House Blend | Episode 20: Dirk Fischer (Interview) and Off the Record (Music)
Stewart Roussin Fischer, better known as “Dirk” Fischer or “Dirty Dirk” Fischer (b. 1924), is an American composer, arranger, jazz educator, trumpeter, and valve trombonist. Before moving to California in 1959, he spent his young adulthood in the Northern Plains, performing with and writing for territory bands booked out of Omaha, Nebraska. He is the brother of Clare Fischer.
Dirk has been a faculty member at College of the Canyons from 1977 to February 12, 2005, as Jazz Band Director and Instructor of Jazz Studies.
Dirk was born September 1, 1924, in Durand, Michigan. His mother, Luella Blanche Roussin (maiden), was of French descent, and his father, Cecil Harold Fischer, was of German descent. Both were born in Canada at the turn of the last century. Dirk is the oldest of four children, the three oldest being boys, Clare being the third, and the youngest being a sister. His mother played piano, his father played banjo, and his uncle played C melody saxophone. There was always music in his house.
Dirk began playing the trumpet at age 13 and “picked up” the saxophone the following year. His mother nicknamed him “Dirk” when he was 13, and later, while playing in territory bands, friends endearingly called him “Dirty Dirk.”
Dirk graduated from South High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Just before being drafted into the Army, Dirk and three friends formed a quartet called the Aristocats, who played at Club Cherrio in Muskegon, MI. Rich Henry (alto), Dirk (trumpet), Hamilton Allen (piano) (and namesake of a later Fischer composition), Mike Balish (drums). Rich later played with Buddy Morrow and Les Elgart.
During World War II, Stewart Fischer was drafted and served three years in the U.S. Army where he worked his way up to the Army Service Forces Bands. He entered the Army at Camp Barkley, Texas, just outside of Abilene, where, after basic training, he chose to enroll in cooks-and-baker school. While working for a company kitchen, Dirk, began sitting-in, both on saxophone and trumpet, with the local Medical Replacement Training Center Band. From there, the Army transferred him from the kitchen to the band. It was at this time that he formed a life-long friendship with jazz saxophone/clarinetist Al Drootin (b.1916) from Boston. Eventually, a general, on the recommendation of a warrant officer who headed an Army band at Camp Reynolds, Pennsylvania, pulled Dirk from a pending overseas transfer and, instead, sent him to Camp Lee, Virginia, home of the band training unit for the Armed Forces.
Dirk spent six months at Fort Lee where instructors such as Gil Evans and Sanford (“Sandy”) J. Siegelstein (b. 1919) were assigned. There were 250 musicians there, not just American, but from the Allied forces, too. Although Dirk took an arranging course taught by Gil Evans — who had been drafted — he already knew and was practicing what Gil was teaching.
Dirk spent time playing with an all-black military bib band in Pennsylvania. When the Army still segregated soldiers by race, music helped Fischer bridge the gap.
Under the G.I. Bill in Minnesota, Dirk studied trumpet with Daniel Benner Tetzlaff, orchestration with William Muelbe (1888-1966) — both of the Minneapolis Symphony — tonal materials with Jack Nowiki (Paul Hindemith, Joseph Shillinger) and 20th Century Counterpoint with Earnst Kreneck.
Early in his career, Dirk had played trumpet and valve trombone several territory bands, all booked out of Omaha by the National Orchestra Service (NOS), including the Teddy Philips, Little John Beecher Orchestra, Joe Vera Latin Ensemble, Walter Martie, John Paul Jones, and Lee Williams, all of which became the outlet for his arranging and compositional skills throughout the late 40s and 50s. Dirk directed some shows and did most of the “special” arrangements, drove the sleeper buses, and the like. He was the road manager for John Beecher as well. After five years Dirk left the Beecher Band September 1959, when the NOS was going out of business.
Some say that he earned the name “Dirty Dirk” when he had the unpleasant job of hiring and firing musicians in one of the bands.
