The Music of Life

Andre Fischer of Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project brings vast experience to a new generation.
Andre Fischer, standing, oversees the music circle during an afterschool program at Humboldt High School.

Born in Minnesota, Andre Fischer’s life has taken him in more directions than it is easy to count, but the founder and executive director of the Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project traces everything back to the foundation of his family: his father, musician and teacher Stewart Roussin Fischer; his mother, singer Frances Fischer and his uncle, Clare Fischer, a noted musician, composer, producer and Grammy Award winner.

For Andre Fischer, also a Grammy Award winning record producer, former record executive and now instructor, being born with music in his blood is only part of what he assimilated from his family.

“Many things have contributed to my forcefulness, the force of my conviction,” Fischer says, crediting the lessons learned from his father and his own role as a father to three girls and two boys, all grown except for his youngest son, who is 8.

In Fischer’s storied career, the artists he has worked with amount to a veritable “who’s who” of American music.

To name just a few: He was a founding member and drummer for Rufus (“Tell Me Something Good”) and discovered Yvette Stevens (better known as Chaka Kahn) in a south side Chicago club. Rufus toured with artists including Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Commodores and the Rolling Stones. As a record producer, Fischer has worked with artists including Tony Bennett, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and his former wife, the late Natalie Cole. For her, he produced Unforgettable, which featured covers of classics by her dad, Nat King Cole, and won the 1992 Grammy for Album of the Year.  Fischer was a senior vice president in the urban music department at MCA Records from 1993-96, after time spent as vice president of A & R for Quincy Jones at Quest Records.

“All the experiences made me a person who is able to create,” Fischer says. While he also spent time as dean at McNally Smith College of Music, it is his work with students ages 12-18  from Harding and Humboldt high schools (and Washington Technology Magnet School in the fall) and community centers such as Mt. Airy (in partnership with the St. Paul Public Housing Authority) with the Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project that inspires him now.

“Exposing young people to music – especially jazz which is the music of struggle – is so important for commonality,” Fischer says. The afterschool programs, supervised by Fischer and administered by more than a dozen instructors, offer students exposure to spoken word, creative writing, poetry, singing, rap and dance.  There are also emotional learning games and meditation, which  help the students open up. “These activities aren’t about music, but music is the heart of it,” he says. “We are mentors. Our goal is to pass on the tradition of jazz, but also let [the students] know what’s going on right now.”

The Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project, headquartered at Landmark Center, works in partnership with the St. Paul Public Schools and the School of Social Work youth workers at the University of Minnesota; associate professor VeLure Roholt and a team of graduate students evaluate the Mobile Jazz program every 12 weeks.  

Another component of the Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project brings music into Saint Paul parks and other outdoor venues in the Twin Cities.  Fischer modeled the mobile aspect of the program on the original Jazz Mobile in Harlem which was launched by Dr. Billy Taylor in 1964  and featured artists including Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.
This summer, the Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project  musicians will be performing in 22 concerts, including dates in Rice Park as part of the Rhythm on Rice series.  

Fischer is focused on the future. “My life has always been in service to others and the Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project has ended up being my new life,” he says. “People always talk about legacy in their later years…legacy is what you do.”