Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra POPS
Friday, March 21 & Saturday, March 22
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
8 p.m. | $18-$95 | 454-2100, RPO.org
It would be easy to forget what a man is doing for his line of work when he's commuting between Rochester, Detroit, Dallas, Seattle, Portland, Florida, and Vancouver, with occasional hops to Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, etc. A snappy dresser with trendy glasses and a certain verve to his body language. A quick smile. But perhaps you catch that slightly distant look in his eye, almost as if he's hearing something you don't.
The man you might have mistaken for perhaps the Tesla North American Director of Operations is none other than Rochester's own Jeff Tyzik. The man who says, "If I'm not going to have fun, I'm not going to walk out on stage," is moving through his carefully orchestrated life to meet his commitments to sharing his sense of fun with orchestras across the United States and Canada.
Now 20 years into his tenure as the principal pops conductor for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Tyzik is inviting all of Rochester to join him and his friends, who are piling into Kodak Hall this weekend to celebrate. Friends in this case include trumpet players Allen Vizzutti and Doc Severinsen, and trombonist James Pugh. That's a stage that would be cluttered with awards if all the musicians involved brought their accolades and piled them up. Suffice to say, Tyzik is out to bring the house down.
"I'm thrilled that my friends are coming to town," says Tyzik. "I've constructed a program where everybody is going to get time to play. Great fun. Great performances. It's great that everyone was free and able to come. I'm really looking forward to having fun with my friends, making music. I feel my friends are not just the musicians, but also the audience."
Tyzik has been making friends through music since he was 8, watching a parade going down the street, instantly falling in love with the cornet. It's a love affair that has taken him through roles as a performer, arranger, composer, and conductor. He won a Grammy for producing "The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, Vol. 1." He hit No. 3 on the Billboard classical chart for an album in which he conducted the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Jon Nakamatsu on works by Gershwin. He has released six albums of his own, and among his current projects, he is producing, marketing, and selling his own compositions online.
Tyzik is unapologetic when he says, "There's really nothing that I want to do that I haven't done."
Even so, Tyzik singles out November 8, 2012, as a personal milestone. That's when the RPO performed his work "Images." Indeed, one piece from that suite, "Spirits of Tuol Sleng," remains one of my absolute favorite new compositions. Each of the works in "Images" was inspired by works of art that Tyzik selected from the collection at the Memorial Art Gallery. "Spirits of Tuol Sleng" was inspired by the painting "Found Portraits Collection: From the Cambodian Killing Fields at Tuol Sleng" by Binh Danh (2003). The piece was commissioned by Robert and Joanne Gianniny.
When asked about which aspect of his career he would most like to focus, Tyzik responds, "Sometimes, I wonder if I could do without all of it." He points out that he's "in the final quarter" of his career, adding, "I start to wonder, going forward, what it's going to be like. I think about that. Right now I really do enjoy writing, playing again, working on my instrument, the arranging, and the conducting. It's a real thrill to work with these great orchestras and audiences."
But Tyzik then goes on to highlight a current project that has grabbed him. He's doing some arrangements of American standards for the London Symphony Orchestra. He says, "I'm getting into arranging what I'd like to do, closer to composing, really. I'm taking some liberties and I have a totally open mind about how to look at some great music and think about how to make it creative and interesting and different. It's the first three hours of my day, which is really what I should be doing. That would be heaven."
Born in 1951, Tyzik is clearly a man at the top of his game. He says he got here through a series of interlocking steps that built one after the other. "I was prepared really well to do what I'm doing today," says Tyzik of his education at the Eastman School of Music. "I was prepared in a great way by Ray Wright in a program called Jazz and Contemporary Media, which focused on the art of jazz and also on writing and arranging for orchestras."
After graduating from Eastman, Tyzik says he built a wealth of experience performing and working with Chuck Mangione, including working with him for thousands of hours in the recording studio. "It led me to think I was bold enough to record my own record," says Tyzik.
Tyzik is just as blunt about the challenges of becoming successful as he is about success. "It wasn't always smooth," he says. "The phone didn't ring for six months. I had no income. I was considering getting out of the business of music and had applied for a couple of teaching positions." He was offered a job to teach at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, "but something made me hold back from that, which led me to conducting orchestras in simple pops programs."
The rest, we might say, is history. Once Tyzik found what it was he wanted to do, he could pursue that path. "It took me until I was in my early 40s to get the kind of opportunities that are bearing fruit today at age 62," says Tyzik. "I really only feel like I know what I'm doing for about 10 years. There may be some quick paths to certain kinds of successes, but everything that you do that helps you to gain the wisdom you need to have longevity is valuable."
Depending on who you ask — or when you ask the question — you'll get a variety of explanations of what the Sound ExChange Project really is: A local contemporary classical ensemble; a chamber group; an artist collective; composers; curators; educators; community-investors.