper" chord symbols. This was reinforced as I learned more about classical composers and the music of jazz pianist/arranger Clare Fischer in particular.
    • Harold Danko, in "Solo Pianoː When Chord Symbols Just Won't Do" by Danko, in Keyboard (June 2000)


  • The harmonic style of Clare Fischer is more chromatic than that of Bill Evans. Like Ellington, he uses several independent lines to develop a rich harmonic texture. His arrangements during the 1950s for the vocal group, the Hi-Lo's, were an important harmonic influence on Herbie Hancock. An essential aspect of his style is that the harmony is rarely resolved completely. There's often new or lingering dissonance, even at the end of a phrase, which gives the music a constant feeling of forward motion. Clare combines elements from Ellington, Konitz, Alban Berg, and Shostakovich to develop a fresh and personal style.



  • Quiet Dawn is somewhat reminiscent of certain aspects of the work of Alban Berg, especially the stacking of either augmented or diminished chords in a manner which stretches tonality to it limits, while always retaining at least a hint of tonal gravity. In measures 10, 12, 13 and 14 Clare uses an interesting combination of conventional 4-3 suspension resolutions combined with tritone relationships in the bass. Measure 10, for example, combines the 4-3 suspension resolution of a Bb seventh chord with an E natural in the bass. The 4-3 suspension voice is also colored here with parallel major second intervals (Db-Eb to C-D natural). Clare has many varieties of this suspension variation in his vocabulary, and he traces them to such diverse sources as bebop chord substitutions and slow movements from Shostakovich symphonies.
    • Bill Dobbins, from his Preface to Music of Clare Fischer, Volume I (2000)


  • I'm working with Natalie Cole this afternoon. We've been working on vocals lately, and we had an incredible string date yesterday down at Ocean Way. Clare Fischer did the string arrangements for a couple of tunes, and I arranged some others. Clare is a genius. The way he hears internal string parts is just incredible.


  • Although many musicians have claimed a major role in the importation of bossa nova, Fischer is one of the few who can back up such assertions. In March 1962, he wrote the first bossa nova orchestrations created in this country, as part of an album he scored for Cal Tjader.


  • On a recent evening, the bandstand at Donte's was occupied by what appeared to be three tall, sleek refrigerators, surrounded by a portion of the interior of a spaceship. These were in fact the amplifiers and main body of the Yamaha EX-42, an electronic organ allegedly as revolutionary in the keyboard world as the SST in aviation. This monster, which carries a five-figure price tag, is as yet almost unknown in the United States. On this occasion the owner and performer was Clare Fischer. During the set he allowed some of the rare experiments at his disposal to come into play. The EX-42 is capable of a violin-like vibrato; its sforzandos are like no other organ I have heard; and it has a piano stop that actually sounds like a piano, or at least one with thumb tacks. The pitch is adjustable from 432 to 455 cycles. It is touch-responsive, i.e. the quality and quantity of sound can vary according to how you hit the keys. The question that arises is how much better can the music be with all these aids to nature? The verdict is not yet in, but anyone as resourceful as Fischer will soon produce a favorable answer. Surrounded by Victor Feldman on vibes and percussion, Gary Foster on saxes, Larry Bunker on drums and Andy Simpkins on bass, Fischer played a charming Brazilian waltz and several beguiling pieces by Tom Scott and others. It is to his credit that he did not try to show the total sonic potential of the EX-42, which must be awesome.
    • Leonard Feather: "Organist Clare Fischer Fronts Donte's Quintet," The Los Angeles Times (Wednesday, December 16, 1970)


  • Because Clare Fischer and Terry Trotter, who co-led a quintet Tuesday at Le Cafe, are both pianists, it was logical to expect a piano duo performance. That, however, was not exactly what transpired. Trotter, who has racked up a long series of pop and jazz credits, played piano, sometimes opening entirely alone before the rhythm section joined in. Fischer's medium was an electric keyboard--fortunately one of the cleaner sounding, non-distorting models. The interaction between the leaders was secondary; much of the time, one would solo while the other comped. Fischer displayed his always acute harmonic ear in "Two for the Road," "Nobody Else but Me," his own rhythmically engaging "Coco B" and a blues. Trotter soloed with sensitivity on "I Never Told You," dedicated to its composer Johnny Mandel, who was in the room. Fischer's backup work during Trotter's solos, and also when guitarist John Pisano had the lead, consisted of rhythmic punctuations so incisive and attractive that he sometimes came close to stealing the attention; but not close enough to spoil the mutual feeling of pleasure in this totally unprepared, ad hoc quintet.


