Connecting jazz and hip-hop

Jazz music student Ethan Fisher is finishing up a new EP.

Fisher formed The Vibe Plus Five, a jazz group, after arriving at Temple last semester. | Kara Milstein TTN
Fisher formed The Vibe Plus Five, a jazz group, after arriving at Temple last semester. | Kara Milstein TTN

Ethan Fisher’s desk is covered, not by class assignments and required textbooks, but instead by a keyboard, two large speakers and his laptop.

The freshman jazz performance major is putting the finishing touches on an EP that will feature his original hip-hop beat compositions.

In addition to composing music, Fisher, a vibraphone and keyboard player, performs in Philadelphia-based jazz and hip-hop groups. His love for music began on the cusp of his adolescence and developed as he grew older.

“After a while, pop music didn’t do it for me anymore,” Fisher said. “I was looking for something with more substance. It started with pop and hip-hop, then I started diving deeper and found underground hip-hop, jazz and classical music too.”

Fisher’s latest composition, which features traditional hip-hop instrumentation paired with orchestral horns, is a testament to his wide range of influences.

As a Boyer College of Music and Dance student, Fisher said he is inspired by those that have come before him and are now making a name for themselves in the jazz scene in Philadelphia. Fisher cites Chelsea Reed, of Chelsea Reed and the Fair Weather Five, as a friend and inspiration.

Fisher formed The Vibe Plus Five, featuring freshmen Chris Lewis, Liam Werner, Josh Fisher, Panayiotis Dimopoulos and sophomore Jon Tomaro, shortly after arriving at Temple. The group frequents local venues, including Time Restaurant, where it won the jazz division of the PHL Live competition in the fall.

“Right now, I’ve seen how the jazz scene is in Philly,” Fisher said. “I’ve been playing a lot of jazz and I know the people and how it works. I’ve just started getting into the hip-hop scene, so I don’t know the size of the venues for independent, experimental hip-hop groups. I see all the rock house shows, and it’s massive. It’s way bigger than jazz.”

Fisher said compared to jazz, hip-hop for him is a much more independent process.

“In jazz, I am a team player,” he said. “You are only going to sound as good as the weakest guy in the group. Everyone needs to be on board and together. With [making beats], it is my process.”

Fisher and his twin brother Josh, bassist for The Vibe Plus Five, collaborate on many of his compositions. Fisher’s roommate, freshman Matt Scaramozzino, is designing the artwork for the EP.

“I’ll have a sample start as the inspiration to get me going,” Fisher said. “Once I start, I’ll usually cut out the sample because I’m trying to be sample-free. I want to use the knowledge I have to play a lot of [the music] live.”

Creating music in a world connected through social networks means Fisher has a large platform to share his music. He mentioned he uses Soundcloud to post new compositions, and plans to launch a Bandcamp profile soon.

“Social media is the only thing that has given me the power to put out music,” Fisher said. “It has given me an online portfolio that anyone can check out — that is all that I need.”

As a jazz and hip-hop musician, Fisher added he wants to continue to blend the two genres.

“I’m trying to make music that is more positive, original and more interesting,” Fisher said. “I hope to bridge the gap between jazz groups and hip-hop beats.”

Tim Mulhern can be reached at

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