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Charles L. and Burton E. Fischer

“Kalamazoo’s Premiere Band” (1896-1948)

Kalamazoo has long had a strong connection with the production and performance of music. Since the mid-nineteenth century, local, nationally-recognized, and even world-famous instrument makers, educators and performers have actively pursued their craft in Kalamazoo. Yet perhaps few were as revered during their own time as were the bands and orchestras of Charles and Burton Fischer, known throughout the world as Fischer’s ‘Exposition’ Orchestra.

A promotional postcard, c.1907
Fischer’s Orchestra promotional postcard, c.1907. Author’s collection

Charles Leonard Fischer (1879-1948)

Charles L. Fischer, ca. 1920

Born in Kalamazoo in 1879, Charles Leonard Fischer was already a successful orchestra leader and business manager by the time he was a teenager. During his lifetime, one would be hard pressed to discuss anything about popular music in Kalamazoo without hearing Fischer’s name mentioned.

The son of William Fischer, a prominent local butcher, Charlie was educated locally, and learned to play the violin while attending the Madam Jannasch-Shortt Musical Institute on East Main Street. He later attended Kalamazoo College, where he studied under Ms. A.G. Slocum.

“The Man with the Million Dollar Smile”

In 1894 at the age of fifteen, Charles joined Chester Z. Bronson’s Symphony Orchestra, an early precursor to the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. Fischer would later play leading roles in subsequent orchestras that ultimately led to the formation of the current KSO.

Burton Edward Fischer (1882-1965)

Burton E. Fischer, ca. 1908

The younger of the two brothers, Burton Edward Fischer was a skilled pianist, instructor, music publisher, and prolific composer. Born in Kalamazoo in 1882, Master “Bertie” Fischer was a star pupil when Madam Jannasch-Shortt and her students gave their holiday concert at the Academy of Music in December 1892. By age fifteen, Burton was already playing for dances and other social occasions with his brother and their friends.

“The Dean of Kalamazoo Musicians”

Burton Fischer would devote his entire life to writing, performing, publishing, and teaching music. Over the years, Fischer composed and published dozens of popular tunes, including pieces written specifically for the Western Normal School (WMU) football team (“The Squad”), Kalamazoo College (“All Hail to Kazoo!”), the University of Michigan’s junior dance called the “J-Hop” (“A Toast to All the Girls”), and others.

“The Symphony orchestra has lately been organized… They have been busily engaged in rehearsals lately and are now prepared to furnish music for parties, receptions, etc.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 December 1896

Fischer’s “Symphony Orchestra”

The Fischer brothers formed their first professional orchestra in 1896 while both were still in high school. The seven member orchestra consisted of Charlie Fischer, director and first violin; Burton Fischer, piano; Carey Lull, second violin; James C. Hatfield, second violin; Arthur Slocum (son of Arthur Gaylord Slocum, the sixth president of Kalamazoo College), second cornet; Harry B. Parker (a founding member of the 1923 Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra), flute; Allen Hughes, first cornet; and Ary Bradshaw, alto. Billing themselves as the “Symphony Orchestra,” their first professional engagements were at the local YMCA. According to one band member, the young musicians were paid nothing for the first performance, and just 55¢ for the second.

“Class of ‘97”

During the summer of 1897, Fischer’s “Symphony Orchestra” performed for the Kalamazoo High School graduation exercises at the YMCA auditorium. According to the Kalamazoo Telegraph, “The Symphony orchestra played the opening march, and furnished music throughout the evening. Every seat was occupied.”

Fischer’s Orchestra, c.1896. (left-right): James C. Hatfield, second violin; Charles L. Fischer, director and first violin; Arthur Slocum (front), cornet; Harry B. Parker, flute; Carey Lull, second violin. (Not pictured: Burton Fischer, piano, who took the photo; and Allen Hughes, cornet.)

The boys soon found themselves playing for dancing parties nearly every Monday evening in downtown Kalamazoo. According to Harry Parker, “Charlie got $1.50, Bert got a dollar, and the rest got 75 cents” (Gazette). Humble as it might have been, this was the beginning of one of the most popular dance bands in the Midwest at the time.

