The last time I heard "Hine Ma Tov," I was probably at synagogue on the Yale campus, squirming in a button-down, bored and hungry. We used to sing it in Hebrew school, the phonetics somehow sticking with me through the years, praised be the ancients, while my reading skills melted away shortly after my bar mitzvah. Appetizing "research" has been the extent of my Judaism recently, so it was a surprise to see the tune, an ode to unity and goodness, deep in the track list of Jesse Fischer's new album Day Dreamer, out now on Ropeadope Records. It's a hymn that reverberates off the walls of his ancestry, too.
"All that stuff that Herbie was doing in the early 70's -- they weren't just continuing hard bop, they were really trying to figure out what being American but also African meant to them," Fischer told me in a recent Skype conversation. "I've always been intrigued by that, but that's not my heritage. It's important to figure out what my heritage is and where that fits into growing up in America, growing up near New York and all those other influences." The pianist, whose eclectic palette stretches beyond the keyboard, produced, mixed, mastered and art directed Day Dreamer himself, recruiting quite the squad to realize his vision (guests include chanteuse Sarah Elizabeth Charles and trumpeter Takuya Kuroda in addition to a killer core band).
Fischer naturally gravitated towards a farm-to-table musical identity, choosing to have a hand in every ounce of the process rather than simply observe, which has yielded work as a producer and engineer. "I came to it originally from playing, so when a client comes into the studio I can immediately identify with them. I know what they're feeling, a certain anxiety about being in the studio, and usually I'm able to find the emotion in what they're doing." This ease in many musical environments shows itself on Day Dreamer, which often wavers from being simply a "jazz" record.
"The real jazz people think my music is too smooth or too pop, but then the pop people think my music is too jazz. It's always kind of been in between, which is who I am as a person," notes Fischer. "I think there's a lot of people who are craving that, that want something a little adventurous, and want something a little out of the ordinary but still want to be able to find something accessible about it." Whether it's a falsetto-less Minnie Ripperton cover or some rhythmic Dillatude on "Heading Home," traditional Jewish folk nods (that "Hine Ma Tov" melody segueing into the expansive "Suite For The Blue Planet") or the patience and joy found in "Lily's Lullaby," Fischer fully embraces his musical diversity.
That attitude, valuable in today's climate, extends directly from the creator to the consumer: "My listening tastes have always been all over the map, and I think more and more the general public is becoming that way. The idea that records are sequestered into different genres only makes sense when you're dealing with a record store and you have to file something in a specific place. There's no need for that now. People are more adventurous in the way they listen to music. Either they'll be on YouTube and follow links to things or have their phone on shuffle -- it's an interesting time."
It's this worldly perspective that interests me the most about Fischer, and both our record collections, vinyl to the cloud, are built on varied foundations. He referenced a past project as sounding like "Gil Evans plus James Blake," we've both been devotees of Antonio Carlos Jobim's The Composer Plays since age twelve, and I wouldn't be surprised if we'd get granular with Fagen and Becker or Lennon and McCartney. He's as inspired by his peers as he is the classics, and we both cited Christian Scott's and Emily King's recent albums as high points this year.
Once a college student on track to becoming a computational linguist ("or something weird like that"), now an accomplished sideman, adept remixer, Headhunters fanatic and recent first-time father, Fischer knows interesting, and it wasn't something he learned in conservatory. "Playing in bars every Friday night, playing weddings every Saturday, playing church every Sunday - that was essentially my music school. That's where I learned how to play, that's where I learned repertoire, I learned how interact with people on the bandstand, I learned how to interact with the audience, I learned what works in terms of making a set flow. That was an essential part of my education, but that's not a career plan."
The plan, at least at this point, is to keep writing, producing and engineering for both himself and others, remaining unafraid of letting the pop shine through. "All jazz standards -- anything that's a standard -- has a super pop melody. Even Wayne Shorter tunes or Herbie Hancock's compositions are super influential to me because they're so simple and allow you to go in so many directions."
The next live direction for Fischer and his band is Sunday, December 13th at the Blue Note for the club's Sunday brunch series. Ticket price includes food, music and a drink, so come spend your pregame Sunday in style. Doors at 10:30am, show at 11:30am.