  • [W]e liked to ask them to send us something that's as close to what the final mix is going to be, minus having the orchestra on there... They'd send us a tape, and I would take down everything, note for note – the vocal lines, the guitar solos, bass lines, drum beats; if there was a drum fill in there, he wanted me to write it out. The idea is that... he likens what he's doing to fitting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. So if I point out to him every little part that's happening, every little line in the background, then he can see where the spaces are, and fit the puzzle pieces together. And that way he doesn't step on a vocalist with one of his string or woodwind lines.


  • Now, we decided to start a little early to honor my father. You see, I find it highly ironic that one of the most punctual men in the history of civilization is now being referred to as the late Clare Fischer. He used to tell me a story so many times about when he was working with Freddie Hubbard, the trumpeter. Freddie called him one day. He said, "Clare, I'd like to talk to you about a new project. Can you show at my manager's office tomorrow morning at about 11?" And dad said, "Sure." So, naturally, he was there for the 11 o'clock meeting at 10:40, and proceeded to converse cordially with the manager for forty minutes. And then he got up and he said, "It's 11:20. I'm leaving. I'm out." And that was that. Months later, he saw Freddie at a gig somewhere, and Freddie said, "Clare, what happened?" And he explained to him about the importance of punctuality. And Freddie looked at him, and he said, "Are you German?"
    • Brent Fischer's opening remarks at the Memorial for Clare Fischer, February 4, 2012


  • I'm glad I had the presence of mind to think, "You know, these performances aren't going to last forever, so I should enjoy every one while we're doing it, right now." And I'm so glad that I did that, because then, once I had my own instrumental parts down, I could just sit and enjoy what everybody else was doing, and absorb the music my father was writing. And along the way, I discovered that there are basically two distinguishing hallmarks to the music of Clare Fischer.

    One is an unconventional harmonic vocabulary. I liken this to a fine author. While most of us will go through life with a running vocabulary of about two or three thousand words out of the six hundred thousand in the English language, some gifted writers may know around ten or fifteen thousand. And it's not just that they know the words; it's how they use them. They don't just decide, "I'm going to be abstruse and vituperous." They put these words in a specific place at a specific time for emotional impact. And so it is with my father and his use of harmony.

    The second hallmark is his use of interesting instrumental colorings. He knew how to combine instruments and how to write for them because he had played almost every single one of them. And his favorites were the ones that, of course, no one else was using, like the ones you just saw up here – alto clarinet, contrabass sax.
    • Brent Fischer, speaking at the Memorial for Clare Fischer


  • We first met Francis the day Clare played at the 'Manhattan Jazz Club' in Euro-Disneyland Paris. It was in February of 1995 and Francis was in South America. He flew home the day Clare performed because he didn't want to miss the opportunity to hear him play. He and Bernard Maury were in the audience and after the performance came up to Clare, introduced themselves and talked for quite a while. Then in February, 1997 we were in France again and again Francis attended a performance of Clare's in a nightclub in the Hotel Alliance in the St. Germain section of Paris. That night he invited us to join him the next day for lunch. He came to our hotel (He lived about 3 hours from Paris) and he and his son, Stephane took us to a delightful restaurant. The restaurant walls were covered with autographs and pictures of musicians who had at one time or another eaten there. We had a late lunch, the restaurant closed, but the owner kept us there to talk and sip wine and spend time together most of the afternoon. It was really quite delightful. Francis asked if we would ever consider returning to Paris and spend a lengthy visit with him in his home in Antigny. We were so pleased and told him we would love to. We received a letter soon after we returned home to affirm the plan, but heard nothing further."
    • Donna Fischer, recalling the time she and Clare spent with jazz patron and author Francis Paudras, shortly before the latter's death; from an email received October 16, 2013