Fischer’s Orchestra

By 1899, the Fischer brothers’ orchestra was working steadily; playing frequently for parties, dances, and other social gatherings. The band consisted of six full-time members by this time; Charles Fischer, manager, leader and first violin; Burton Fischer, piano; Fred Day, clarinet; Fred Davis, cornet; Frank Newell, trombone; and John Quintal, second violin.

In June 1899, the orchestra was contracted to play for the Paw Paw High School commencement exercises, and the social dance that followed. A feature of the band’s repertoire that season was a ragtime piece called “Kalamazoo, An Original Rag-Time Cake-Walk,” composed by their good friend Eddie Desenberg.

Statler Hotel at the Pan-American Exposition, 1901. Private collection.

Pan-American Exposition

During the spring of 1901, the Fischer brothers got their first big break when Charlie signed a contract with E.M. Statler to play a twenty-week engagement at Statler’s Pan-American Hotel in Buffalo, New York, in conjunction with the 1901 World’s Fair, known as the Pan-American Exposition. With accommodations for more than five thousand, Statler’s hotel provided an ideal venue where hundreds of thousands of guests could see and enjoy Fischer’s Orchestra. “It is a well deserved honor,” applauded the Kalamazoo Telegraph, “and is a credit to [Fischer] as well as a compliment to the musical talent of Kalamazoo.” As a special honor, Fischer’s Orchestra was selected to perform at the Michigan Building on the Exposition grounds during Michigan Day at the fair, August 20th.

“The orchestra has met with splendid success at Buffalo, having played at some ultra-swell social maneuvers at Statler’s and been the recipients of many compliments.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 September 1901

The 1901 orchestra in Buffalo included Charles Fischer, leader and violin; Burton Fischer, piano; Fred Day, clarinet; Jay Reams, flute; Harry Jay, cornet; Joe Allen, bass; Bird VanKleek, cello; and Fred Pike, trombone. Thereafter, the orchestra became known as Fischer’s ‘Pan-American’ Orchestra.

Following the orchestra’s successful run in Buffalo, Fischer immediately began to receive additional offers, including a request to perform at the Charleston (SC) Exposition later that same winter. Fischer declined, however, saying “I wanted to get back to old Kazoo and our friends” (Gazette).

“Fischer’s Famous Orchestra,” The Progressive Herald (Kalamazoo), 21 December 1912. Local History Room

University of Michigan “J-Hop”

After the 1901 Worlds Fair, the band returned to Kalamazoo and enjoyed several seasons of steady work at area hotels, colleges and resorts. With the success of the first World’s Fair engagement, an opportunity of special merit came along in December 1901 when Fischer’s Orchestra was selected to furnish the music for the University of Michigan’s annual junior dance known as the “J-Hop.” This was the first time an orchestra from outside of the Detroit area had been chosen to perform, so Fischer assembled a full fifteen-piece orchestra for the occasion. The event was a hit, and the University of Michigan’s J-Hop in Ann Arbor would become a yearly tradition for Fischer and his orchestras. In all, Fischer’s bands were featured some sixteen times at this annual event.

Fischer’s lineup for the 1902 J-Hop included Charles Fischer, Ed L. Weinn, and Jud Keyes, first violins; Banks Baird, second violin; Ed Taylor, viola; Bird VanKleck, cello; Frank Newell, bass; Burton Fischer, piano; Harry Parker, flute; Fred C. Day, first clarionet; Arthur E. Hendrlcks, second clarionet; Harry B. Jay, first cornet; Sam Born, second cornet; Arthur Thomas, trombone; Lee McKee, drums and traps; and Will R. Noyes, librarian, all of whom were well-known Kalamazoo musicians.

