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Pianist Scott Martin Remembers Clare Fischer

Pianist, composer and arranger Fischer died Jan. 26 at 83

The first time I encountered the late Clare Fischer’s music was playing one of his big band charts as the pianist for my high school jazz band, back in 1973. I’d just gotten into the band as a sophomore and had to take the music home and basically memorize it in order to be able to play it. It was in an odd time signature and the piano part was a series of II-V, minor to dominant ninth chord arpeggios that required all of my skills to master, yet made sense and used voicings I already knew, but just in a way I’d never conceived of putting them together before. In the years since, as I’ve gotten to know Clare’s playing, writing and arranging a lot better, that original impression of his music has never changed. Clare took the building blocks and traditions of jazz, salsa, bossa nova and classical music and combined them in ways that were absolutely original and personal. In short, he developed his own harmonic language, which puts him in the company of the very greatest innovators of the jazz world.

About 10 years after learning his jazz band chart, I saw Clare perform with his band at the Baked Potato in L.A. My friend was playing percussion in the band and briefly introduced us. By that point I’d played “Pensitiva” and “Morning,” his best known compositions, and listened over and over to his work playing and arranging for the Brazilian genius Joao Gilberto. A little later, I noticed he’d written the score for Prince’s movie, Under the Cherry Moon. I also became familiar with his salsa records with Poncho Sanchez that used closely harmonized vocal arrangements he’d developed for the Hi-Los back in the ’50s combined with melodic and rhythmic devices that recalled Stravinsky. I’ve always admired the incredible range all of these various projects demonstrated. More recently, I even watched a scratchy YouTube link of him performing his own deeply moving arrangement of “America the Beautiful” on the huge pipe organ at the National Cathedral. Not many “jazz pianists” could stretch that far.

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