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Stewart “Dirk” Fischer


Dirk Fischer Dies At 88

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, California. He was 88.

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/arrangeron 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.”

The source for this article is http://hometownstation.com/santa-clarita-news/dirk-fischer-longtime-coc-jazz-director-dies-88-33498

Watch the SCVTV Newsmakers interview with Fischer from December 2004, just as he was retiring.  http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/signal/newsmaker/sg012305.htm

Watch Fischer on SCVTV’s “House Blend” with Stephen K. Peeples from June 2011. http://scvtv.com/html/hb20a_0611fischerbtv.html



Stewart “Dirk” Fischer

This group performed at the Club Cherio in Muskegon during the winter of 1942-43. Left to right are  Rich Henry on sax, Dirk Fischer on trumpet, pianist Hamilton Allen and drummer, Mike Balish.

Dirk Fischer was born in Durand, Michigan in 1924, and graduated from Grand Rapids Tech High. In 1940, Dirk Fischer was one of a group of young men, many just out of high school, who were trying to establish themselves as jazz musicians in Grand Rapids. Glenn Litton, a music instructor at South High, inspired numerous students, including Dirk and his younger brother Clare, to obtain legitimate musical training. While still in high school, Frank Arrigo, Quentin “Sully” Sella, Johnny Bissell, Dirk Fischer and drummer Bill Anderson were performing at paid dances with Bob Watson’s band. Frank, Quentin, Johnny, Bill, Dirk, Clare, William “Jeep” Stewart, Rich Henry, Mike Balish, Arno Marsh, Dick Twelvetrees and Ernie Hoover were all actively seeking engagements and attending jam sessions at jazz venues like The Oasis, the Horseshoe Bar, Club Duke, Club Seville and Crispus Attucks American Legion. Bassist Ernie Hoover recalls playing at several jazz “breakfast dances” in the 40s and 50s at Roma Hall. “They would start around 11 P.M. and last until 7 A.M., and then the musicians would go out for breakfast.” The late Eddie “Koul” Azkoul ‘s jazz orchestras performed at Roma Hall. He began performing around 1938, and was also a part time disc jockey for WOOD radio. Arno Marsh, Clare Fischer and Rich Henry performed with his band in the 40s. Arno, the Fischer brothers and Rich Henry eventually became successful professional musicians. Roma Hall was one of the places where these young bloods met to play with fellow jazz musicians.

Eddie ‘Koul’ Azkoul’s Band with Claire Fischer on piano, Eddie Azkoul in foreground, Dirk Fischer on upright bass. Back row on right side of the picture is Bill Velton on trumpet , on the left and Art Taylor is seated next to Bill (on trumpet.) Dick Twelvetrees on drums. Front row on the right (saxophones) are left to right, unidentified, Ray Kuzniak, Rich Henry, unidentified and Morris Velton

Dirk Fischer clearly recalls the unique looking gazebo-covered stage at Roma Hall, as well as performing there. “My experience at Russo (Roma) Hall was in the years 1940 through 1942. I was drafted on March 3, 1943 while playing an engagement with Rich Henry, Hamilton Allen and Mike Balish at Club Cheerio in Muskegon. I played at Roma Hall’s private parties, weekend dances, and jam sessions with Clare, Johnny Bissell, Mike Balish, maybe Rich Henry, Quenton Sella on trumpet, and a wonderful bassist we knew as “Rail” Wilson. Rail guided us and encouraged us in our pursuit of jazz and improvisation. Some of these events were all-black events, some mixed. I recall that the musicians were oblivious to the crowds and were only concerned with each other. There were various musicians that were in charge of the music. The word would go out that we could have a jam session and players were welcome. These were mainly on weekends.”

Please read the article below to obtain a more complete overview of his incredible musical career, which includes his time as an army musician, playing and arranging music in territorial bands, and as an educator in California.

Stewart Roussin Fischer, better known as “Dirk” Fischer or “Dirty Dirk” Fischer (born in 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 was a faculty member at College of the Canyons from 1977 to February 12, 2005, serving as Jazz Band Director and Instructor of Jazz Studies.

Childhood and High School

Dirk was born September 1, 1924, in Durand, Michigan. His mother, Luella Blanche Roussin (maiden), was born in the United States, and his father, Cecil Harold Fischer, was of German descent. Both were born in Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Dirk is the oldest of four children, the three oldest being boys, Clare being the third, and the youngest being a sister. His motherplayed 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 Grand Rapids Tech High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Early Playing Career

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.