“Meet Me in St. Louis”

Another major break for the band came in 1904 when Charlie Fischer signed another contract with E.M. Statler for a five month stint playing daily at Statler’s famed Inside Inn at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, otherwise known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. The prestigious 2,257-room Inside Inn, with dining room and restaurant seating for 2,500, was located right on the Exposition grounds and was considered the “official” hotel of the World’s Fair. “We recognized the orderly and gentlemanly conduct of the boys,” stated Statler in a letter to Charles Fischer, “and will pay you more than was asked by another organization, equally as good but the members of it we do not know.” Fischer packed up his finest ten-piece orchestra and boarded the train for St. Louis, Missouri, on May 16th. Once again, Fischer’s musicians would be able to showcase their expertise in front of the millions who flocked to the World’s Fair.

Letterhead from the Inside Inn at the St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904. Private collection.

For the St. Louis World’s Fair, Fischer gathered the finest musicians he could find, including several from out-of-state. The 1904 orchestra featured Charles Fischer (from Kalamazoo), leader, violin; Burton Fischer (from Kalamazoo), piano; Harry W. Morrill (from Brockton, Massachusetts), clarinet; G. Borch (from Detroit), cello soloist; Harry P. Barbour (from Providence, Rhode Island), flute, piccolo; Dan W. Barton (from Oshkosh, Wisconsin), drummer; William Addison (from Detroit and Chicago), trombone soloist; Charles Wolfe (from Kalamazoo), violin, cornet; Harry B. Jay (from Kalamazoo), cornet; and Frank A. Newell (from Kalamazoo), trombone and bass.

Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra promotional flier, c.1910 The University of Iowa Libraries

“An Organization of Merit”

Hereafter to be known as Fischer’s ‘World’s Fair’ or ‘Exposition’ Orchestra, the band returned to Michigan and performed tirelessly throughout the summer months at entertainment hot spots like “The Allendale” on Gull Lake, Kalamazoo’s Oakwood Park, the Imperial Hotel in Petoskey, and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

As the popularity of his orchestras grew, Fischer engaged his musicians for multiple tours of the Midwest and South with Redpath Chautauqua, Community Chautauqua, and others. For its 1906 season, the orchestra logged nearly 15,000 miles. Reports of audiences numbering in the thousands—even tens-of-thousands—were not uncommon.

Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra in Mendon, Michigan, May 1908. Author’s collection.

The membership of the Fischer brothers’ orchestras changed significantly over the years but thanks to their growing popularity, the Fischers were able to draw from a pool of well respected musicians, be they from Kalamazoo or well beyond. The 1908 orchestra included Charles Fischer, director and violin; Burton Fischer, piano; and Charles Brocato, clarinet; with Fortune Dogneaux, Fred Pike, Dave Parsons, and vocalist Burton Lenihan. The 1914 orchestra was expanded to include Charles L Fischer, director and violin; Donald Heald, second violin; Burton Fischer, piano; Charles Brocato, clarinet; William Reifsnyder, first cornet; Leo Chaffee, second cornet; Otto Schultz, flute; Edward Snuggs, trombone and cello; John Hollman, bass; and Harry Anstrum, drums, tympani, and xylophone.

Six Different Orchestras

Fischer’s Orchestra, c.1915

As the band’s popularity grew, Fischer had to hire extra musicians and divide them into multiple orchestras just to make good on an ever-expanding list of commitments. At one point the Fischers had at least six different ensembles on the road throughout the Midwest. A typical week during this era might see Fischer’s “First” Orchestra performing in Jackson on Tuesday, in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, in Saginaw on Thursday, on to Lansing on Friday and Saturday, then back to Kalamazoo on Monday. According to an April 1907 report, the band performed every single night (except three) for seven months in a row, and was still booked to play every night for several weeks after that. On one occasion, Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra (under the direction of Charles Fischer) played for a New Years Eve dance in Battle Creek, while Fischer’s “Jazzadores” (directed by Burton Fischer) were in Lima, Ohio. That same evening, Fischer’s “Novelty Orchestra” (directed by Peter Houtsema) was in Holland, Fischer’s “Banjo Phiends” (directed by Jim Johnstone) were in Niles, Fischer’s “Jazz Orchestra” (directed by Burt Reeves) was with Godwin’s dance assembly in Kalamazoo, and Fischer’s “Jazz Band” (directed by Ms. R. Briggs) kept the hometown crowds entertained in Kalamazoo at the Park-American Hotel.

