The Off-Off-Broadway Ballad of Downtown John Fischer

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

John Fischer at the piano. His storied career continues to transcend genre, form, and epoch.

Born in Belgium in 1930, John Fischer emigrated to America in the 1940’s, settling in New York. In the early sixties he broke into the arts scene with his delicious Bread Sculptures. As his online gallery explains: “The years following abstract expressionist dominance see Fischer making these objects, sculptures and happenings with real bread, often fashioned by the artist at his favorite bakery.“ He was thus already an established Downtown artist when, in late 1974, he transformed a 5000 square foot loft on Broadway at Broome into ENVIRON, a multidisciplinary gallery and performance space. Fischer did this with the help of clarinetist and bandmate Perry Robinson, who in turn got him touch with Dave Brubeck, whose sons Chris and Danny cofounded the space.

At the time Fischer was also leader and pianist with INTERface, whose members and collaborators included Mark Whitcage, Arthur Blythe, and Rick Kilburn, as well as Robinson and the Brubecks.  Ivan Black came to review INTERface for the New York Times, and the article he produced, focused as it was on the space as much as the music, instantly exploded the venue’s popularity and exposure. Environ came to be seen as a model pioneer, and boundaryless ad-hoc loft venues began to emerge in lofts through New York and the World. These spaces were fecund ground for the rejuvenation of New York’s dormant avant gardeism, and the proliferation of lofts-cum-concert halls gave birth to its own attendant genre, “Loft Jazz”. After three years of frenetic activity, and over loud exhortations from his colleagues,  Fischer decided he wanted to refocus on music and composition, and the space was closed.

“What we did was of historic significance,” he told me via phone, “and a great success in nurturing what became the avant garde movement in New York City, and you can take that to the bank. But cultural life in New York inevitably moves on, and it when it does, you’ve got to move on with it.”

Fischer’s forward-looking directive explains the momentum he’s sustained ever since. Fischer recently performed at the Berlin Philharmonie, where he shared a bill with George Russell. Fischer has also pioneered works in the field of computer art since in 1976, including the use of the first black-and-white Mac and its hallmark MacPaint program. Westdeutsches Rundfunk (WDR), featured the INTERface Ensemble, commissioned original compositions and sponsored joint art and music concerts (The Loft, Wuppertal). In all, John Fischer has performed in Russia, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Holland, Belgium and France. But when in New York, he plays downstairs with us.

Tomorrow night, January 24th, at 6pm,  John Fischer reads from his collection of poems, Love Condition. His readings will be followed by his group Music for Imaginary Movies, with John at the keyboard joined by other fine musicians.


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