A Sunday Serendipity

Clare-Fischer facing rightYouTube says that 42,793 people have seen a clip of Clare Fischer (1928-2012) conducting what seems to be a master class. I came across it this evening while looking for something else. I abandoned the something else; Fischer was more interesting. At the piano, he plays Duke Elliington’s “I Didn’t Know About You” to set up an observation about the quality of Johnny Hodges’s altoJohnny Hodges Facing Left saxophone playing. Without mentioning it he also demonstrates the quality of his own harmonic conception. In the second video, we hear Hodges confirm Fischer’s point. The person who contributed the video was obviously at least as concerned with the audiophile setup as with the music.

The YouTube uploader offers no details about the Hodges recording; who’s playing with him, for instance. My wild guess is that it is from the 1958 Not So Dukish session on Verve, with Billy Strayhorn, piano; Jimmy Woode, bass; and Sam Woodyard, drums—stalwarts from the Ellington organization. Out of print for years, Not So Dukish has been reissued on CD.

Oh, yes, this is the uploader’s description of the audio system. I presume that his or her fellow audiophiles will understand it.


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  1. Terence Smith says

    So great to hear Johnny Hodges this AM, dripping with that feeling all his own. With the sounds of guys like Hodges and Webster in the band, it seems like they gave Duke no choice but to write the best material, worthy of them and reflecting them.

    It was nice to revisit the rare Clare Fischer video. I was one of the umpteen thousand who had you-tubed it before while searching to hear all I can of Fischer’s often rare and expensive works. Not for nothing has jazz educator Bill Dobbins noted that he and other pianists have spent a lifetime trying to figure out features of Fischer’s deep harmonic conception. Dobbins has a book of Fischer transcriptions called “Alone Together”, which includes four numbers from Fischer’s 1975 album of that name. Citing its harmonic depths,
    Dobbins is quoted as saying he” would have to list it as one of the 10 greatest jazz piano albums of all time.”

    I know this: it doesn’t get much better than Fischer’s two trio LPs (Pacific Records) from 1962 and 1963: “First Time Out” and “Surging Ahead”, and the Fischer collaborations with Cal Tjader are hauntingly beautiful. Catch them when you can.

    I loved what Fischer said about how he cannot play Duke material like this without thinking of Johnny Hodges’ alto sound. I guess we have all noticed that the same thing seemed to happen to Paul Desmond sometimes at significant moments. On the Dave Brubeck Quartet Ellington tribute album, “Newport 58”, Desmond takes on the Rabbit persona for a while on “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be..” And sometimes when the DBQ did “The Duke”, when Desmond takes his little spot during the long interlude part, his alto suddenly channels the Hodges sound. It’s so “personal” it’s electrifying.

  2. Gary Foster says

    It was a pleasure to see your mention of Clare Fischer and the YouTube of his performance. Many years ago, Jimmy Rowles and I discussed Clare’s quite unique and best-known composition, “Pensativa.” I put a copy of Clare’s original lead sheet on Jimmy’s piano. Later, and unknown to me, Jim phoned Clare to tell him how much he admired the piece but that he couldn’t figure out how to play the “goddamned” thing.

    Early the next morning Jimmy phoned to tell me that he was awakened by a big man wearing shorts and sheep-lined boots at his front door. Clare had stayed up to write out a complete piano part with his own chord voicings and was delivering it personally to Jimmy. Rowles followed his account of their meeting by saying, as you might expect, “I tried it and I still can’t play the goddamned song!”