Fischer’s schedule included engagements at some of the finest resorts in the Midwest, and performances for many prestigious special events, including a reception in Lansing for President Roosevelt in 1907, said to be “the swellest event of the season” (Gazette).

Inside Inn at the Jamestown Exposition, 1907. Private collection.

Jamestown Exposition

In the fall of 1907, Fischer packed up his orchestra once again and headed to Norfolk, Virginia, for a extended run at the Inside Inn during the Jamestown Exposition of 1907, Fischer’s third World’s Fair engagement. From mid-September until mid-November, Fischer’s World’s Fair Orchestra entertained guests inside the massive hotel and during specially scheduled concert performances on the exposition grounds, where as many as 4,000 were in attendance for each performance.

Local Enterprise

After returning to Kalamazoo for 1908, Charles Fischer and his wife, Klaasje, purchased a stately home at 912 South West Street (now 914 South Westnedge). Aside from being his family residence and orchestra business office, the Fischer home served as a rehearsal space where band members could work out the intricate arrangements of their latest compositions, and an instruction room for band members who gave music lessons to supplement their orchestra commitments and various “day jobs.” The house at 912 South West Street would remain the primary address and business office of Fischer’s many orchestras and ensembles for more than two decades.

Fischer’s Music Shop

In addition to their orchestra work, the Fischer brothers were both active music merchants in Kalamazoo. Charles Fischer owned and operated a retail music store (Fischer’s Music Shop) in downtown Kalamazoo from 1911 through 1919, where the latest popular music sheets (including Burton Fischer’s compositions) could be had, along with Victrolas and 78rpm records. Fischer’s Orchestra performed at the store on special occasions, including a concert performance during the grand opening in June 1911. Burton Fischer formed his own music publishing company (The Burton E. Fischer Publishing Co.) as a commercial outlet for many of his own compositions and the work of others.

School songs by Burton Fischer: University of Michigan (1909), Kalamazoo College (1915), WMU (1916) Johns Hopkins University | Library of Michigan | Western Michigan University

The Burton Edward Fischer Publishing Co.

Today, we enjoy music in a variety of ways; streaming, vinyl, radio, compact disc, etc. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sheet music was all the rage. While the recording industry was in its infancy, fans without the desire or ability to acquire an actual recording simply bought the music sheets and attempted to recreate their favorite tunes for themselves.

In addition to their musical abilities, word of Burton Fischer’s popular compositions began to spread. John Philip Sousa allegedly praised Fischer during a local visit in 1912. According to one newspaper account, Sousa said, “You have quite a famous composer right here in Kalamazoo. I know from what I have heard here in Kalamazoo that Mr. Fischer is all right. That ‘One Little Dance’ sounds awful good to me” (Gazette). Sousa’s band reportedly featured the song as an encore during the tour.

The Progressive Herald, 19 April 1913

As Fischer’s orchestras grew more and more popular, fans combed the music shops for copies of the latest pieces that the bands were playing, many of which were composed by Burton Fischer himself, with words by leading local and regional lyricists.

A Partial List of Burton Fischer’s Compositions

“I’d Rather Waltz Just With You, You, You” (1907)
“Yankee Toys” (1907)
“Laddie” (1908)
“Absence” (1908)
“What’s in a Kiss” (1908)
“A Message” (1908)
“Saint or Sinner” (1908)
“A Toast to All the Girls” (1909)
“Sweethearts True” (1909)
“If Wishes Were Horses” (1910)
“Dancing” (1911)
“The Bee Ne’er Returns to the Same Flower Unless He Finds Honey There” (1911)
“Just One Little Dance in Your Arms” (1912)
“Sailing” (1912)
“Yesterdays” (1912)
“All Hail to Kazoo!” (1915)
“The Squad March” (1916)
“Starlight” (1916)
“Uncle Sam is Calling You” (1917)
“Oodles of Pep” (1917)

