Eddie Fisher ’07 isn’t one to rest, particularly on laurels. Especially not when there are senior oral and written exams in history to worry about, and medical school acceptances to sort out for the coming fall.
Fisher has neither the time nor the inclination to savor his latest accomplishment, which has nothing to do with European imperialism or organic synthesis and spectroscopy. A saxophone player as well as a history major and chemistry minor, Fisher recently earned “Most Outstanding College Jazz Musicians” honors at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
His reward was an invitation to perform with the Lionel Hampton New York Big Band. It was a moment Fisher relished. But only for a moment.
“I’m pretty serious about academic expectations,” said the young alto saxophonist after warming up for an interview with a few choruses of improvisation on Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” and Kenny Garrett’s bright and busy “XYZ.” “But I’m not competitive. I’m pretty easygoing in a group. I’m not out to learn something at somebody else’s expense.”
"Eddie is not only one of the most talented jazz players I've had in my years at Whitman, he is also one of the most humble students I've taught," said Professor of Music David Glenn. "He is extremely easy to work with and a great leader of the sax section."
Fisher’s music education came early and easily. Both of his parents play piano (his father doubles on guitar), and both have had a longstanding love affair with American music, from the blues to Broadway show tunes. Music was always in the Fisher house in Seattle, and it was nearly always on Eddie’s mind. He took up piano when he was 8, switched to saxophone two years later and played in the Eckstein Middle School Band as a sixth-grader.
All the while his ears were tuned to a single prize: the chance a place in Roosevelt High School’s nationally celebrated jazz orchestra. “Roosevelt was why you stayed after school to play in the Eckstein band,” said Fisher. “It was the dream.”
But why jazz and not classical music in the first place? “For me, it’s what you can do when you play jazz,” Fisher said. “Classical music is wonderful, and it’s really important for technique. But jazz lets you make the music your own. Classical allows for interpretation; jazz gives you improvisation, which opens up everything.”
The Roosevelt Jazz Band, conducted by Scott Brown, literally showed Fisher the world. He earned a spot in the orchestra (initially as a tenor player) in his sophomore year and promptly traveled with the group to three cities in China. In his junior year, the big band went to Europe, playing festivals in Paris, The Hague and San Sebastian, Spain.
That same year — 2002 — Fisher and the Roosevelt contingent spent two memorable days at the sweetest music venue this side of paradise: Lincoln Center in New York. He was 17.
That was the year Roosevelt took first place among all high-school jazz bands in the country in the Essentially Ellington competition. The annual event is the yardstick of jazz musicianship at the secondary-school level.
“To share the stage with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center . . . I doubt there will be a single bigger moment for me in jazz,” Fisher said.
He says this knowing that music is an integral part of his life but not the ruler of his life. Fisher plans to enter medical school in the fall and already has at least two suitors: Drexel University and St. Louis University. He’s waiting to hear from the University of Washington and several other schools on his list of applications.
Fisher owes his interest in medicine to his family’s pediatrician. “He was very caring, very dedicated,” Fisher recalled. “As I got older, I realized how much respect he had for his patients and how much he contributed through his work. I’d like to make half of the difference that he’s made.
“In a lot of ways, my time at Whitman has been like those visits to the doctor. People here are sincere. Teachers care a lot about their students. There’s a real spirit of cooperation here. Dave Glenn is a great example of that.”
Fisher is well aware that medical school will require another level of academic rigor and commitment. He’s asked himself the obvious question: What will become of his music ambitions, given the demands of med school?
The answer lies between the lines of Fisher’s list of schools. Most are in cities with lively jazz scenes. His mind tells him he can do both — medicine and music. His spirit tells him he has to do both.
“I don’t expect to do music at the same level, of course,” Fisher said. “But I know I’ll need the music to balance the schoolwork.”
Office of Communications, Whitman College