  • So this is the man who loved animals with such intensity that he named far too many songs after every critter he ever encountered. The man who's written countless songs for his loves, his children, his friends, living and deceased. The man who, in countless pictures sifted through for this occasion, could be seen feeding birds at the drop of a hat, petting a stray cat, letting a dog sit on his lap; who loved children so much, took such delight in them, that he had to move right across the street from an elementary school so he could watch them play. My father, who brought me lunches at my grade school, and my friends lunches too. Whose laughter could fill a room. Who paid for my first professional recording and came to my debut gig at the Troubadour when I was fifteen. Whom I spent endless hours in conversation with, about history and philosophy and comparative religion. Who stole my Greek History books off my bookshelf. (I stole his books too.) This is the man I love fiercely, and I know that he loved me and my family fiercely in kind, and I'm forever grateful for that. And there's one more thing—well, two more things I'm grateful for: one is that the love of his life came to him, and for the last twenty years, transformed it in a manner I cannot even put words to, and I'm so deeply grateful to have her as my mother, and unspeakably grateful that my dad had that in his life. And again, I thank you all for being here, celebrating my father's life.
    • Tahlia Fischer, speaking at the Memorial for Clare Fischer, February 4, 2102.


  • "I've been up past midnight all week, woodshedding," he said, playing compositions by the great jazzman Clare Fischer.
    • David Foster, as quoted and paraphrased in "The Real Ex-Husband Of Beverly Hills" by Eric Konigsberg, in Vanity Fair (February 2017).


  • Hearing Clare's music that evening in 1962, was for me like experiencing a powerful earthquake. The blending of Ellington, Stravinsky and Shostakovich that we heard in Clare's improvisation and compositions altered everything for me. Later, in many generous sessions of instruction and encouragement, Clare said that, in his early teens, he had heard and transcribed parts of Ellington's ""Black, Brown and Beige Suite," Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," and the Shostakovich 1st Symphony. That was a staggering thought for a floundering saxophone player, and I often wondered then if plumbing might not have been a better chosen field for me. What came of Clare's youthful encounters with such diverse music was the creation of Clare Fischer, a composer, pianist and arranger whose music is at once a combining of every moment of beauty and life experience he encountered. Perhaps a favorite quote is proper here. This is from George Bernard Shaw. "The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them."
    • Gary Foster, from a written statement read by Ian Freebairn-Smith at the Memorial for Clare Fischer, February 4, 2012.


  • The vocal group, the Hi-Lo's's, were the greatest aid to me in harmony. I loved the harmonies they were using, especially Clare Fischer's arrangements, which I used to take off the record. By the time I studied theory in college, I breezed through it.
    • Herbie Hancock as quoted in the September/October 1975 issue of Keyboard, reprinted in "Four Decades of Keyboard," Keyboard (October 2015)


  • Clare Fischer was a major influence on my harmonic concept. He and Bill Evans, and Ravel and Gil Evans, finally. You know, that’s where it really came from. Almost all of the harmony that I play can be traced to one of those four people and whoever their influences were. And, of course, Miles.


  • Most of my harmonic stuff comes from listening, for example, to the Hi-Lo's, and in particular, Clare Fischer's arrangements, which I heard in college. I learned about harmony from Clare's arrangements. Also I used to listen to one particular mood music orchestra--Robert Farnon's. His harmonic sense was incredible, even though it was only background music.
    • Herbie Hancock in "Herbie Hancock" from The Contemporary Keyboardist (1986) by John Novello, pp. 392-393


  • [W]hen I was in high school, I formed a vocal group that was at first more like Four Freshmen harmonies—just this side of barbershop quartet. But then when I heard the Hi-Lo’s and Clare’s arrangements, I started writing more like that, and would write it down trying to figure out what they were doing. That was a big lesson for me on developing more advanced harmonies, and I took that with me to New York and all that. If you listen to Speak Like a Child, his influence is huge on that record, in the voicings and the harmonic devices.