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

In addition to their popular dance bands, the Fischer brothers both had an affinity for orchestral work. As a teenager Charles Fischer was a founding member of C.Z. Bronson’s 1893 Symphony Orchestra, along with Eugene McElhany’s 1896 Philharmonic Orchestra and Ed Desenberg’s 1898 Mendelssohn Club Orchestra. Charlie was a Kalamazoo Orchestral Association board member in 1911, and served as the orchestra concertmaster for the 1914 Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, which also featured his brother Burton. This orchestra embarked on extensive tours around the Midwest with the Lincoln Chautauqua during the 1914, 1915, and 1916 summer seasons. Although all of these orchestras were short-lived, they helped form the roots of the today’s Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, c.1914. Baker Archive photo, as published in the Kalamazoo Telegraph, 18 April 1914.

Fischer On Record: The Victor Sessions

The Fischer brothers were driven to keep their organizations up-to-date and always at the forefront of technology for their time. In October 1917, the orchestra traveled to Camden, New Jersey, where they made a few test recordings for Victor Records. According to Victor ledgers, the band cut at least six sides on 10 October 1917. These included two takes of “Casino Jazz” (a Burton Fischer composition), one take of “Vienese Melodies,” a single take of “Oodles of Pep” (another Burton Fischer composition), and two takes of “Annie Laurie,” a trombone and cornet duet by orchestra members Edward Snuggs and William Reifsnyder, arranged by Burton Fischer. Unfortunately, it appears that none of these recordings were ever issued commercially and apparently no future contract with Victor resulted.

Kalamazoo Gazette, 7 December 1919

Fischer’s Famous “Radio Dances”

During the infant days of radio, Fischer’s orchestras were often “on the air.” In 1922, Fischer’s “Full” Orchestra became the first band outside of Detroit to broadcast over WCX (now WJR), just days after the station first went on the air. On Sunday evening, 28 May 1922, the orchestra performed before a crowd of some five thousand in Milwaukee, which was broadcast live over the radio and played for the band’s home audience at a special Oakwood Park “Radio Dance.”

Saginaw News Courier, 9 March 1920, p. 8.

Fischer’s Jazz Bands

After the First World War, musical tastes began to change and audiences were drawn to newer, more modern arrangements, especially “Jazz.” Charlie Fischer was quick to add new and interesting instrumentation to his lineup, with an emphasis on popular “jazz” instruments like violin, banjo, clarinet, and multiple saxophones. The brothers’ 1921 orchestra included Charles Fischer, violin and banjo; Burton Fischer, piano and clarinet; Teddy Fugman, clarinet and saxophone; Jack Robinson, banjo, saxophone and piano; Will Greene, trumpet; Harry Barbour, flute and saxophone; Charles Barbour, trombone and violin; and Harry Bernstein, drums and marimba.

Always eager to keep their organizations up-to-date, the Fischer brothers formed several “jazz” bands during the nineteen-teens and early twenties, just to meet the growing demand for the new “peppier” syncopated sound. These new groups included the “Fischer Jazz Band,” Fischer’s “Jazzadores,” Fischer’s “Banjo Phiends” (a name Fischer “borrowed” from the Honey Boy Minstrels), and Fischer’s “Serenaders.” And the Fischers had no trouble keeping all of their bands busy. During the summer of 1920, Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra kept the folks at the “Big Casino” in South Haven dancing, while Fischer’s Jazz Band (featuring James “Jazz” Johnstone) entertained the crowds at Kalamazoo’s Oakwood Park. Fischer’s Jazzadores (Henry Eiches, director and violin; Herbert Fischer, clarinet and saxophone; Wilson Keller, piano; Charles Wilbur, drums and marimba) played concert and dance engagements at the resort hotels in Charlevoix and Petoskey, while Fischer’s Banjo Phiends filled engagements elsewhere around the state, including Kalamazoo.

