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|Jazz Guitarist Eddie Fisher Honored at Book & CD Release Party for Native East St. Louis Artists |
Jazz guitarist Eddie Fisher proudly accepted an award from the EBR Writers Club in East St. Louis. (L. to R.) Eugene B. Redmond, Lena Weathers, Darlene Roy, Eddie's wife Christina Fisher, Evon Udoh, Sherman Fowler and Reginal Petty.
Text and photos by Bob Moore
© 2001, Southwest Illinois News
Photographer's first encounter with Eddie Fisher in the late sixties.
EAST ST. LOUIS, Dec 12, 2001 - The jazz scene in East St. Louis is known internationally by jazz aficionados. On Dec 8, three local artists were honored by the Eugene B. Redmond (EBR) Writers Club at a book and CD release party in the City Council Chambers of the East St. Louis Municipal Building. Honored were Eugene B. Redmond, poet laureate of East St. Louis, Eugene Haynes, Jr., classical pianist and musicologist and renowned jazz-blues guitarist, Eddie Fisher.
Fisher's new CD, 42nd Street, came out this year on his own record label Nentu Records. The day after the tribute, I visited with Fisher and his wife, actress-singer Christina Fisher, at their home in Centreville, where they own and operate a recording studio and community theatre.
Since I'd last seen Fisher, he has completed 10 European tours with a group of musicians from St. Louis. The tours covered Scandinavia, Norway, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Spain and France.
Currently, he's focused his energy on working with young talent. "I've been getting involved with a lot of younger musicians now and other productions," explained Fisher. "I'm enjoying writing now and I do a lot of studio work and producing. I'm working with a company out of the Bay area, in Oakland, called Street Smart Records. We're producing a young man called Baby Ray. It's hip-hop. Across the spectrum of producing, we've been involved with R & B and quite naturally, jazz."
"I think the most recent thing I did was the Miles Davis Festival. It was organized by Eugene Redmond's Writers Club. They are doing some really nice things here especially for the East St. Louis area because they are accenting the positive," stated Fisher.
He related that the East St. Louis area has distinguished itself internationally through the creative work of local artists. "St. Louis can hold its own. I had to go all the way to Paris to figure out why I stayed in East St. Louis when we had opportunities to move to the Bay area or New York, Chicago or other so-called entertainment capitals."
Fisher stated that during an interview in Paris, he began to realize why he had stayed. "This interviewer didn't talk about the negative things that we hear about East St. Louis," commented Fisher. "He talked about Katherine Dunham and Miles Davis. I began to realize that all these people, Dunham, Davis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, are from East St. Louis. Such a small community has created so many world-class artists like Josephine Baker and Ike and Tina Turner."
"It's such a hot bed. It's got to be something there. It came to me that it's the spirit," observed Fisher.
"It's really a microcosm of what's happening to African Americans in America. No, we don't have the financial institutes that are willing to get involved in what we're trying to do. We struggle with that. We don't have developers coming in anxious put up shopping malls and hotels and the things we need."
We in East St. Louis have a spirit that you can't get rid of and that's part of what inspired me," stated Fisher.
He noted that there is a difference between fortune and fame. "It's seldom that so-called artists get recognized by local people. For example, the tribute they did yesterday was really humbling. Because when you begin to be recognized by your fellow artists and people you've admired, then that makes you feel like you've arrived," stated Fisher.
"As far as the fan part is concerned, I'm wealthy beyond recognition. I'm happy about it. We've been doing a lot of surfing over the Internet. We are finding so many people who are into Eddie Fisher. They're talking about The Third Cup and Next 100 Years and things we've done years ago. They are comparing some of that stuff to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery. That's some pretty heavy company to be involved in," commented Fisher.
"I used to get disgruntled at how people treated me around here. They treated me so good in Europe, I almost stayed. But that's away from home."
"It's one thing to be accepted by the general public. They see me in Schnucks with my Levi's on and my grandkids with me," he continued. "They say that's Eddie. I know him. He's not a star.' But fifty miles outside of St. Louis, I become an artist and have to dress and act different. Guys around here see me cutting the grass or washing my car. But I'm relaxed and at home. I'm not a prisoner like Michael Jackson who has to disguise himself as woman to keep people from mobbing him. He can't go to the mall," laughed Fisher.