The following photo was taken in Salina, Kansas in 1947. Left to right are Clare Fischer, Dirk Fischer, Dick Twelvetrees, Arno Marsh and Johnny Bissell, all Grand Rapids musicians.  This group also performed  at Grand Rapids Crispus Attucks American Legion Club on Commerce S.W.




1944 Photo, Victory News, Camp Reynolds, PA — 331st Army Service Forces Jazz Ensemble, Camp Reynolds — When a white warrant officer wondered what that white guy was doing in the trumpet section, CWO (band director) Taylor (bandleader) said, ‘Can’t you tell?’  Trumpets: Richard Clark, Dirk Fischer, Oscar Gamby, Jr., Horace Sullivan Lee Turner; Saxophones: Unknown, Henry Kirkland, Jon Micheaux (Bari); Drums: James W. Barnes



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 lifelong friendship with jazz saxophone/clarinetist Al Drootin (born in 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.

Territory Bands

Early in his career, Dirk had played trumpet and valve trombone with 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 (Dirk Fischer, Arno Marsh, and Clare Fischer all played together in the Walter Martie Band around 1946-47), 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.

Below: 1946 photo of the Walter Martie Orchestra with Claire Fischer piano, Mike Balish on drums, Dirk Fischer and Bill Velten on trumpets, Maury Velten and Arno Marsh on saxophones. Walter Martie is conducting and his wife is singing behind the microphone.




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.

Pioneer Jazz Educator at College of the Canyons

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, Minnesota.

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.



I want to thank Dirk Fischer, Arno Marsh, Betty Forrest, Mike Balish, Ernie Hoover, Steve Smith and Dick Twelvetrees for their efforts to try to teach me something about local jazz history.

Much of the content of this article was obtained from Wikepedia.com and from correspondence with Dirk Fischer.

Photos for this article were obtained from Dirk Fischer and Steve Smith.




Discovery Records (1968)
  • George Stone & Friends perform the music of Stewart “Dirk” Fischer
SeaBreeze Records (2004)
  • Dirk Fischer and George Stone – Coming of Age
Seabreeze Records (2011)

Selected Published/Copyrighted Compositions

UNC Jazz Press
UNC Jazz Press
UNC Jazz Press
UNC Jazz Press
  • Let Me Count the Ways † (Victor Feldman, arr. D. Fischer)
  • Melody for Thelma † (Blue Mitchell, arr. D. Fischer)
  • Our Delight † (Tad Dameron, arr. D. Fischer)
  • Donde (words Barbara Ransom) 1958 | © 1992
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Donde † (instrumental only)
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Cinoton 1959 | © 2007
  • Bitter Leaf: Quintet 1960 | © 2001
  • Calamus † 1969 | © 2001
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Rocl † 1970 | © 2003
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Malookanus Gookum 1977 | © 2007
  • Down, Down, Down 1977 | © 2007
  • Hurry Home † 1978 | © 1995
Walrus Music Publishing
  • And Freckles † 1978 | © 2003
Walrus Music Publishing
  • All Ta’ Once 1979 | © 2003
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Sing Dammit! 1979 | © 2003
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Plea for Deductive † 1980 | © 1998
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Escalera † 1981 | © 2003
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Plucky † 1982 | © 1998
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Tonito † 1982 | © 2003
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Omaha Gathering 1983 | © 2007
  • Hamilton Allen Esquire † 1986 | © 1998
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Escalera Numero Dos 1990 | © 2007
  • Heavy Cussin’ 1996 | © 2000
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Mambo Estudio 1997 | © 2003
Walrus Music Publishing
  • Conversation © Pending 2007
  • Quartet O’ Sax’s © Pending 2007
  • Keep Going Charlie
  • Backup (reserves) © 2004 (big band bossa nova, soprano sax feature)
  • Ghostly Chu © 1995 (big band ballad, alto sax feature)


11/11/2012 – 11/25/2012

3 Responses to Stewart “Dirk” Fischer

  1. Pingback: Stewart 'Dirk' Fischer: An Appreciation - Stephen K. Peeples

  2. Pingback: Stewart 'Dirk' Fischer: An Appreciation - Stephen K. Peeples

  3. Richard Bund says:

    I received an email yesterday from George Stone that Dirk had passed away. – Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 some time after 3:00PM.

    He was an instructor and a mentor during my studies at College of the Canyons in Santa Clalrita, CA

    A brilliant composer, arranger, performer, and a great friend.

    God bless you Dirk.

    Rich Bund

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