James H. “Jazz” Johnstone

Fischer’s star banjo player at the time was a long-time Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company employee named James H. “Jazz” Johnstone. Johnstone made quite a name for himself during the early twenties as a music instructor by teaching eager students how to “jazz” on the tenor banjo and mandolin. At the same time, several other members of Fischer’s Orchestra were part of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra’s 1921 inception, including Frank Newell, Charles Brocato, and William Reifsnyder.

Fischer’s Orchestra, c.1920s. Private collection.

Fischer On Record: The Gennett Sessions

In 1922, the Fischer brothers tried again to capture the sound of their orchestra on record. This time, they traveled to Richmond, Indiana, for a session at Gennett Records, now legendary for the many famous names that recorded there (New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, and William Jennings Bryan, to name a few). According to discographer Brian Rust, two pieces were attempted during the October 7th session; “Maggie Blues” (no. 11198) and “Faded Love Letters” (no. 11199). Unfortunately, it appears that, like the previous attempts with Victor, both were rejected and neither of these recordings were ever issued commercially.

Fischer Orchestra promotional postcard, c.1930. Courtesy, Jed J. Rogers, Austin, Texas.

“Dancing ‘Round the World”

For many years, the Kalamazoo Gazette ran a column called “Twenty Years Ago,” which culled interesting tidbits from the daily papers published two decades earlier. In January 1909, a forward-looking counterpart called “Twenty Years From Now” took readers on an imaginary voyage into the future to see what Kalamazoo’s leading residents might be doing twenty years on. In a lighthearted jab at Fischer’s then exploding popularity, the columnist in 1909 fantasized that “Charles Fischer and his Famous Exposition Orchestra [had just] returned from Europe where they played with great success before the crowned heads of Europe” (Gazette). Who in 1909 could have imagined that those very words would indeed ring surprisingly true… almost exactly twenty years later?!

SS Belgenland

Albert Einstein with Charles Fischer, 1930. Local History Room

In 1926, the band had yet another big break when Fischer contracted with Belgium’s Red Star Line for a four-month around-the-world cruise as the official shipboard orchestra aboard the SS Belgenland, advertised as “The Largest Ship to Circle the Globe.” During the 29,000 mile, sixty-city journey (the ship’s third world cruise), Fischer’s Orchestra performed while on board and in many of the ports they visited along the way, including luxury hotels in Tokyo, Peking, Bombay (now Mumbai), Cairo, and Naples.

The 1926-27 excursion proved successful enough that the Fischer Orchestra was again engaged for three subsequent world cruises; 1927-28, 1930-31, and a fourth in 1931-32—the SS Belgenland’s final cruise around the world.

Fischer Meets Albert Einstein

During the 1930-31 cruise, actor Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford were passengers aboard the SS Belgenland, as was professor Albert Einstein and his wife. According to one newspaper account, Einstein borrowed Charlie Fischer’s hat during the trip when they went ashore for a stroll, only to have the hat stolen by an apparent souvenir hunter. Amused by the incident, Fischer told the reporter, “I still laugh when I think how someone must be treasuring that hat. I wonder what they’d do if they knew who really owned it.”

In addition to his scientific mind, Einstein was a great lover of music and he enjoyed playing the violin. After an afternoon of rehearsing with the orchestra, Einstein borrowed Charlie’s violin and joined the band for a few selections during a special Christmas Eve program off the west coast of Central America while en route to California. “After a few minutes,” wrote Fischer band member Carl Kay in his journal, “we were listening to one of the world’s greatest scientists doing a good job of playing the violin.” Einstein was featured in three selections; Beethoven’s 5th violin sonata “Spring,” “Berceuse” by Benjamin Godard, and as requested by Mrs. Einstein, Handel’s “Largo.” “We were all glad that Einstein asked to play with our orchestra,” noted Kay, “and I think he enjoyed it too.”

