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The Anchorage Daily News, December 17th, 2004

Jazzmom fills the air with the sweet sounds of Christmas

Josh Niva
Anchorage Daily News

For Melissa Bledsoe Fischer, making a Christmas CD was a natural progression in her growth as a musician and as a mom. It also was tons of holiday fun.

"It is the best of both worlds," said Bledsoe Fischer, known affectionately around town as Jazzmom. "It's Christmas music, which is feel-good music for just about everybody, except for the Scrooges out there. And it was the opportunity to play and express what I love, a craft I've been working at for a long time. It really was a double blessing."

Bledsoe Fischer released her fourth CD, "A Merry Jazzmom," last weekend to a rousing reception at a holiday concert. She has a second release party planned for Sunday at Cafe Europa's Studio 68. The event begins at 7 p.m., and admission is $10. For reservations, call 868-8812.

"A Merry Jazzmom" is a collection of 10 Christmas covers, most classics like "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Let It Snow" and "Silent Night," which Bledsoe Fischer said is her mom's favorite winter tune.

Bledsoe Fischer, an accomplished pianist who was born and raised in Anchorage, sang, provided keys and arranged the album, which she recorded at Surreal Studios with engineer and pal Kurt Riemann. She had a few of the songs in her archives, some dating back as far as 1998, but recorded most of the album in the summer.

She calls the new album her best work to date and also her most eclectic. She collaborated with four drummers and three horn players, as well as a mix of old studio buddies and family; her niece, Megan Bledsoe, plays harp on "Winter Wonderland."

Bledsoe Fischer said she's always loved Christmas tunes, but the songs of the season took on a special meaning when her first child was born on Christmas Eve. Now with four children, Christmas just isn't Christmas without music. Bledsoe Fischer even dedicated the album to her kids.

"With a big family, Christmas is huge," she said. pressure right now, and the stress doesn't stem from finding the perfect gifts for her kids.

"In one respect, this CD is kind of timeless; Christmas tunes don't go out of style," she said. "But you only have a small window of time each year (to sell it). Unless they're visitors from New York, no one is going to buy a Christmas CD in June."

Which is why Bledsoe Fischer planned two release parties. She said the first event drew 75 people, and she received raves for her CD. She expects more of the same this weekend.

"A Merry Jazzmom" is available for about $15 at Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Metro Music and Book Store, The Keyboard Cache, the Anchorage museum gift shop and through Bledsoe Fischer's Web site (

Bledsoe Fischer also performs most Friday and Saturday nights at Sullivan's Steakhouse.

For more on Melissa "Jazzmom" Bledsoe Fischer, visit

The Anchorage Chronicle, December 9th, 2004

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The Anchorage Chronicle, Sept 18, 2003

"Jazzmom"fans press for fourth CD
Artist donates lithograph to help fund disc

By Heather A. Resz
Staff writer

The faithful know her as Jazzmom.

That’s a registered trademark that refers to the artist sometimes known as Melissa Bledsoe Fischer. Although she has the musical skills to command attention at her pick of international venues, this Alaska-born performer chooses to perform and record locally while she and husband Tony raise Sarah May, 9, Matthew, 7, Rachel, 6, and Rebecca, 3, “It’s getting so that’s just how people know me,” Melissa Fisher said. “I’m Jazzmom.”

It is clear from her fans’ comments Sept. 11 at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art that they respect her both as a nurturing mother and as powerful vocalist and gifted jazz musician. The museum stays open late on Thursdays during the summer, and folks who pay the $6.50 cover charge are treated to the hottest jazz act in town while viewing all the museum’s exhibits.

Usually, Fischer performs as a duo with bassist Dirk Westfall. They play at the museum on First Fridays and most Fridays and Saturdays they perform at Sullivan’s Steakhouse. The duo’s regular First Friday performance at the museum has been preempted in October. The band Nervous Rex is playing Oct. 3 for the opening of a new exhibit, “A T-Rex named Sue.” “There’s a pretty good collection of jazz musicians in Anchorage,” Fischer said. “But there’s just not a lot of places to play.”

From blues to jazz and everything in between

Fischer started playing the organ when she was 4 with older brother, Mark, then 12, as her teacher. When her family moved to Oregon in 1976, Fischer switched to piano. Eventually, she earned a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Linfield College in 1985.

After graduation, she moved home and began playing blues professionally as part of the house band at the Fly By Night Club. “I’ve always loved jazz, but I didn’t know how to play it,” Fischer said. “Blues is a different beast, and I felt like it was easier.” It’s also easier to find a paying gig in Anchorage playing the blues or rock and roll than to pay the bills playing jazz, she said. She played blues and rock and roll to pay the bills until 1992 when fate handed her an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. That’s when a seasoned five-piece jazz band playing at the old Keyboard Lounge downtown invited her to join their group. “I knew a lot about music, but very little about jazz,” Fischer said. “It was wonderful, but talk about a learning curve.” Westfall was the bass player in that first jazz band. He’s been playing as part of Fischer’s band for the past six years. “We’ve played together for 11 years in lots of different bands,” Westfall said. “And she hasn’t fired me yet.” Fischer has the flexibility to listen and create as she goes, he said. “There’s a lot of interaction on the stand,” Westfall said. “She’s really great to work with.”

