After Gary Foster informed me of Clare Fischer’s death at 83 on Friday, I went to the LP shelves, got out Dizzy Gillespie’s 1960 recording A Portrait of Duke Ellington and listened to all of it. For perhaps the hundredth time, I was moved by the originality that Fischer brought to the daunting task of recasting pieces by the acknowledged master of jazz composition. In an irony of Fischer’s career, the understated brilliance of his arrangements for that remarkable collection went uncredited. The album notes did not mention him. They mentioned no one in the band but Gillespie. Over the years, despite Norman Granz’s Verve Records keeping it a secret, the identity of the arranger slowly made its way through the jazz underground. When finally it became general knowledge that the charts were Fischer’s, few in jazz were surprised.
By then, his writing and piano playing were greatly admired among musicians. Fischer’s vocal arranging for the Hi-Los in the late 1950s and early ‘60s had attracted attention that increased as he wrote for George Shearing, Cal Tjader, and Bud Shank, among others, and for his own instrumental and vocal groups. His playing was some of the most compelling of the many pianists who developed in the wake of Bill Evans. He himself became an influence on Herbie Hancock and other younger pianists. Don Heckman traces Fischer’s career in this Los Angeles Times obituary.
The Gillespie album, his work on several Hi-Los recordings, his albums as pianist and arranger with Tjader, his collaborations with saxophonist Foster and his own big band albums, are essential to serious collections. There is a selection of them here. Thesaurus has some of his finest writing for big band. The sublime Songs For Rainy Day Lovers, long out of print, still turns up on sites, including this one, that specialize in LPs.
In an episode from live Los Angeles television of the early 1960s, Fischer is the pianist in Bud Shank’s quartet and the composer of the piece they play. Larry Bunker is the drummer, Gary Peacock the bassist. Fischer also wrote “Carnival,” the tune that begins and ends the segment.
Clare Fischer, RIP