I received a call from Morris Repass, who contracted musicians for Clare at the time (until Clare's son, Brent, took over). Morris and Clare were old army buddies and had been friends for all those many years. Morris related that Clare had become enamored of bugles after hearing a corps performance, and purchased umpteen-thousand dollars-worth of bugles of all sizes. Bugles come in the keys of G and D, and are largely unfamiliar to players of more traditional orchestral brass instruments, like trumpets, trombones, French horns and tubas. As a result, Clare had run into a wall finding someone to play the contrabass bugle, which is pitched in the key of G, below the tuba, which is tuned mostly in either BBb, CC, EEb or F. Moreover, the contra is heavy and unwieldy, since it has to be somewhat delicately balanced on one's shoulder, protruding fore and aft, and still manipulated in a way to be able to find the mouthpiece with one's lips and somehow make music. Morris knew that I "doubled" on various brass instruments, including tuba, and asked if I would like to give it a try. I'm always game for a musical adventure, and it would additionally give me a chance to meet Clare, whom I had admired since I discovered the Hi-Lo's while in college in the '60s (they recruited him out of college to be their musical director).
I met Morris at Clare's house in Studio City, California, and we met Clare inside. After the usual pleasantries, we got down to business, and I was introduced to the bugle. Morris had designed and built an amazing contraption to hold the instrument so the player would not have to, but it was clumsy and bothersome, and I ended up discarding it at some point. I hefted the clumsy beast, found a fundamental pitch and fooled around with it for a couple of minutes, orienting myself to the strange tonality, then embarked on a tune which Clare had composed and which the Hi-Lo's had recorded while Clare was their Music Director. Clare smiled, and I became his contrabass bugler. I played it on some recordings, including with Prince (for whom Clare orchestrated compositions). Then one day, I had to be out of town when Clare had a session, and I recommended my friend, Rod Mathews, who was a much better bugler than I, since he had played in a corps in high school. After my return, I played "real" tuba on a recording of Clare's symphonic works ("After The Rain"). (An aside: Clare was notorious for having a temper, and yelling at players and others. During this recording, he made one of his famous off-the-wall remarks, and the orchestra went silent, until Rod and I looked at one another and laughed out loud. Clare smiled down at us from the podium, as if we were the only ones who "got it.") When he formed and recorded his "Jazz Corps," a hodgepodge of some twenty various brass instruments (some players refused to play the bugles) and woodwinds, I played Eb helicon tuba, Eb alto flugelhorn, and Eb cornet.
All this time, Clare had never heard me play trombone. I had a trio gig (with Frank Marocco on Accordian and Larry Klein on drums), and emailed announcements. I included Clare on the list, but didn't expect to see him. He surprised me; he and his wife, Donna, showed up and apologized for being late, and stayed for two sets. On the break, we talked about my influences on trombone, including Lawrence Brown, Duke Ellington's wonderful trombonist for many years. At one point, Clare asked if we could play "Yesterdays" as a ballad, which we did, after which I told Clare I had never played it before (but I knew it from having heard it so many times), and Clare responded, "You tell me you've never played it before, and I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes?" Soon after that night, Brent, who was contracting for his dad by then, called to ask if I could play on an upcoming recording. It turned out to be a solo feature on a tune that Lawrence Brown had recorded with Duke in 1947, for Clare's Clarinet Choir (eight clarinets, trumpet, trombone and rhythm). He subsequently did another recording with that group on which I had several solos. (Another aside: when we were doing the first recording, lots of things were not going well, like the recording equipment failing to lock up in order to do overdubs--this at a major studio in Hollywood; and the cartage company bringing the wrong keyboard and Brent trying to get them to go the Clare's house and bring his keyboard. Clare was understandably upset. He was rehearsing the clarinets on a passage, and Brent started quietly tuning his bass. Clare yelled, "Brent, stop tuning! I'm rehearsing the clarinets right now! Brent moved further away, turned down his volume, and continued tuning. Clare again yelled, "Brent, stop tuning! I said I'm doing something else right now!" Gentle Gary Foster, Clare's long-time friend and lead alto sax/clarinet player, said, "Clare, I can't believe you're yelling at your son like that." Clare responded, "I'm not yelling at my son! I love my son, and I couldn't get anything done without him. I'm JUST YELLING!)
We'll miss the true genius of Clare, the breadth of his music and musicianship, the love and respect he showed those he admired, and yes, even his yelling. You always knew where you stood with him. He was praised and lauded, damned and condemned, but he lived life to its fullest. His home abutted an elementary school, and I asked him once if the noise the kids made bothered him, and he said that was one of the things he loved about living there: the sound of the kids playing. He was separated from the love of his life while in his high school years by objections from her family, but they managed to find each other later in life and spent their last years together. Thank you, Donna, for the love and care you gave him; I know that made him better for all of us. Long live the legacy and the memories of Douglas Clare Fischer!
Clare and Donna in the booth at a recording session.