Live Radio Broadcasts

Fischer’s musicians had numerous opportunities to show off their talents during their four world cruises. They performed live radio broadcasts for KGU in Honolulu, JOAK in Tokyo, JOBK in Osaka, Colombo Broadcasting Station in Sri Lanka, and the Indian Broadcasting Company in Bombay. Following their 1931 broadcast in Tokyo, Fischer’s Orchestra performed for three consecutive nights at the lavish Florida Ballroom in that city, where they were awarded a silver cup for winning a “battle of the bands” contest against another American dance orchestra. Later in the same trip while en route from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Fischer’s Orchestra was featured during a special party held in the ship’s Tea Room for Douglas Fairbanks.

Fischer’s Orchestra aboard the SS Belgenland, 1930-31. Courtesy, Jed J. Rogers, Austin, Texas.

Carl Kay’s Journal

Fischer’s orchestra during the 1930-31 cruise included Charles Fischer, director and violin; Burton Fischer, piano; Ted Fugmann, alto sax; Tom Johnson, trumpet; Harold Stoddard, drums; Fritz Waldron, tenor sax; and Carl Kay, banjo, basses. During the cruise Carl Kay kept a detailed journal about the places they visited and the experiences they had. In his journal, Kay noted that the Japanese audiences loved American jazz, and were enthralled with Kay’s “slap string bass” style of playing, evidently the first time those audiences had seen, as Kay described, “such a queer method of playing.”

Read Carl Kay’s fascinating 1930-31 cruise journal, Courtesy, Jed J. Rogers, Austin, Texas.

Fischer On Record: Columbia (Japan)

While in Osaka in January 1931, the band spent the better part of a day at the Columbia Recording Company’s “laboratory,” where they cut four songs – two popular jazz pieces (Phil Baxter’s “Harmonica Harry” and “Ding Dong Daddy”), plus two Japanese folk songs—“jazz style.” (It is not yet known if these recordings were ever commercially released.)

“You Don’t Have to Dance… Just Get On and Ride”

Fischer’s “Globe Trotters” 1948. Local History Room

For more than fifty years, Fischer’s motto was “You Don’t Have to Dance To Fischer’s Music, Just Get On and Ride.” Even in later years, the Fischer name continued to be an important part of the Kalamazoo music scene. Charles Fischer, Burton Fischer and Ed Snuggs performed frequently during the 1940s as the “Twilight Serenade Trio” and were often broadcast locally over WKZO radio.

Fischer’s “Globe Trotters,” including long-time Fischer alumni Ed Snuggs and Will Reifsnyder, continued to perform locally and around the region until Charles’ death in 1948. Burton Fischer continued to write and perform right up until his death in 1965, as did fellow bandmate Edward Snuggs, who led a popular series of Sunday band concerts in Milham Park until his death in 1971.

Continuing Research

Like many of our Local History essays, this article is by no means a definitive study; rather it may be viewed as a work-in-progress. If you have new information, corrections, or items to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.


Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, 2009. Updated 2012.


Special thanks to Kazuya Deguchi, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, for providing valuable information about Fischer’s performances and radio broadcasts in Japan.

Special thanks to Jed and Debra Rogers, Austin, Texas, for sharing their extraordinary collection of photos and journals kept by Carl Kay, a member of Fischer’s Orchestra on the 1930-31 world cruise.



“Gazette Hall of Fame – No. 49”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 February 1906

“Sousa to honor Burton Fischer”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 November 1912

“Fischer’s to play for Victor Records”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 October 1917

“Who’s who in Kalamazoo: Charles L. Fischer; his orchestras famous around world”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 September 1939

“Charles Fischer, famed Kalamazoo musician, dies”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 May 1948

“Burton Fischer, dean of musicians here, dies”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 July 1965

“‘Globe Trotters’ filled twenties with music”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 September 1977, page A3, column 1

Local History Room Files

Name File: Fischer, Burton E.

Name File: Fischer, Charles L.

Kalamazoo Biography Scrapbook F2:116


Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings
An index to master recordings (matrixes) and published discs made by the Victor Talking Machine Company beginning in 1900.