Over the years, Fisher has recorded 6 CDs. Hot Lunch was produced on the All Platinum Label owned by Joe Robinson. Two albums were produced for the Chess/Cadet Label, The Third Cup and Eddie Fisher and The Next 100 Years. On his own label, Nentu Records, he has produced Fisher, the Promise and one just recently released titled 42ND Street.
The story behind the title of Fisher's new CD 42ND Street encompasses a lifetime of memories as a jazz musician, including an opportunity to play at the Blue Note Club in East St. Louis.
"Usually when people think about 42nd Street they think about New York and Broadway plays," commented Fisher. "In reality, 42nd Street is how I was directed to the Blue Note. I was told to come out to 42nd and Missouri Avenue. The only thing on the corner at that time was the Blue Note Club."
Fisher related that as a teenager, he would listen to Spider Burk late at night on the radio. "He was recording from the Blue Note Club as a disc jockey on KATZ. Being an AM station, we could hear it 500 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas."
Fisher left home and went to Memphis where he began working with Booker T. and The MG's, Isaac Hayes, the Memphis Horns and Stax Records. Eventually, along with another blues player, bassist Larry Davis, he came to East St. Louis as a band leader for Albert King.
Eddie's wife, actress-singer Christina Fisher, looks through a collection of tear sheets and recognition for their Village Theatre, under renovation in Centerville.
"King was such a persnickety player, especially about being in tune and on time and not getting in his way. By being a guitar player, I understood how to accompany him," stated Fisher.
He explained that at the time, King was recording for a company called Coun-Tree Records which was owned by Leo Gooden. "His scout heard me in Memphis and told Leo to get this guitar player. When we got back to St. Louis, Leo told me to come to 42nd and Missouri in East St. Louis so he could talk to me. I found out that he was looking for a guitar player and had been watching me for about the last three months over the road," he laughed.
"They didn't realize that I had been listening to them on the radio as a teenager. And then five years later, I'm becoming a part of this thing," stated Fisher. "It was a dream come true to play at the Blue Note Club. I couldn't have wished for a better thing." He added that jazz artists like Miles Davis, David Sanborn and Oliver Nelson visited the club regularly.
"It just so happened that right down the street from the Blue Note on 42nd lived a young lady named Christina Isaac. She would walk from her house to the Blue Note and I would see her in the audience." Like a script from a movie, Fisher described how he got up the nerve to speak to her. "She was kinda shy. She was such a dynamic and beautiful person. So I watched her for about three or four nights. She came in with a couple of other girls who were friends. She never came in with a fellow. You know what that means. At least let me go and speak."
"We found out that we were so close alike. So during intermissions, guess where I would go...42nd Street. From there a relationship developed and the rest is history," he said smiling at Christina.
Not satisfied with just reminiscing over an illustrious career in music, Fisher is looking to the future working with young people in multi-media activities. Seven years ago, he and Christina built a community-based Village Theatre and began producing blues, jazz and gospel concerts and comedy shows. Nearly two years ago, the theatre was destroyed in a fire. Undeterred, they have begun rebuilding.
"What people remember most is the fact that we did a TV show," stated Fisher. "It was called 'Live From the Village Theatre.' It involved anybody from 8 to 80 who could get on that stage with enough nerve and do a performance. We would videotape them and show it on Local Cable Access Channel."
Fisher explained that he was determined to help young people learn about problem-solving resolutions without violence and at the same time learn video editing and production. "What we did is use that theatre as a tool. It was an alcohol-free, smoke-free, drug-free environment. The parents felt this was a place they could bring their kids. These kids wanted to be on TV. So we said ok if you're going to be on TV, we are going to teach you how to get along with others and deal with peer pressure."
Although his music has taken him all over the world and garnered a growing appreciative jazz audience, it's not enough for Fisher. "We decided that we are going to make time for these kids. Sure I'm involved with my career, but I also feel a responsibility for making the community what it should be. We don't have swimming pools and things for kids to do in Centerville. This is one of the reasons why I'm determined to rebuild the theatre," stated Fisher.
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