  • [I]t was many years later that I met Clare—maybe 15 or 20 years ago, in the A&M Studios in Los Angeles. I wasn’t working with him, I just found out he was in the building and I jumped up: “Clare Fischer?! Aw, man, I gotta tell him what he’s done for me!” And when I met him, he had no idea that I even knew him, much less that he was a big influence on me. I explained the whole thing to him and it tripped him out, because he told me I influenced him! It was really pretty cool. We just bonded right away; I could feel it, and I knew that he could feel it, too. There weren’t that many more encounters, but when I got to meet Clare and talk to him just those few more times it was always special. I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t for Clare Fischer.
    • Herbie Hancock in "Herbie Hancock Remembers Clare Fischer"


  • An interesting modulating example is the jazz piece Excerpt from Canonic Passacaglia by Clare Fischer (issued on Alone Together in 1997). The chord progression, the bass line, and also melodic details are reminiscent of Benny Golson's Whisper Not (1956). Clare Fischer turns this model into a continuously modulating pattern d: i – ♯vi / a: ii – V – i which traverses the entire circle of fifths. The five bass tones D – C – B – A combine the descending line C – C – B – A with the zig-zag D – B – E – A in the m3/P5 lattice. The title Passacaglia is most likely a reference to the descending fourth-line (such as D – C – B – A). The deviation from the more typical descend (D – C – B♭ – A) with B♭ instead of B is in solidarity with the constitution of the fundamental bass pattern with B being a minor third below D. Despite the obvious similarities with Whisper Not, the Canonic Passacaglia by Clare Fischer (see Fig. 15) does not show the same kind of hierarchical organization. It is a chain of modulating 2nd modes through all twelve tonal centers, each of which provides a clear tonal anchor.


  • Verve released an album by Dizzy Gillespie titled A Portrait of Duke Ellington. The orchestral writing was nothing less than brilliant, but, alas, the album gave no arranger's credit. The writing sounded like Ellington and yet not like Ellington; like Gil Evans , yet not like Gil Evans. It was in fact apparent that the arranger had studied everything and everyone and then developed his own highly personal approach to writing. Unable to reach Dizzy by phone, I set out to find out who had done this remarkable writing. It turned out to be the young man about whom Dizzy was so wildly enthusiastic, and this time I did not forget the name: Clare Fischer. Clare was at that time chiefly known as the pianist for the Hi-Lo's, the superb vocal group out of which the even more brilliant Singers Unlimited group developed. The Gillespie-Ellington album provided convincing evidence that he had one of the most original and advanced compositional minds in jazz.


  • According to Shipton, "It is one of the least successful of Dizzy's big band ventures, lacking the authentic stamp of Ellington's own personality." I don't think it was meant to reflect Ellington as much as the broader instrumental palette that Gil Evans had explored. If, as Shipton suggests, Dizzy wanted a setting comparable to that Miles Davis had found with Gil Evans in Porgy and Bess and Miles Ahead, he had found the right arranger. But when Fischer arrived in New York from California, charts completed, he found that Dizzy, with the out-to-lunch carelessness of which he was capable, hadn't bothered to book an orchestra. Fischer had to do it at the last minute. Most of the best jazz players in New York were already engaged, and Fischer had to fill in the instrumentation with symphony players. They didn't grasp the idiom, and the album is stiff. In a word, it just doesn't swing. But the writing in that album is gorgeous; its failure is Dizzy's fault.


  • Thinking back to the time, I didn't want to just make an Elvis Costello album. There were other things I was interested in. I also wanted to work with this fabulous arranger, Clare Fischer, which may not have happened if I had been working with Elvis.
    • Paul McCartney, as quoted in "After John, Paul Found Elvis" by Geoff Edger, in The Chicago Tribune (Monday, March 20, 2017), Sec.4, p. 3



  • Clare Fisher, talk about a muse. He was my inspiration for getting the strings on the record. Clare had done work with my father—my father being the arranger and Clare being the string arranger. So, I had that “in,” although that was not how I was thinking about it at the time. Prince and I were listening to a bunch of Rufus records back in the day—and this was before we thought about doing strings on the first record. We were talking about how brilliant the strings were on those albums. I had also been listening to a lot of Claus Ogerman and Bill Evans. There's one record they did called Symbiosis and it's just one of the most beautifully arranged records. Ogerman's string arrangement, and Evans playing the piano over it, is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. The only thing that's ever come close to feeling as perfectly arranged in terms of the strings was on the Rufusized record. I just said, “Prince, why don't we get Clare to do the strings on our record?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “My dad knows him.” I called my dad and said “Pop, you gotta call Clare and see if he's up for it.” He was. We sent him the 24 track. He got back to us right away and said “Absolutely.” Within a month we had all the lead sheets and we had the entire score for the record. We went in and cut it and I couldn't have been happier.



