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LIVING, LEADING, AND ALL THAT JAZZ MUSIC TEACHER HAS LESSON OR TWO.

Byline: Eugene Tong Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Dirk Fischer's life is a tune of sweet dirty horns, cool Latin beats and sizzling saucepans.

``I'm the luckiest man alive,'' said the longtime College of the Canyons music teacher, jazz band leader and occasional restaurateur.

Fischer will turn 80 in September and appeared as sharp as ever at an interview last week, plotting another season of concerts and bookings with his group of budding musicians.

And he can still show these teenagers just out of high school a thing or two.

``They have a belief that jazz is a bolt of lighting that strikes you, and you can do all these wonderful things,'' he said. ``But suddenly, they find out there's thinking - they have to practice the tonal material, and that scares them.''

Stewart ``Dirk'' Fischer picked up his first trumpet when he was a teenager growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., in the 1930s.

With the horn he bought for $33 scraped from 33 weekends of laundry duty at home, he formed a quartet with his brother Clare and two high school friends.

``We were trying to play the popular tunes of the time,'' he said, including ``Jumpin' Jive,'' ``Toy Trumpet,'' and anything Louis Armstrong.

World War II gave direction to his talents. Fischer was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1943, and assigned to the Cook and Bake school. He spent 13 weeks learning the intricacies of foraging meat from the battlefield.

``They taught us how to cook a horse,'' he said.

Then the Army musicians at Camp Barkley in Abilene, Texas, saw a talent for composing and arranging in the then 18-year-old private.

``When I was off duty, I got my trumpet and just jammed with this band,'' he said. ``Then I was transferred to the band.''

For the next three years, Fischer toured the home front's service clubs and town halls in war bond drives, performing with headliners such as western legend Dale Evans.

``I felt that I was a good soldier,'' he said. ``I was a soldier serving the country, doing what it was that I do best. I took pride in all that.''

He even spent time playing with an all-black band in Pennsylvania. When the Army still segregated soldiers by race, music helped Fischer bridge the gap.

``They played in the officers' club, and the local generals just loved the band,'' he said. ``When a black warrant officer wondered what that white guy was doing playing with them (during a set), they told him, can't you tell?''

When Fischer was discharged in 1946 after the war ended, he studied music in college for several years, then joined with one of many big bands that toured the nation's dance hall circuit.

``When you play with older musicians, they say you lack experience,'' he said. ``The answer is always go on the road.''

For the next 13 years, Fischer was a nomad, crisscrossing the country in silver trailers, chasing the next one-night. As road manager for the band, he was dubbed ``Dirty Dirk'' because he handled such unsavory tasks as hiring and firing.

``There was barely enough money to keep things together,'' he said. ``Maybe enough for a clean shirt, sometimes for a hotel room to take a hot shower.''

Fischer abandoned the road and came to Los Angeles in 1959 to work with his brother Clare, who was earning a reputation as a Hollywood studio composer and musician.

``The last five years, the ballroom-type situation had deteriorated,'' he said. ``There was television and people were staying home. They weren't going dancing anymore.''

He was also planning to lay down roots with his second wife. In 1966, Fischer opened the Owl Coffee Shop in Van Nuys, banking on his past as an Army cook. He sold the restaurant in 1980 when he turned to teaching, but some of the recipes, including his famed chili, survive at the Saugus Cafe, where he trained several chefs.

``To actually operate a bustling, burgeoning restaurant is about the same as conducting orchestra in a performance - there's the necessity for teamwork and camaraderie,'' he said.

In 1977, Fischer was seeking a venue to play his bass trumpet when his wife suggested the jazz ensemble at College of the Canyons, where she was a student.

``I didn't want to play with those kiddies,'' he said. ``Then my wife told me there were 70-year-olds going there.''

With decades of music experience, Fischer was soon hired to manage the band. He later earned a teaching credential and became a part-time music instructor at the college, training and composing for the next generation of jazz musicians.

``When you write something and they play it just and it sounds exactly as you thought it would - that's the satisfaction,'' he said.

The next College of the Canyons Studio Jazz Ensemble performance is scheduled Feb. 17 at 8 p.m., Room S-130 at the Valencia campus.

Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253

eugene.tong(at)dailynews.com

IF YOU GO

The next College of the Canyons Studio Jazz Ensemble performance is scheduled Feb. 17 at 8 p.m., Room S-130 at the Valencia campus.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1) College of the Canyons music teacher and band leader Dirk Fischer has had a lifelong love affair with jazz.

David R. Crane/Staff Photographer

(2) Dirk Fischer, second from left, crisscrossed the country as an early jazz performer. ``There was barely enough money to keep things together,'' he said of the nomadic lifestyle.

Box:

IF YOU GO (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 9, 2004
Words:921
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