Steinway grand piano donated to Brandon arts hub
BRANDON —The Compass Music and Art Center took delivery on a prized piano early this month, thanks to local ties to a unique individual.
A 1915 Steinway Model B grand piano arrived, along with a collection of sound equipment, from the estate of the late John Fischer, an avant-garde Jazz pianist, artist, writer and all-around creative force who passed away in New York City last August, six days after his 86th birthday.
Fischer’s nephew is Brandon percussionist and music teacher Rob Zollman. Fischer and Zollman actually played a concert at Brandon Music together in July 2011. Zollman’s wife, Alyssa, is on the Compass Foundation Board of Trustees. So, when Fischer’s will stipulated that his piano and musical equipment go to a music-based non-profit, the Zollmans advocated for the Compass Foundation.
Compass Music and Arts Center founders Stephen and Edna Sutton are thrilled.
“This was a wish, to someday have a Steinway, but we never thought it would be a reality,”Edna Sutton said in an interview Monday. “It’s a $40,000 piano, it’s a gift that would blow your head off.”
Stephen Sutton said the Model B is a mid-size Steinway at just under 7 feet long. The Model D, the largest grand piano Steinway makes, is 12 feet long.
The Compass Center hosts musicians from around the world and while they have an adequate piano on the premises, sometimes it’s not quite up to the task. STEPHEN SUTTON OF the Compass Music and Arts Center stands with the hundred-yearold Steinway recently bequeathed to the Compass Foundation. Photo by Lee J. Kahrs
“We had a very well known pianist, Andreas Boyde, come and play a concert,”Edna said. “He plays very powerfully and our piano kept going out of tune. He came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to get a Steinway.’At the time I was like, well, that’s a pipe dream, and yet here we are.”
The Suttons said the piano will give back to music lovers in Brandon for many years to come.
“It’s the Foundation’s Steinway, and it will always be Brandon’s,”Stephen said.
A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL
John Fischer was a complicated man who began life in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1941, Fischer, who was Jewish, fled the Nazi occupation with his parents at age 11 on a train bound for France. A day later, his nephew said, Nazi German officers took over the family’s home in Antwerp. The Fischers went from France to Morocco, then Cuba for a year before arriving in New York, where they settled.
Fischer graduated from high school and immediately began pursuing life as an artist, alienating his family. He married, and his wife, Frances, was a high-level official with the United Nations in Switzerland, where the couple lived for several years.
But Fischer’s primary residence was a 2,000-square-foot loft space in Tribeca that he dubbed “Environ,”where he would host a variety of Jazz musicians and artists in a performance and gallery space.
Fischer was also a visual artist, and in the 1960s and 70s was known for his bread sculptures. He met Salvador Dali and knew Dave Brubeck. He appeared on “The Tonight Show”with Johnny Carson, and “To Tell the Truth.”
Fischer also wrote poetry, and an autobiography titled, “We’ll Know When We Get There,”Zollman said.
Fischer was also one of the early computer graphic artists, and a painter.
Both pianist and piano had been through a lot. Zollman said his uncle suffered a massive stroke in 2014 from which he never fully recovered.
The Steinway spent the last 20 years in the basement of the building in Tribeca. It survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center just two blocks south. Zollman said Fischer had to move out for four months while the building was cleaned of dust and debris. The piano was also in the basement when it flooded following Super Storm Sandy in 2012.
In the end, Zollman said his uncle had grown distant and when he passed away, he trusted very few people. Having the Steinway in Brandon is a nice reminder of the good times the two had together.
“He was a fascinating person who had absolute clarity of mind and gave me great advice at times,”Zollman said. “He had a very kind spirit, but he had his demons like anybody. But it’s a wonderful piano and I’m really glad it’s here, it’s just weird to see it here without him.”
JOHN FISHER plays a concert with his nephew Rob ollman on drums at Brandon Music back in July 2011. Photo by Alyssa Zollman
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