  • The string arrangement is Clare Fischer. I'd been waiting both for the material and the opportunity to work with him. And on this song "It Could Happen to You," which ends up just strings and vocals, I was at home writing, and I'd written this piece—[hums a couple of measures]—and my mother heard it. And she says, "Oh, that's the bridge..." And I said, "No! That's not the bridge for anything. I've just written it." She says, "No, no; wait a minute." So she phoned back 15 minutes later: "Found it! Here, listen to this," and played me Peggy Lee singing "It Could Happen to You." I'd even written the bridge in the same key. So, I must've heard this when I was six or something. So I made the arrangement for an acoustic quartet, and sent it to Clare for the string arrangement. And when I got there, he ran through the string arrangement. And I was just in awe of how accurate he'd taken the flavor I was trying to re-illuminate from the song. And I just dumped everything I had on tape, and left it as spare as that, because it was just... poifect.


  • I'm a very big fan of this Brazilian singer-guitarist called João Gilberto. And this next song... um... his music inspired me to write it, three or four years ago. Turns out that he heard it in Brazil, and liked the string arrangements on it, which were done by the same arranger, Clare Fischer, who arranged the music for me this evening. So it's nice when something that inspires you goes round and comes back, and you're full circle.


  • [ Kenton ] gave composers carte blanche to write anything they wanted to. The main problem was there was no money for rehearsals so all I remember is an unbelievable mass of notes going in front of my face and us trying to make a halfway decent performance out of it. There were some good compositions that came out of that: Bill Holman, John Williams. And Clare Fischer, one of my all-time heroes, albeit a bit difficult to get along with sometimes, wrote some magnificent music for that band.
    • Bill Perkins, speaking on March 27, 2003; as quoted in "The Bill Perkins oral history project" (2004), dissertation by Earl Keith Bishop, p. 10



  • With special thanks
    2 Clare Fischer 4 Making Brighter the Colors
    Black and White


  • Therese: Please send 2 Claire Fisher 4 Orchestration. Tell him I'd like a full orchestra. There are 12 open tracks. Tell him 2 go 4 broke and play something thruout the whole song. I'll edit what I can't use. If he is unable 2 do the date ask him 4 recommendations of other people. Tell him I hope he's in good health & spirits. Thanks.


  • At this point, I wouldn't want to jinx it by meeting him. His arrangements are incredible. I just send him a tape, we talk on the phone, and he sends me the finished orchestra tracks. Hear that? I'm gonna get that chord on the radio, baby!
    • Prince, as quoted in "Goodbye 1999" by Ernie Rideout, in Keyboard (December 1999); reprinted in Keyboard Presents Synth Gods (2011), edited by Ernie Rideout, p. 97


  • Palmer comprehends (by dint of predatory maleness, I suppose) that this music is ultimately about seduction rather than romance. Clare Fisher's [sic] arrangements have the kind of brassy swagger and classy, stylish sweep that a ladies' man needs.



  • Well, voicings, I learned a valuable lesson once when I was in a piano club with Clare Fischer and George Shearing. And it was Shearing's club. And it existed, I'd say, from '62 to '63; and then, unfortunately, he had to let it go, because certain members in the club went into the business side of the club as a political force. But that one year we were in his organization, I learned a lot from Clare and George Shearing about the technique of voicing. I was taught to just take any chord and, all of a sudden, just take it through every single key, every single imaginable voicing that I could come up with. Just runnin' through every single key. And Clare Fischer told me; he said, "Joe, you will get to that point, once you run everything through every, every single key," he said, "you will reach that point that you could just throw your hands on the keyboard and play blindly, and you gonna play a chord. you gonna play some kind of voicing." And that was something I worked on for years.


  • By the time "Sonando" came around, I had already had a few friendly arguments with Clare Fischer about "Poncho" and "Straight Ahead," regarding my approach and style. Clare Fischer is a genius, a wonderful musician, but he overpowered me and my ideas. He had a different approach. I was always leaning more toward a typical style. I was coming from bebop and an authentic Latin style, whereas he would like a lot of electronic influences. By the time I signed with Concord, my other band was ready to record, so me and Clare split up in a friendly way.