Learn More

Related reading from Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History essays:
Early Jazz in Kalamazoo (1917-1923)
A historic overview of the development of jazz music, as seen from a local perspective.
Edward H. Snuggs: “Milham Park Music Man”
An active member of Fischer’s Orchestra who became well known as a solo artist and bandleader.
Grace Tyson: A Clever Variety Star
A child star from Kalamazoo who grew up to become one of the biggest names in the business.
Ragtime Kalamazoo (1895-1917)
A historic overview of the advent of ragtime, as seen from a local perspective.
Roots of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, A Prehistory: 1891—1922
Details of early local orchestras that led to the formation of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.


“My wife’s great uncle, Carl Kay, was a member of The Charlie Fischer Orchestra on the (1930) S.S. Belgenland World Cruise. I’m sitting on my break at work looking at a photo of the orchestra and their autographs. Burton E. Fischer was the pianist, Ted Fugmann played alto sax, Tom Johnson played trumpet, Harold Stoddard(sp?) was the drummer and Fritz Waldron played Tenor Sax. Charlie Fischer signed his name ‘Chas. L. Fischer’ Director and Violin. The pages that my wife inherited from her great uncle contain Professor Einstein’s calculations and probably relate to the Unified Field Theory. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your article on ‘Chas. and Burton.’”
—Jed J. Rogers, archivist & records manager, Austin, Texas, August 2012.

“I’ve just read your web article ‘Charles L. and Burton E. Fischer’ with much interest. Partly because some books on jazz history in Japan say that Charles Fischer and his Belgenland band visited in late January of 1931 and in a dance hall named ‘Florida’ in Tokyo, they did ‘battle of the bands’ with Wayne Coleman’s Band. Coleman’s band from the United States, including Coleman (ts), Thomas Missman (cl,as) and Buster Johnson (tb) (Paul Whiteman’s almuni?), was the house band of ‘Florida’ at that time. Fischer’s band consisted of Fischer (vln,cond), 2 saxes, 1 trumpet and 3 rhythms. The winner was Fischer’s band. Also one book above shares reminiscences by (Mr.) Matashiro Tsuda, the dance hall manager, that slapping bass style was first introduced in Japan by that Fischer’s band at that time.

One more reason I have been much interested for, it has been said and some believe six tunes recorded for Columbia Japan on January 27, 1929 were by Fischer’s Belgenland Jazz Band, even though Lee Green’s name were on the label. According to some reissue albums, Columbia ledger indicates these recordings were by just ‘Belgenland Jazz Band’ and have no other information about players. Five of six tunes were released from Columbia and Nipponophone labels. Four tunes – ‘Roses of Yesterday,’ ‘You’re The Cream In My Coffee,’ ‘Sonny Boy,’ ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ – released from Columbia were with Japanese singers and one from Nipponophone – ‘Tiger Rag’ – was instrumental. As I read your article, I came to know, 1929 Columbia Japan recordings were not by Fischer’s, because Fischer’s band was not on board for the SS Belgenland world cruise in 1928/29.

After sending the e-mail to you, I contacted with Mr. Masato Mouri for information about Charles Fischer. Mr. Mouri is a friend of mine, who published ‘Nippon Swingtime,’ a book on history of jazz in Japan two years ago. During his research for the book, he checked thoroughly radio program listings in the newspapers in the 20s to 30s. According to him, Charles Fischer’s Band appeared on radio programs twice in 1930 (Jan. 27 for JOAK, Feb. 2 for JOBK) and twice in 1931 (Jan. 21 & 27). JOAK (Tokyo) and JOBK (Osaka), both are predecessors of NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting corporation. He also provided me the following information: Newspaper of Feb. 2, 1930 listed the program as by ‘Charles Fischer’s Orchestra of SS Belgenland, under the direction of Fritz Waldron’ (spellings may be incorrect). As to the broadcasts in 1931, newspaper said as by just ‘Fischer’s Orchestra.’”
—Kazuya Deguchi, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, May 2012

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