Saturday, January 28, 2012

Oh Clare

A Giant of the Music World has left us. Clare Fischer passed from this plane yesterday, and was heralded in the Los Angeles Times this morning (,0,7091789.story ). All things Clare can be read elsewhere, except personal stories, so I'll share some of mine.

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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Longest Day

July 31, 2006. 40 hours long. 'Nuff said.

Well, I guess a little explanation is called for. That was the last day of my tour with the Billy Vaughn Orchestra in Japan, nearly three weeks of traveling all over, on bullet trains and locals, buses and taxis, and even one plane trip to save time over the ferry. We finished the tour in Osaka, and the morning after our last performance began early, a 6 AM departure from our hotel. We had an early flight to Narita (Tokyo), a long layover, then a flight back to the States. I had arranged with the contractor and the promoter to fly separately from the orchestra, to San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, because I had a very special event lined up -- a live Blue Note recording with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra and jazz guitar great, Kenny Burrell, in celebration of Kenny's 75th birthday. Other luminaries were to include Hubert Laws and Joey DeFrancesco.

I caught the flight to San Francisco International Airport, where I was met my my wonderful sister, Mikie, and her husband Charles. They drove me to Oakland, where the recording was to take place that evening at Yoshi's Jazz Club. In the course of the flight, I had crossed the International Date Line, where it was still July 31 on the eastern side, so the date didn't change after 24 hours; it remained July 31. We got to Oakland, had lunch, and then I went on to a sound check, dinner and a change of clothes, and two sets that evening which were recorded with a live audience. By the time we finished at midnight, my day had lasted 40 hours! By the end of the evening, I was fighting sleep and trying to keep from falling off my chair, but I wouldn't have missed that event for anything.

I definitely slept well that night, but the next day had to bum a ride to Santa Cruz, where we recorded an additional night at Kuumbwa, a local jazz club. From there I rented a car and drove home to Los Angeles, where I repacked my suitcase and headed off to Hawaii for another trombone adventure. Whatta life!

Editorial Reviews

Kenny Burrell turned 75 on July 31, 2006. That night he finished a five-day run at Yoshi's in Oakland and then the next day played with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra in Santa Cruz. This CD commemorates the occasion with performances from both nights, presenting Burrell’s sparkling guitar in settings that range from an intimate trio to fronting Wilson's 17 –piece band. The material reflects Burrell's long career and broad associations. Among the small group tracks, there's a beautiful quartet sequence of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," J.J. Johnson's "Lament," and Miles Davis's "All Blues," each demonstrating Burrell's consummate lyricism and absolute mastery of the mainstream modern. The big-band tracks pick up on associations with Duke Ellington, including the elegant "Sophisticated Lady" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," with the 88-year-old Wilson providing a sparkling foundation that has Burrell and company soaring. Best of all is the extended "A Night in Tunisia" with a septet that has organist Joey DeFrancesco and flutist Hubert Laws. --Stuart Broomer

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What's The Best?

We all have favorite "things" -- those of us who cook have favorite pots, pans, or utensils, like our old plastic  stirring spoon with a chunk out of the tip, or our wooden salad fork with a tine missing. Musicians have a favorite edition of some special music, or a favorite recording, or some accessory to our instrument of choice. With us brass players, mouthpieces come to mind. They sometimes take on legendary proportions in our perception of greatness; some players will hang onto a particular piece forever, guarding it jealously against loss or damage. We'll have our favorite mouthpiece maker copy it so that we have a backup, even though we know the copy can't hold a candle to the original.

Which brings me to the meeting of one of jazz's most memorable and wonderful trombonists, Frank Rosolino, and his collaboration with Terry Warburton, one of the premier makers of brass mouthpieces. Terry told me the story when I saw him at the International Trombone Workshop in Nashville in June 2011. Frank spent a day in Terry's shop, trying variations that Terry would make for him, until the end of the day, when Frank declared that Terry had made the greatest mouthpiece. And to prove he meant it, he gave Terry his old favorite mouthpiece that he had been playing for decades. Terry had the actual mouthpiece in his pocket, and showed it to me as he was telling the story. Sometime after that momentous meeting, Terry's shop was destroyed by fire. As he was sifting through the ashes afterward, he found the mouthpiece Rosolino had given him -- the only thing to survive the fire!

Someone sent me a link to a YouTube video a few days ago, which was really a slide show of covers of albums Frank had headlined or appeared on. Near the end was his last, appropriately titled "The Last Recording." It features a photo of Frank playing his trombone, and I noticed that he was playing what is obviously (to me, at least) his Warburton mouthpiece. I forwarded it to Terry; that's a great feather in his cap to have provided a "favorite" mouthpiece for one of the world's greatest players. I'm glad to have been able to find that, on a number of planes: first, I play Warburton mouthpieces on my various brass instruments; I think they are the greatest for sound, versatility and ease of playing. And I promote them; I tell others about them, and have influenced a number of people to switch. Terry is very creative and inventive, and he seems to just have a special touch. And he's an all-around good guy, funny and pleasant, and generous to a fault. His wife, Ann, is much the same, and I've enjoyed my relationship with the two of them. And I'll have the pleasure of seeing them again in a couple of days at the NAMM show in Anaheim, where they'll be extolling the virtues of TW mouthpieces, and his new invention, a custom saxophone gooseneck. I told another legend, Plas Johnson (the original tenor sax voice of "The Pink Panther"), about them, and he is now playing one, and going on and on about how great it is (fodder for another tome, I guess).

Frank, and his Warburton Mouthpiece

Yours Truly, with Ann & Terry Warburton