  • We went down and got a six-pack of beer, and we're coming back in the van – back to the concert site – and all of a sudden, Clare said, "Oh, look! There's a Jack in the Box! And we went... "So?... We just ate prime rib, dessert and all; and you say, 'There's a Jack in the Box'??!!!" Well, Rob was drivin', I was ridin' shotgun, and Clare was sittin' in the middle... and he said--he said "Pull in there quick! Pull in there." You gotta be kidding! We pulled in there. He got into the Jack in the Box line. "What do you want from here?" He goes, "I want.." Oh no, first he goes, "Do you guys want anything? You want anything?" We said, "Clare, we just ate a prime rib dinner! We just want our beer, ya know? And he goes, "OK... Give me seven apple turnovers." Seven apple turnovers from Jack in the box! They gave him seven apple turnovers. We took off, and there's a bag down here, and I'm shaking my head. "This guy wants seven apple turnovers!" We took off, and he immediately started eating two of them, fast. I'm lookin' at 'im, and sayin', "Damn!" And then Rob Fisher looks at me and says, "What the heck. I guess I'll get one." As soon as he put his hand in the bag, Clare grabbed his hand! He said, "Those are mine! I asked you guys if you wanted anything. I would buy you anything! Those are MINE. Stay away from them!"
    • Poncho Sanchez, sharing an entertaining anecdote from the Cal Tjader days, circa mid-1970s (albeit a bittersweet one, given Fischer's later struggles with diabetes), at the informal gathering which followed the formal Memorial service, on February 4, 2012


  • One of the things I liked about Los Angeles was that Clare Fischer, the arranger, used to organize something called the piano club. It was an informal group of pianists, and we would meet at someone's house and discuss what was going on in the world of jazz piano. It became a good meeting point for all types of pianists, and as well as Clare, I remember meeting other players such as Joe Sample at those get-togethers. It was felt by some of those who attended that Clare had originally organized it as something of a shopwindow for his own talents as a player and arranger, but in fact the diversity of those who showed up took the spotlight off any one individual and we could really home in on pianistic ideas.


  • Pianist-arranger Clare Fischer is a unique and complex musician who is both a modernist and a traditionalist, a purist and a radical explorer who has always gone his own way and, at the same time, held strictly to the rules of the road. For example, there is a remarkable moment at the end of our conversation where he brings together Latin, bebop, rock and roll and boogie-woogie in a way that summarizes fifty years of music in under a hundred words; that is typical of this man's unique insight and approach.


  • I suspect your ability to hear into the heart of the Latin feel is not unrelated to your ability to converse fluently in the Spanish language, and to emotionally identify with where it comes from. I must relate a story to you. I was talking to Paquito D'Rivera, and he told me that he spent two hours conversing in Spanish with a gentleman at Disneyland about all sorts of things, politics and culture. A Nordic gringo, he said, and then he said, "I must excuse myself, I must go find this man, Clare Fischer. I've always wanted to meet him." And it was you; you said, "But I am Clare Fischer." And he had no idea who he was talking to. And he was startled at your fluency in the language and your ability to understand the culture.


  • Walter Wanderley was very talented and very good with arrangements. I remember that there was a famous jazz organ player and arranger, Clare Fischer, and when we arrived, we were playing in L.A. and Clare was sitting next to Walter and paying attention to all the sounds and everything and he told me, "My God, I heard this guy's albums for ages and finally to be able to look at him and see how he does it..." So, you know it was very impressive because he [Fischer] was famous in Brazil as a jazz player, so he [Wanderley] was very very good. He died some years ago.


