THE NEXT GENERATION OF POPS CONDUCTOR
“There are only two kinds of music in the world: good and bad,” Jeff Tyzik said, quoting the great Duke Ellington. “I have never drawn lines about what I’ll write, play, or think about, as long as it’s good.”
A tremendously versatile artist, Tyzik is many things to many people. Onstage, audiences love him for his engaging podium style and stellar trumpet playing. Behind the scenes, musicians love him for his brilliant arranging, intelligent programming and straight-shooting professionalism. An anomaly among conductors, Tyzik creates every one of his signature programs from scratch—including his programs with guest artists—and he always includes opportunities to feature members of the orchestra.
In demand across North America as a pops conductor, Jeff Tyzik is the creative force behind the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s (RPO) Pops, where he celebrated his 15th anniversary as the orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor during the 2008/09 season. He is also principal pops conductor of two other orchestras—the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in British Columbia and the Oregon Symphony Orchestra in Portland, Oregon. He maintains a busy guest-conducting schedule with orchestras including the Boston Pops, the New York Pops, the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Toronto Symphony, among others.
With his background as a jazz trumpeter and record producer, it is tempting to try to classify Tyzik as a jazzer—but the last thing Tyzik is interested in is limiting what classifies as good music. “I love every kind of music,” said Tyzik. “Baroque, contemporary, the blues… I’m as at home in Copland’s Old American Songs as ‘Oye Como Va’ or ‘One O’Clock Jump.’ It’s about whatever’s vibrant, exciting, and has good energy. To be effective at what I do, I have to be totally wide open. I believe a conductor must have the broadest perspective possible about what’s valid musically.”
While Tyzik, who spent his formative years learning from legends like Doc Severinsen and Chuck Mangione, can turn any orchestra into a swing orchestra in one or two rehearsals, he’s equally likely to perform a night of Motown, Latin, or Celtic arrangements. It is this total commitment to good music that keeps orchestras coming back to him for leadership again and again.
“I’m excited about every facet of music. I have to have it all, every part of it,” said Tyzik. “When I’m a composer, that’s it: I have write music every day. I’ll get up at 4 a.m. and work for five hours, and I can’t wait to hear what it’s going to sound like. Whether I’m a conductor or an educator working with kids—or if I’m preparing for a subscription series concert or a pops concert—it’s all incredibly thrilling.”
Born in Hyde Park, New York, Jeff Tyzik first fell in love with music at the age of eight when he saw a drum and bugle corps march by in a local parade. “For my ninth birthday, I said, ‘I want a bugle!’” recalled Tyzik. But when he opened the case, he was crushed. “It wasn’t a bugle. It was a cornet!”
He quickly forgot his initial disappointment, however, and began studying cornet with a teacher who had performed in the Goldman Memorial Band in the 20’s. He immediately excelled. “I was always extremely serious about music, even at a young age. I was frustrated with the other kids when they didn’t take it as seriously as I did.” recalled Tyzik, adding, “I’ve always given all of my energy to anything I’m passionate about.”
Tyzik’s teachers and friends began pushing him to audition for the Eastman School of Music. Tyzik recalls, “Eastman was a pivotal place in my development because I was exposed to legends there, like Ray Wright. When I was a kid, once in a while my mom would take me to Radio City Music Hall where Ray was the conductor of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra. I met Ray years later when he was a professor of jazz studies at the Eastman School and I was a student. He became a mentor to me. He knew volumes about music and the music business. He treated all of his students as professionals. What I do today, I directly link to my studies with him.”
At Eastman, Tyzik also met Chuck Mangione, the great band leader. Since Mangione was tough on him in college, Tyzik was happily surprised when Mangione offered him a job. Over the six years following, he worked under Mangione, soaking in every part of the music business.
“During my first performance at the Hollywood Bowl with Chuck, we were recording a live album. I was both performing on stage and co-producing the record,” Tyzik laughs. “Five minutes before the concert started, the power went out in the Hollywood Bowl and everything went dark. Live performance is always interesting!”
Performing in the 70’s with Mangione’s jazz orchestra for crowds ten and twenty thousand strong showed Tyzik that the possibilities for the orchestra beyond classical music were unlimited. “People came to see Chuck, but they also came for the music. So even though I was classically-trained, I went in a more jazz, pop, and rock direction for nearly twenty years, always trying to synthesize those musical elements for symphony orchestra.”
Tyzik encountered the next great opportunity of his career when he met pops legend Doc Severinsen, then leader of the Tonight Show band. Tyzik and virtuoso trumpet player Allen Vizzutti collaborated on a trumpet concerto specifically for Doc to record. “Allen was on a world tour with Chick Corea and couldn’t make the premiere of our piece, so I went to the first rehearsal alone,” Tyzik recalls. “I was nervous (to say the least!) and was hiding in the back of the auditorium. Doc called me up to the stage and had me sit right next to him while they rehearsed the piece for the first time. Doc loved the concerto. That night, he and I spent hours talking about all of these things we’d like to do someday—and everything we talked about that night, we ended up doing.” Some of the projects Tyzik has worked on with Doc include contributing arrangements for many of Doc’s symphony programs, and most notably, producing the GRAMMY Award-winning album, The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, Vol. 1, recorded in 1986.