Dirk Fischer, Arno Marsh, and Clare Fischer all played together in the Walter Martie Band around 1946-47.
Dirk arrived in Los Angeles in 1959. He spent the next six years struggling to work in the recording studios, doing mostly ghost writing for other composers and arrangers. Very little during this period had his name on it. He did some union contracting for strings and other people in the orchestras, including his brother’s recording sessions, and did a lot of copy work, as well.
Having been separated from his first wife for some time, his present wife showed up at the Rams Restaurant, in Los Angeles, where Dirk was working. Dirk hired her in November 1965 and they were married September 5, 1966. They managed to pool their resources and open and operate a little coffee shop in Van Nuys for 14 years called the Owl Coffee Shop. The business enabled both Dirk and Roz to go to school — music credentials for Dirk and nursing school for Roz. After transferring credits earned on the GI bill from a college in Minnesota, Dirk earned credits from Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Northridge to complete a California Teaching Credential.
A California Teaching Credential, is a certification given in lieu of a traditional diploma, to people with professional expertise and experience who also completed a rigorous number of accredited, collegiate hours for the purpose of teaching at a junior college. To earn this, candidates need strong recommendation letters, too. Three years with Army bands — alongside name musicians, formally trained musicians, and some incredible composers — was the finest music education an 18-year-old draftee could get in the 1943-1946 era. Because Dirk was a formidable writer at the time, the Army gave him all kinds of special considerations that extended well above his formal rank of PFC.
Even in the 1970s, many major academic institutions and music conservatories had yet to incorporate jazz studies into traditional music pedagogy. Even though there were music institutions with strong jazz programs, finding qualified teachers — those who were at the pinnacle of their field — meant having to draw from the jazz profession, rather than from academia. The College of the Canyons found Dirk by accident. At the suggestion of his wife, Roz, Dirk visited COC as a possible outlet to play his horn and to meet others with like interests. It didn’t take long for COC to figure out who he was. In 1977, Dirk became the first Instructor of Jazz Studies at College of the Canyons. At COC, he quickly established a formidable program and built it over twenty-eight years, retiring February 12, 2005. Of the many legacies Dirk built, he spearheaded the first RK Downs Jazz Festival, held Annually at COC. Dirk has helped build it over the years.
Mr. Fischer’s compositions and arrangements are performed by jazz ensembles in high schools, colleges, and professional orchestras throughout the United States, the Netherlands, Nova Scotia, and Japan.
Dirk has two sons and a daughter from his first marriage to Lula Frances Leak (b. 1930, married 1948, divorced August 1966, Los Angeles). Lula was a big band singer. His eldest son, Louis André Fischer — a well-established record producer and original drummer with Rufus — is an administrator at McNalley Smith College of Music in St. Paul, MN.
Dirk also has step sons and a son from his second union of 40 years to Rosalindo (“Roz”) Joyce Fischer, former surname Satin née Baum (b. 1938 – d. 2005). Dirk and Roz were married in Las Vegas on September 5, 1966.
About Off The Record
Off The Record is a 9-piece ensemble with vocalist featuring the arrangements and compositions of Dirk Fischer. Based in Southern California, Off The Record offers a fresh interpretation to a variety of music from jazz and Latin tunes to standards from the Great American Songbook. We bring enthusiasm, variety, and musicianship to every performance at concerts, dance parties and other types of special events. Off The Record has performed in local restaurants, jazz festivals, and casual and formal parties.
Off The Record is led by saxophonist Dan Cobb and includes Dennis Akesson, Kay Twombly, Stan Hernacki, Bill Barrett, Chris Tune, David Edelstein, Wayne Hildenbrand, Lynn Keller (vocals) and Jeff Takiguchi.
Book Off The Record for your next event in the Santa Clarita or San Fernando Valley by calling 714-865-0712 or send email to OTRMusic2011 (at) gmail.com.(c)2011 SCVTV