  • I studied some classical giants, especially Bartok and Debussy, but didn't go too far into that realm for fear of losing my focus. I wanted to learn what made a string section really sing, then apply that to what I know and value in jazz. So my sources became Clare Fischer, particularly albums he'd done with Joao Gilberto; Claus Ogerman's things with Michael Brecker, including Cityscape (Warner Brothers); and Eddie Sauter on a a superb album by Stan Getz, Focus (Verve). These men are geniuses, and their music is timeless.
    • Jim Snidero, as quoted in "Traditions: Invisible Hero" by Zan Stewart, in Jazziz (April 2003)


  • Saxophonist Tom Scott, bassists John Patitucci and Jeff Berlin, keyboardist Patrice Rushen and drummer Ndugu Chancler are but a few of the L.A.-based contemporary jazz talents who are taking part in "A Tribute to Clare Fischer." [...] The event, which will be emceed by the ever-chipper Chuck Niles, is sponsored by Musicians Wives, Inc. and is being held to offset medical expenses incurred by the Grammy-winning Fischer, a keyboardist-composer-arranger who suffered severe head injuries in an accident in July. Fischer, who has worked with Cal Tjader, orchestrated for Dizzy Gillespie and Prince and had his tunes recorded by Art Blakey, is recuperating at his Studio City home. "Though he's still suffering from short term memory loss, dizziness and depression, he's greatly improved and the latest CAT scans show that blood clots in his brain that showed up after the accident have almost disappeared," said the keyboardist's son, Brent Fischer, a percussionist who plays in his father's band. Fischer said his father is back to playing every day, and "he wrote a new song as soon as he came home. He's just taking it easy, reading and talking to a lot of old friends who are wishing him well." Not only will attendees at the tribute hear a lot of good music, they will be eligible for door prizes which range from a Kurzweil K-1000 synthesizer to signed LPs by Prince and Paul McCartney.


  • Everyone who listens to me regularly, either on the radio or in person, knows that I like the music of Clare Fischer. I think he is a brilliant and talented musician who writes and plays beautifully. As a matter of fact, I like his work so well that I recorded two of his works instead of two of my own on my most recent album. Horace Silver once said if you know a man's music you know the man, so I feel know Clare Fischer very well. [...] On hearing some Clare Fischer compositions, the listener is frequently captivated by deceptively simple melodies and harmonies; however, in playing or analyzing those same compositions, the ingenuity and logic of the composer's solutions to his musical problems become much more apparent. The melodic intervals and harmonic progressions are far from ordinary. Even when he pays conscious tribute to musicians he admires, Fischer creates original impressions within the framework of the Ellington, Tristano or Gil Evans tradition without losing his own identity. His writing may combine the looseness of an Ellington or Evans chart with its "breathing space" for soloists, or it may incorporate the long-lined Tristano-inspired unisons with less obvious musical devices to make a musical point, but through it all he establishes a mood and maintains it.


  • Before: Is that Clare Fischer? He does some tenth things like that.
    After: I actually got this record around the same time I got a Clare Fischer solo piano record. And I'm struck by the similarity between their approaches. Both have beautiful touches in the upper register... can make the piano sing.


  • One day my aunt went to the record store without me and came home with a number of records, including this one. I loved it. It wasn't a jazz record, but it wasn't a soul record either. Chaka Khan undersang everything. She wasn't up to her usual wailing tricks. The most notable presence on Ask Rufus was Clare Fischer, the uncle of the drummer, André Fischer, and a legendary string arranger in his own right. Orchestral work in black music is nothing new—Philadelphia created an entire genre based on adding orchestral arrangements to songs. But there's something about the beauty of darkness that Clare Fischer adds to these records that's just haunting. This was also a Sunday record in my house. My parents were going to do an extended trip to Louisiana and Miami, gone five weeks. When they told me how long they'd be away, the string breakdown of "Egyptian Song" came on. It's a soundtrack moment, a perfect illustration of childhood sadness, lush and spare and at the same time, creepy. And then the story got sadder, at least for me. In Louisiana, Aunt Karen met a man at a restaurant. It blossomed into romance and they decided to get married. When the grown-ups got back from that trip, my parents gave us another talk: We're not going back out on the road again, no, but Karen's leaving. She took the record with her.


