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Clare Fischer

Douglas Clare Fischer was an American keyboardist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. After graduating from Michigan State University (from whom, five decades later, he would receive an honorary doctorate), he became the pianist and arranger for the vocal group The Hi-Lo’s in the late 1950s. Fischer went on to work with Donald Byrd and Dizzy Gillespie, and became known for his Latin and bossa nova recordings in the 1960s. He composed the salsa standard, “Morning”, and the jazz standard, “Pensativa”. Fischer was nominated for eleven Grammy Awards during his lifetime, winning for his landmark album, Clare Fischer & Salsa Picante Present “2 + 2” (1981), the first of Fischer’s records to incorporate the vocal ensemble writing developed during his Hi-Lo’s days into his already sizable Latin jazz discography; it was also the first recorded installment in Fischer’s three-decade-long collaboration with his son Brent). Dr. FIscher was also a posthumous Grammy winner for ¡Ritmo! (2012).

Beginning in the early 1970s, Fischer embarked on a parallel career (and by far his most profitable one), eventually becoming a much sought after arranger, providing orchestral ‘sweeteners’ for pop and R&B artists such as Rufus (with Chaka Kahn), Prince (a regular client from 1985 on, and by far Fischer’s most frequent employer in this vein), Robert Palmer, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and many others.

Since 1985 Fischer wrote orchestral arrangements for pop artist Prince. Some appeared on Prince’s albums and have been used for his movies Under the Cherry Moon (Fischer’s first screen credit), Graffiti Bridge and in Spike Lee’s Girl 6. One of Fischer’s Prince arrangements was also used in a revised form for the movie Batman. Prince’s December 2005 single “Te Amo Corazon,” a mid-tempo Latin jazz track, featured string arrangements by Fischer.

More recently, as a jazz educator, Fischer performed solo piano concerts and conducted clinics and master classes in universities and music conservatories in Europe and throughout the United States. In 1995 Just Me came out, a Concord Jazz CD with Fischer on solo piano. Featuring his Latin-jazz group and six singers, now referred to as “Clare Fischer & Friends”, a JVC Music CD was released in 1997 called Rockin’ In Rhythm.

Two gifted Dutch jazz pianists, Cor Bakker and Bert van den Brink, recorded the homage DeClared (1993) which contains nine Fischer compositions. Five years later recordings made in 1991 and 1997 with The Netherlands Metropole Orchestra led by Rob Pronk and Vince Mendoza came out as The Latin Side. Another notable recent CD with Clare is a re-issue of Art Pepper’s Tokyo Debut on Galaxy (1995).

Fischer continued to write for Prince and many other renowned artists including Michael Jackson before his death, Amy Grant, Brazilian artist João Gilberto (João), Paula Abdul, Natalie Cole and more recently Chaka Khan and Branford Marsalis.

With his commercial work Fischer financed a costly band of twenty brass instruments, called “Clare Fischer’s Jazz Corps”. The recordings of this band contain an interesting arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Corcovado”. “The death of my friend Tom Jobim has affected 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’. Only it was not a normal version, 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 Fúnebre.'”

One of Fischer’s last projects in his own name was a recording with Brazilian guitarist Hélio Delmiro called “Symbiosis” which has been released on a “Clare Fischer Productions” recording as has his Clare Fischer’s Jazz Corps recording.

In December 1999, Michigan State University School of Music conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts Degree on Fischer in recognition of his “creativity and excellence as a jazz composer, arranger and performer”.

On October 22, 2009, Manhattan School of Music’s Concert Jazz Band, under the direction of Justin DiCoccio, commemorated two Clare Fischer anniversaries – both his 87th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the release of his well-regarded big band LP, Thesaurus – with a concert whose program concluded with five consecutive arrangements culled from that album. FIttingly, the five-tune sequence both began and ended, as had the album itself, with Fischer’s respective tributes to his twin jazz inspirations, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

On January 8, 2012, Fischer suffered a cardiac arrest in Los Angeles, following a minor surgery a few days before. His wife of 18 years, Donna, was at his side and performed CPR. He remained in ICU on life support, and died on January 26, 2012. He is survived by his wife; three children, Lee, Brent and Tahlia; and two stepchildren, Lisa and Bill Bachman.

Today, son Brent Fischer directs the Clare Fischer ensembles. He produced the last five Clare Fischer albums, including the Grammy-nominated 2011 release “Continuum”; the 2013 Grammy-winning ¡Ritmo! (Best Latin Jazz Album, featuring the Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band with Poncho Sanchez and Alex Acuña) and in 2014 “Pensamientos For Solo Alto Saxophone And Chamber Orchestra” from Music For Strings, Percussion And The Rest won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition by Clare Fischer, composer (The Clare Fischer Orchestra).

Brent Fischer credits his late father for the family tradition of writing and arranging with a rich harmonic palette that has become the Fischer brand. A multi-instrumentalist (vibes, keys, bass, drums), Grammy®-winning producer Brent Fischer moves easily between Jazz, Pop or Symphonic works. His arranging credits for pop royalty includes: Usher, Al Jarreau, Eric Benet, Michael Jackson and the new Elvis Costello & The Roots album, “Wise Up Ghost” released on September 17, 2013 on Blue Note Records.