All in the family

Mostly Fischer performs around town as a duo with bassist Westfall. Sometimes, she adds Pat Owens on trumpet and her niece, Megan Bledsoe on jazz harp. (See related story) The quartet performed Sept. 11 for the museum’s final Jazz Night of the season.

Janet Asaro, the museum’s director for marketing and public relations, said the performances are a chance for people to enjoy jazz and stroll through the museum in the evening when it’s less crowded. “Melissa has quite a following,” she said. “There are die-hard fans out there who come every week.” The Breeze KNIK 105.7 FM co-sponsored the Thursday summer series, Asaro said. All over town, wherever Fischer plays, she said she sees many familiar faces in the crowd. “When people are coming out to hear jazz on a beautiful summer night, to me, that says people are hungry for a jazz venue,” Fischer said. “There are a lot of jazz lovers, and I think they are being let down.” Since The Hole in the Wall closed in 1999, Sullivan’s Steakhouse and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art have become the jazz standards among Anchorage venues, she said. Fischer plays at Sullivan’s most Fridays and Saturdays from 7-11 p.m.

Making it happen

Since starting her own jazz band six years ago, Fischer has released three CDs. The first, "By Request," was released in 1998; a second CD "Jazzmom Returns" came out in 2001, and a third "Jazzmom Exposed” in 2002. Although her last self-produced CD came out just a year ago, she said she’s already felt “friendly pressure” from fans to release a fourth CD. But producing CDs is expensive, she said. That’s when fan Maynard Tapp asked if he could help. To help fund Jazzmom’s efforts, Fischer fan Tapp introduced Seattle-area artist Michael Reagan to Fishcer and her music. He was immediately impressed by her and wanted to help her succeed, Tapp said. So Reagan donated the creation of a lithograph for her to sell as a fund-raiser.

“Mike and I wanted to be dream makers and thought that creating a limited edition print of Melissa’s future album cover might offer more of her fans the opportunity to help her accomplish her dream to become the international ‘Jazzmom’ from Alaska,” Tapp said. If all goes well, her goal is to release her fourth CD in fall 2004, she said. The lithographs are for sale at the museum for $20, and all proceeds benefit her next recording project. Tanya Thomas is a hardcore Jazzmom fan, and so is her mother who lives in Los Angeles. Thomas was among the first to buy a $100 hand-colored copy of the print. “She’s bad to the bone,” Thomas said. “I just love her. And do you know she has four kids?”

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Local opening act steals jazz show
STUMBLE: Bledsoe Fischer established a groove, but Crawford got lost anyway.

By S.L. Guthrie
Anchorage Daily News Music Reviewer
(Published: March 20, 2002)

It's not too often that an opening act outperforms the headliner, but that's exactly what happened Saturday night in Atwood Concert Hall when local jazz favorite Melissa Bledsoe Fischer opened for veteran Randy Crawford.

Fischer delivered a dynamite set filled with great vocals and awesome arrangements of some of music's best-loved standards. Crawford, however, appeared as if she might pass out before evening's end.

Fischer and her quartet opened with a lively tune that put the spotlight on the incredible abilities of trumpeter Pat Owens and sax player Jeff Baird. Talented though they were, they couldn't outdo Fischer. She proved to be the group's most impressive performer by singing with great passion and emotion, particularly in a gorgeous, sultry arrangement of "Over the Rainbow."

Another provocative rendering, this time of the rock tune "I Can See Clearly Now," demonstrated her dexterity on the keys.

Bassist Rick Westfall joined the instrumental pyrotechnics in kicking off the finale, "Bye, Bye Blackbird." Fischer and her troupe were definitely a first-rate example of the wealth of talent in Anchorage.

Crawford's guest saxophonist, Michael Lington -- best known as a sideman to jazz singer Bobby Caldwell -- wowed the crowd with an unexpected set of his own. Lington covered tunes from his self-titled CD, displaying lots of lung power in belting out the high notes. His best tune was the jazz classic and Crawford hit "Everything Must Change."

When Crawford finally appeared, in a hot-pink velour pantsuit and wearing a big grin, it took her a few numbers to put any muscle behind her signature breathy, high-pitched voice. But when she did, the results were worth the wait. "Free the Child Within" and "All I Do Is Think About You" were audience favorites.

Unfortunately, a big disappointment came with Crawford's stage presence -- or lack thereof. What started out as awkward, giggly and rambling later turned into fears that the singer would fall down or, worse, keel over midsong.

During "Captain of Her Heart," Crawford ventured into the audience and sat immobilized in an empty seat while her backup players extended an instrumental bridge. She seemed disoriented when she got up and at one point fell hard into the lap of an audience member. She did this again later but pretended she meant to by giving the startled man a big hug.

The fans didn't seem to mind at first, but as Crawford's composure lessened, so did everyone's patience. Her band members seemed annoyed as they waited for her return to the stage so they could end the program. And the audience, despite cheers for her obvious vocal abilities, grew weary and began to leave. What caused Crawford's erratic behavior is anyone's guess, but by the evening's end, thoughts of an encore didn't enter anyone's mind.

(This review prompted a call to promoter Roda Jones of Sourdough Productions. Jones said the behavior was typical for the performer. "That's her personality," Jones said.)

S.L. Guthrie is an experienced singer and fan of all sorts of music.

From The Anchorage Daily News, July 9, 2001mel review 07 01 image

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