  • There are passages on a recent album (in which Fischer collaborates with vibraphonist Cal Tjader) that mark some of the deepest, most profound marshaling of jazz, African, and Latin American elements yet heard (Verve V6-8531). "El Muchacho," for example, is the first step forward since the failure of Liebermann to cross-fertilize mambo and concert music validly. [...] At the time that Reed wrote "El Muchacho," he was not aware that he had written a composition that was a natural for further deeper blending with the mambo. But Clare Fischer was aware of this fact, and on this album triumphantly demonstrates that mambo is a still unfinished solution to a still stimulating problem by means of punning on the ostinato patterns of the Mexican son with the ostinato patterns of Afro-Cuban. For those sensitive enough to comprehend his special flair, he has opened the door on a new phase of tri-hybrid blending. And not a moment too soon. For the Castro revolution has cut the traditional ties between Cuba's Tin Pan Alley and our own popular music, and the next Latin dance may well have to be internally generated.


  • His work with Cal Tjader on mambo "Alonzo" is a demonstration piece of the virtues of sober revolution. Alonzo opens with a suitably propulsive riff but so celestial are the high-pitched inventions that flow easily and comfortably in the course of this composition that the introduction is retroactively shown to be almost to be in bad taste. Never has a sharpened academic skill more convincingly enriched a piece of dance-hall music. So expressive is Fischer's personality that one can even detect his hand in normally anonymous ostinato patterns. Surely "Alonzo" will inspire Afro-Cuban musicians in the United States to rebel, at least occasionally, against the strictly chiseled conventions of their octave style of accompaniment.


  • We all spent a lot of time and energy figuring out what musicians would best bring the music to life, eventually deciding that we shouldn't overthink things and just hire the best, because—and I've found this to be more true in the music world than anywhere else—you have to spend money to make money. The great Claire [sic] Fischer delivered some beautiful string arrangements, and the great Jerry Hey did the same for the horns.
    • Ron Weisner, on making Destiny, in "The Jacksons" from Listen Out Loud: A Life in Music--Managing McCartney, Madonna, and Michael ... (2014) by Weisner with Alan Goldsher, p. 88


  • Between them, Dizzy Gillespie and Clare Fisher [sic] have come up with one of the most thoroughly delightful jazz sessions—small group or large—of the past several years. Gillespie himself has certainly rarely been heard to better advantage than in this program of low-keyed and lovely Ellington classics. This is unusual improvisational fare for his volatile, puckish trumpet, and he responds to it with some of his most sweeping, lyrical, expansive, and joyous playing on records to date. Fisher, until now known as the pianist and arranger for the Hi-Lo's, shows himself to be a most imaginative, witty and ingenious orchestral writer whose sensitive, continually arresting scores enhance the beauty of the original lines and gently but firmly goad Gillespie into solos of consistent taste and inventiveness. Inexplicably, Fisher's name appears nowhere on the album. Recording balances are insensitive at times.


  • Fischer's orchestrations do not so much exhaust the possibilities of the genre as they delineate the full richness of its possibilities. In a sense, his charts serve to open one's ears to the limitless potential for significant, telling musical expression within the confines of the mood music idiom.


  • Fischer understands strings; his writing for them does not relegate them to a subservient role in providing a soft cushion for the jazz improvisor. No, they are perfectly integrated into his orchestrations on a footing fully equal to every other element involved. [...] For a sample of absolutely gorgeous string writing, listen to the magnificent, moving "Sleep Sweet Child." (I understand from one of the participants that after the first rundown of his arrangement in the studio, the string players stood up and to a man applauded Fischer.) He will take it as the compliment intended if I remark that this piece reminded me forcibly of Sibelius' string writing.
    • Pete Welding in Downbeat


  • Clare Fischer has done what I wish Monk would do: he has written his own big band arrangements; the results are admirable. Fischer can make his ensemble whisper, sing, shout, praise, explain, cajole, proclaim. He is not afraid to be simple when simplicity will work; he can write for a mere quintet within the ensemble when he wants to.
    • Martin Williams, from his capsule review of Thesaurus in "Jazz Musicians With Big Bands," The New York Times (June 29, 1969), p. D28


  • His string arrangements were weird because they went sort of sideways. They just cut across the track like there was a movie going on, but Prince wanted something dissonant, something weird, so I called Clare for Prince.
    • Bobby Z, as quoted in "Symphonic Funk and 'Hot Rhythm'" from "Just Another One of God's Gifts": Prince, African-American Masculinity, and the Sonic Legacy of the Eighties (2008) by Griffin Mead Woodworth, p. 198

External links[edit]

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