Jesse Fischer grew up with parents of a mixed background… musically that is. With the classical influence of his father and more rock oriented influence of his mother, Jesse grew into something most musicians (and anyone for that matter) dream of; he is sensitive. Sensitive to other musicians and a sensitive multi-instrumentalist, but most of all sensitive to the music. It is rare to find a musician so in tune with his own ambitions and abilities as Jesse, so without further ado, Jesse Fischer…
How did you get started with music? What instruments did learn traditionally and which ones did you pick up?
I always played music, since I was a kid – my parents love music so we always listened to a lot of records, from all kinds of pop music, to folk and classical. Also my dad would have friends over to play chamber music from time to time so I was always interested in being a part of it. I had a few years of jazz piano when I was about 10 and then I took some lessons when I was in college, but besides that I’m pretty much self-taught on all instruments. Never had any classical training although I did learn to read music at some point.
Who would you say were your biggest influences growing up?
The first records I remember listening to over and over and trying to learn all the parts to were the Beatles records because my mom was a Beatle maniac. My dad is crazy about Bach so when I was very little that was very important to me, too, along with Beethoven, Chopin, Mussorsky and a few other classical composers. My first jazz record was Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and shortly after that was Herbie Hancock Takin’ Off and Headhunters. Also when I was very little my parents were into international folk dancing so I picked up a lot of odd-meter music like traditional Balkan and Eastern European folksongs. By the time I got to high school I discovered the record store in my town which had a huge selection of cheap used vinyl so I started checking out all the old soul, jazz, fusion, and rock records I could get my hands on. Plus the radio was playing everything from Nirvana to A Tribe Called Quest so that was in the mix as well.
You have a wide range of influences, how do you see artists like Herbie Hancock and Tribe mixing?
Jazz and hip-hop both originated as types of improvised music, so they should work well together, but for some reason it’s hard to really make it happen. Maybe because the sound palettes are so different, or because they’ve become codified in such different ways as they’ve matured as art forms. Obviously in the 90′s hip-hop took a lot of jazz records and flipped them, but in the 80′s it was much more funk and electronic in nature, and I think hip-hop is back in that electronic zone again now. I’m not sure if I can think of a record that I thought really combined jazz and hip-hop in a meaningful way. Just playing jazz music with a backbeat isn’t enough, neither is taking a solo over a hip-hop track. Maybe it’s out there and I just haven’t discovered it yet?
How about with your band Soul Cycle?
Soul Cycle evolved from a weekly gig I had playing for a breakdance party, so the very first songs I wrote specifically for the band had an up-tempo, 70′s latin-funk sound. I have always been composing since I was 3 or 4, but something special seemed to happen when I wrote for this group and performed with them, so I kept going and eventually it became my main thing. I guess what I’m trying to accomplish is to bring the excitement and energy of improvised music to an audience that might not necessarily have that much exposure to jazz. In other words, I try to write simple, catchy melodies that leave a lot of room for the soloist to explore, and at the same time I try to come up with rhythmic ideas that groove in familiar but sometimes unexpected ways. It’s kind of a balance between providing something comfortable and something challenging, for ourselves and the listeners. I guess my main inspiration is the jazz/funk groups from the 70′s like the Head Hunters, Weather Report, Roy Ayers, and Freddie Hubbard, but the sound obviously owes a lot to all the other music that we’re involved in, from reggae to rock to hip-hop to African music. I found as I expanded the group from a trio to its current format as a sextet, the more people you have playing together, the more everyone has to listen, and the more important it is that people come to the stage with no ego.
You mentioned that you’re also really into production; how do you see your style?
I’ve always been interested in orchestration and production ever since checking out what George Martin did with the Beatles. Separately, I love producers like the Neptunes, Kanye, Timbaland, of course Dilla, Pete Rock, Diamond D, Prince Paul, all those guys. So I think those two strains of production styles have come together with my approach to Soul Cycle. I’m actually producing a record in a few weeks for a phenomenal soul singer/songwriter named Andre Henry and I have a few more projects coming up as well as a producer. I used to make beats and tracks a lot but now I’m much more interested in producing a full project with a particular artist rather than making tracks that can be mixed and matched with any artist.
You’ve been getting around the playing circuit a good deal lately, who have you been performing with?
I haven’t performed with that many marquee names but I think my most valuable experience has been playing with the guys in Soul Cycle and the other artists I’ve been able to develop relationships with, like Chris Rob, Rogiérs, Lee Hogans, Andre Henry, Igmar Thomas, and Nate Jones. Actually I think I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from every gig I’ve been fortunate enough to have, even weddings and cocktail parties! You can always find a way to make any gig musical and challenge yourself and your bandmates. Getting to play with Stevie Wonder was a trip though, man, even though it was only for one night and it was kind of a pickup gig. He is such an amazing performer, a complete showman and entertainer, in addition to being a badass keys player! Of course I love his songs and his singing so it was an honor to be playing them with him. My experience this spring on a US tour with Atlantic R&B artist Laura Izibor was great too because I had never been able to play the same music night after night and really get into the subtleties of each song in that way. She’s a great writer and that band was fantastic to work with!
Do you have anyone in mind that you would like to work with in the future?
Like I said before I’m not that interested in playing with big names, I’m more interested in working with people who I know and care about personally. That being said, I’ve always loved Meshell N’Degeocello’s music and would love to get a chance to perform with her. Same for Terrence Blanchard, Sean Jones, Gretchen Parlato, Tye Tribbett, and Chris Dave.
Do you see any of your other interests affecting your music?
I was a computer science major in college and always loved programming although that’s taken a backseat to music lately. Also I do a little photography and graphic design and I think that the visual arts and music are very intertwined in my head. I often think about music in terms of shapes and colors, and vice versa when I create visual art, thinking in terms of rhythm, melody, and harmony.
Interview by Eric Sandler