Stewart Roussin Fischer, better known as “Dirk” Fischer, noted composer, arranger, trumpeter, valve trombonist and head of the College of the Canyons Jazz Department for more than 28 years, died Monday at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia. He was 88.
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Family members and friends were at his side, said George Fischer, youngest of Dirk’s four sons.
Fischer had been battling colon cancer for almost a year, and it is believed that caused his death, George Fischer said. “There will be no autopsy. My father did not want any extraordinary life-saving measures at all, yet wanted to die with dignity, in comfort and at peace, which he did.”
Born Sept. 1, 1924 in Durand, Mich., Fischer picked up the trumpet and saxophone at age 13, about the same time he picked up the nickname “Dirk” from his piano-playing mother (his father played banjo). Dirk’s older brother Clare Fisher, who died in 2012, was also a musician and composer/arranger.
After graduating high school, Dirk formed a group called The Aristocats, which lasted until he was drafted. He served three years in the Army during World War II, moving his way from kitchen duty to leading Army Services bands. He was sent to Fort Lee to work with Army jazz bands instead of being shipped overseas. At Fort Lee, he also studied jazz arrangement with Gil Evans, who was assigned to the same post.
After the war, under the G.I Bill, Fischer studied trumpet and during the late 1940s and ‘50s toured as a member of several bands booked out of Omaha by the National Orchestra Service.
After the NOS folded, Fisher moved to Los Angeles, and worked as a composer/arranger on the L.A. studio scene for about six years. He met and married his second wife, Roz, and they co-owned the Owl Coffee Shop in Van Nuys for 14 years. During that time, Fischer resumed his education at Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Northridge and earned a teaching credential.
At his wife’s suggestion, Fischer checked out the music program at College of the Canyons and initially studied under R.K. Downs, who headed the college’s music department. Fischer’s involvement at COC gradually shifted from student to instructor and he was named the college’s first head of Jazz Studies in 1977.
Fischer built COC’s Jazz Department into a powerhouse that produced countless musicians and earned regional and national recognition. He founded the Studio Jazz Ensemble big band, which became an ambassador for the college and its music program. Fischer also produced the annual R.K. Downs Jazz Festival at COC, showcasing the best high-school jazz talent each year.
Fischer retired from day-to-day activities with COC’s music department in February 2005, but remained active behind the scenes, arranging and occasionally conducting music for the students’ regular public performances.
When he died, Fischer was working on a piece to be performed by the jazz band under the direction of K.C. Manji, who was named head of the department after Fischer retired.
Many of the arrangements played by the COC Studio Jazz Ensemble were the creations of Dirk Fischer, and his work remains the core of the college’s Jazz Studies program.
Fischer was preceded in death by his second wife, Rosalindo (“Roz”) Joyce Fischer, who died in 2005.
Fischer is survived by first wife Lula Frances Leak; eldest son Louis Andre Fischer and his family; middle son Eric Fischer and his family; youngest son George Fischer and his family; daughter Mischa Fischer and her family; and stepson Michael Satin and his family.
George Fischer said his father knew his time was getting short. Over the past several months Dirk expressed his wishes for how the family would handle his death.
“During these conversations, I’d try to think what my life would be like without my father,” George said. “I lost my best friend.”
He took a moment to compose himself. “He may have been my father, but we had a friendship that I think cut through a lot of things that fathers and sons go through and we said to each other many times that you’re my best friend. I could speak to him (unlike) I could speak to anyone else. I’m going to miss him dearly.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Watch the SCVTV Newsmakers interview with Fischer from December 2004, just as he was retiring.
Watch Fischer on SCVTV’s “House Blend” with Stephen K. Peeples from June 2011.
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