“Doc has been an inspiration to me. His energy and determination to continue to be a musician of excellence is awesome,” said Tyzik, “My relationship with him is well beyond professional and deeper than I can explain.”
In 1983, Tyzik and Vizzutti were invited to create a new pops program for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. “We put together a half of a concert that had both jazz and classical styles. People went crazy! As a result, we started working with orchestras from Spokane to St. Louis. We found that the synthesis of jazz, pop and classical musical elements worked everywhere.” Tyzik had initiated the basic programmatic style that he has been perfecting ever since.
Soon, Tyzik started receiving requests to do his own programs. “Orchestras were interested in hiring me as a conductor. They were looking for something new. I created a program with great arrangements that featured their players. My first orchestral big band show was an immediate hit with both audiences and orchestras.”
After touring his original program with a few orchestras, Tyzik found himself in a transitional period. “I was feeling frustrated. I knew I needed to grow musically. I went to see the great American composer, Sam Adler—an amazing teacher and composer I had known at Eastman who now teaches at Juilliard—and studied with him for three years. Sam showed me relationships in music that were so clear and made so much sense. Working with Sam changed my life and inspired me to think of new directions in music.”
Armed with new confidence, Tyzik approached the RPO in 1993 at a time when the orchestra was in a tenuous financial position. Their music director had just left, and the orchestra was on the verge of shutting down. “I thought I could make the RPO pops into something better than it was. So I went to the CEO, and told her my idea—to do works from Mozart to Count Basie on the same program, featuring members of the orchestra as soloists—and she went for it!” Tyzik put together a unique concert. One month after the performance, he was offered the job of Principal Pops Conductor. That relationship has continued for fifteen years.
Tyzik quickly won over the musicians in the orchestra. Here was someone totally unique: a pops conductor who brought a musician’s perspective to great conducting and a new arrangement of a great piece of music to every single rehearsal, while featuring members of the orchestra (as well as his own trumpet-playing) in his arrangements.
Tyzik’s entertaining programs also connected immediately with his audiences. In his first season, Tyzik began selling out the 3,000-seat hall—and it continued to sell out “not once, but often!” At the American Symphony Orchestra League’s annual conference that spring, word got out. One week later, Tyzik was hired for seven guest conducting dates—and the momentum has continued.
During his RPO tenure, Tyzik has written over 160 pieces for orchestra, creating a rental catalogue of many of those works for G. Schirmer. Thanks to his warm rapport with his audiences, who keep coming back, Tyzik is widely credited with bringing the orchestra back into financial health.
“I love exposing the audience to music by taking them on a journey. And at the end of the journey, they realize that what’s possible with an orchestra is unlimited. I also want to reach the people who may be fearful of the normal offerings. I want to wipe that fear away and include all people in the symphonic experience.”
SHARING THE SYMPHONIC EXPERIENCE
Over the years, Tyzik has performed in numerous schools across the country. “Some of my most incredible moments with orchestras have been outside the concert hall. One morning the Rochester Philharmonic and I were performing the Shostakovich Festival Overture in an inner city school for a thousand high school students. The kids had never heard music like this before. They were so moved by the power of that piece that we heard a spontaneous roar and got a standing ovation twenty seconds before the piece ended. We all learned a lesson that day about the effect of great music on the human spirit!”
In Rochester, he has won awards for his work in the public schools, including a Rotary International fellowship for community service. In addition to his educational work, Tyzik is an active member of the artistic community as a member of the Board of Managers at the Eastman School, where he also served on faculty for six years. Tyzik is the first-ever recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Eastman School of Music.
BEHIND THE SCENES
When he is not working on music, Tyzik spends his time at home in Rochester with his wife, Jill. An accomplished cook, he specializes in Italian cuisine. He especially loves to hike with Jill and their dog, a Coton de Tulear named Puccini. He is honored to have a daughter, Jami, an opera singer who shares her father’s love of music. Jami earned music degrees from the Eastman School of Music and Boston University’s School of Music and is currently working as a professional singer.
“Jeff Tyzik was terrific in his Philharmonic debut …… Tyzik’s performance showed that his first foray into the philharmonic’s regular concert series was long overdue.
Tyzik has the ability to let the music take pride of place over all considerations, including asserting his own presence as a conductor…..every phrase was loose enough so that the music breathed easily; every rhythm sounded joyful, full of life.
And what a range of expression Tyzik brings to his performances…..each piece had its own character and wealth of variety and surprise.
Maybe we’ll be lucky and Tyzik will return to the Philharmonic podium.”
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle January 20, 2001
For concert appearances, Jeff Tyzik is represented exclusively by: Greenberg Artists