Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 22 October 1928, Durand MI; d 26 January 2012) Pianist, arranger, composer. He began studying violin and tuba in grade school, having picked out four-part harmony on the piano at age seven. The family moved to Grand Rapids, where he composed classical pieces and arranged for dance bands at age twelve. In return for free lessons in theory, harmony and orchestration from high school teacher Glenn Litton, he orchestrated and copied music, learning each instrument from fingering charts, gaining priceless experience. His grad school at Michigan State U interrupted by the draft; he played alto sax in a U.S. Army band and ended up arranging at West Point; returned to MSU for Master of Music '55. He joined vocal group the Hi-Los '57 as pianist/arranger/conductor, making several albums with them including one with guest Rosemary Clooney. He wrote an album for Donald Byrd, then Portrait Of Duke Ellington for Dizzy Gillespie '60 on Verve, and his own first album Jazz on RCA '61.

Roommates and friends at MSU had been Latin Americans who introduced him to Cuban music, but typically he didn't start playing Latin jazz right away but studied it for several years, hanging out and playing in charangas in East L.A. from '58, and soon working with Cal Tjader. Having studied Spanish for years, in the early '60s he began studying Brazilian music and the Portuguese language; with a seven-piece group he was one of the first to play bossa nova in the USA. One of the busiest musicians in the business by the '70s, he began writing orchestral sweeteners for R&B acts, beginning with Rufus and Chaka Khan '74 (five albums), then work for Motown (Jacksons, DeBarge, Earl Klugh) and with Peabo Bryson, Prince, Robert Palmer, Paul McCartney, Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson and others; meanwhile from the early '60s to the present he has played on and/or arranged albums for Bud Shank, Laurindo Almeida, Stan Kenton, Sergio Mendes, Willie Ruff, George Shearing, Singers Unlimited, Natalie Cole, João Gilberto, Hubert Laws, Joe Pass, Amy Grant, Diane Schuur, Branford Marsalis and many more. Busy in the studios in the mid-'70s he worked with Tjader again, reviving his interest in Latin jazz: he formed Salsa Picante, making its first (eponymous) album '76 on MPS, launching it as a touring group '78; he formed a vocal group of two men and two women, and the album Clare Fischer And Salsa Picante Present 2+2 won a Grammy '81.

He has made over 50 albums as a leader, on Pacific Jazz/World Pacific '63-5, Revelation, Atlantic and other labels, some MPS albums from the '70s reissued later on Discovery, more in the '80s also made for Discovery. Clare Fischer Plays By And With Himself on Discovery was a reissue of the solo piano album made for MPS '75; Just Me '95 on Concord is also a solo album; he had also studied and played electronic and digital instruments. Tjaderama '87 on Trend and Lembranças ('Remembrances') '90 on Concord Picante are both Latin jazz sextets featuring his son Brent (plays electric bass and percussion); Momento on Discovery is a compilation of tracks from '69, '82 and '86. Free Fall '86 on Discovery was nominated for Grammys in three categories, and won as Best Jazz Album by a Vocal Duo or Group. The budget Tjader album reissue Huracán on LaserLite features Fischer (who names the Tjader album Primo on Fantasy, with Charlie Palmieri on keyboards, as 'Latin jazz at its best', though he himself had nothing to do with it). Influenced by Duke Ellington, Lennie Tristano and Meade Lux Lewis, and also by Shostakovich, Bartok and Stravinsky, Fischer was also a classical composer: among the instruments he studied at MSU was clarinet; the result of a commission from clarinettist Richard Stoltzman '83 was 'The Duke, Swee'pea And Me', which Stoltzman plays with orchestras around the world. He also wrote the album Dreams for Stoltzman ('94 on RCA) and 'Sonatine For Clarinet And Piano' ('94 on BMG Classics). Fischer had too many gold and platinum records and Grammy nominations to list here; the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) gave him several MVP awards (Most Valuable Player), finally made him an MVP Emeritus '85. As a music educator he performed and conducted clinics in Europe and all over the USA.

His own 50th and 51st albums were ...And Sometimes Instruments by the Clare Fischer Voices, and Continuum, by the Clare Fischer Big Band, both directed by Brent Fischer on the Clavo label in 2011, and available as downloads at iTunes and Amazon, or as CDs at CDBaby. A track from Continuum, 'In The Beginning', was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement. He died of complications following minor surgery.