Fischer's price: Hired by Keswick, he rocked


Describing someone as a "musician's musician," is typically a value judgment– "This guy is good," it implies. "Even other artists appreciate his work." In Vernon Fischer's case, however, it's a fact.

Though he's recently become a free agent, Fischer spent several years entertaining diners at Keswick Hall, one of the many places around town where he has serenaded celebrities with his smooth romantic jazz renderings over the years.

"You never know who's going to come through the door," he says.

This fall, one such surprise was Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger.

"Mick came in with three pretty young girls," he says. "He sat with his back to me for most of the night. When he got up to leave, he nodded to me."

Casual props? Sure. But most guitarists would kill for even that slight recognition.

That's not the only time Fischer has brushed shoulders with the fathers of rock and roll. "One of the waiters came over and started asking me for all these obscure Doors tunes," he says, recalling a night in the late '90s.

"I played several of them, and then he came back and asked for more. He said, 'They're for that old guy over there in the corner.' And then he came over, and it turned out this was Robby Krieger's father." [Although he penned "Light My Fire," Krieger will forever remain in the shadow of frontman Jim Morrison– ed.]

During a residency at the Omni nearly 15 years ago, Fischer ran into incoming president Bill Clinton at a celebratory inauguration gathering held in the atrium of the ritzy downtown hotel. But stuffy old politicians can rock, too: "I got down there, and one of the guys in the band saw me and said, 'Hey, you got your guitar? Do you know that Fleetwood Mac tune? Great, you're in the band!'" Fischer recalls.

His favorites, however, were actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, in part because they took great interest in his work.

"Toward the end of the evening, Joanne came up and said how much she had enjoyed the music," says Fischer, "and then she introduced me to Paul. I told him that I'd used cases and cases of his salad dressings."

Stories and names keep coming– Peter Boyle, Harry Connick Jr., Ari Fleischer– even Margaret Thatcher. And although Fischer's days at Keswick are over for the moment, he's still out and about playing private events and parties.

"The unique thing is the cleanliness with which he plays," says drummer and frequent collaborator Ron Newsome. "He really is a purist when it comes to guitar."

Thankfully, he's an everyman's musician as well; look for him at Bashir's Taverna and the Layfayette Inn. After all, you never know who else might be in the audience enjoying the show with you.

Vernon Fischer