Verena Jakobsen: An interview with Allen Vizzutti

(Allen Vizzutti, Verena Jakobsen and Bjørn Strandvold at the piano.)

Who has not heard the name Allen Vizzutti one time or another in connection with trumpet playing? But how many knew of his activity as a composer? Few trumpet players know how many compositions he has made or what role composing makes in his life as a musician. This in spite of his great production, both in classical compositions and for jazz orchestra of all sizes and types. A considerable number of compositions have come from him.

He’s career as a composer began when he was a student at Eastman School of Music. Here Vizzutti joined a new program, where the students were confronted with their own compositions, and the final work was rehearsed with an orchestra. This fascinated Vizzutti so much that he couldn't stop composing. In addition this was a great recreation.

It is rare to find performing musicians that are also composers. Never the less Vizzutti thinks that this is now becoming more and more accepted. "Trumpet players in general care less for contemporary music for their own instrument, it is constantly the well-established standard repertoire that are performed". This is maybe the reason why most trumpet players don’t know about Vizzutti’s composing career.

Vizzutti sees it as a duty to expand the trumpet repertory with contemporary music. Music should not only be for the sophisticated audience; everyone should be able to enjoy it, also outside the big cultural metropolis. This doesn't mean that Vizzutti is reluctant to use unorthodox effects (like playing into the piano), but such effects should be carefully measured, and must not provoke the audience. Careful use of such effects often pleases the audience.

Vizzutti says about his music: "Very little of my music is depressing, it could rather be described as happy. Most of what I make has on the whole a melodic line; I write in a tonal language that also a listener with no music education can understand. When the music hit an audience I am pleased, that is my actual criteria of good music".

Vizzutti says that he can not be categorised into any particular form of "school of composing". Nevertheless he feels that his musical language has a recognisable characteristic. He does not write in any particular style, but the music can be divided into two different groups:

"On the one hand I write in my personal style. It is quite modern, but not extremely "contemporary". It is not my mission to convert the world with extreme music. Originality is not a mean in it self ". He writes mostly from a core point consisting of a particular scale, and uses that in different ways through the whole piece of music. This is the logical structure of a composition.

"On the other hand I write in a given style, for example classical, romantic or impressionistic. I'm often tempted to try out how it would be if for instance Debussy had written a trumpet concerto".

Although it is relative rare that a performing trumpet player also composes, it happens that those two working fields unite. One example is Antony Plog (Euro-ITG Newsletter 1/97) and another is Jeff Tyzik.

"Tyzik is a close friend, and we have had a very interesting co-operation. We have made a larger work for trumpet and orchestra. We did this by writing our own parts and then working together to make it into a single piece. In the finale piece it isn't possible to tell who wrote what. This is obviously a rare and unconventional way of making music!"

Vizzutti gives a strong impression of being a thinker that all the time seeks logical solutions to problems. He feels that composing is closely connected to the human mind and the way we think.

"When I write a piece for a melody instrument with piano accompaniment, I often try to play the accompaniment slowly. If I succeed, I believe a pianist will be able to play it in normal tempo. Alternatively I let a pianist try it first."

But what about Vizzuttis experience as a trumpet soloist? Has it in any way influenced his music?

"Oh yes, my trumpet parts often sounds more difficult than they are. That is a direct result of being a trumpet player. I can write that way since I am familiar with the characteristics of the trumpet. Every composer should have a knowledge of the instrument he writes for".

Vizzutti often uses his own music in his concerts. Sometimes he composes for special occasions, like when he needs a new piece for a performance. Or he often writes commissioned works, for University ensembles, Orchestras or different groups. He has also written for Summit Brass.

About his compositions Vizzutti says: "I hope my work lives long after me. If I knew that, it would make me a very happy person".

In what direction are your compositions evolving?

"I'm not sure of that. My advantage - which is also my disadvantage - (when it comes to marketing and saleability) - is that I have a natural flexibility. If this takes my compositions in a given direction where I am getting feedback, I like to pursue such a line further. All the time I want to get deeper into an area, to be able to write more weighty stuff".

The same way of thinking show up when Vizzutti talks about his trumpet playing and when he speaks about being both a classical - and a jazz performer. He claims that it is very rare that a trumpet player dedicate himself professionally to both genres. Most people specialises in one field, something Vizzutti judges as a vice decision.

"But for me life has lead to something else. This has mostly to do with my natural flexibility. To me it doesn't matter what category of music I play. However, if I find a rich path, I follow it. This is for me logic, but originally it wasn't my intention to mix, it was my development path as a trumpet player that lead me there".

As a basis he gives both music genres the same amount of time, but today the classical music is dominant. This has to do with demand and the reality of the market.

Is it altogether possible to be dedicated to both genres?

"Yes, but it is not without problems. To become a good jazz player one must have a good feeling for phrasing. It takes special practice, and must be maintained. Besides this combination can also lead to difficulties, because the classical trumpet player first and foremost seek a clear, perfect sound. This is of minor importance in jazz; there it is the feeling for improvisation, rhythm and a good choice of note that counts".

"But on the other hand", says Vizzutti, "it is also in many ways a great help to cross the borders between the genres. I feel I have great advantage of jazz in my classical playing. Especially this applies to creativity and rhythmic feelings. A free attitude to the instrument also follows. To play classical can also help in jazz, the classical musician often practice a lot and has a good technique and that is not always the case with a jazz musician. A jazz player often has good ideas that he cannot perform due to technical limitations. The danger one has to avoid is to play to clean and perfect".

From his own experience Vizzutti says that he gladly mixes the genres in a concert, but always in a certain order, the classical part will be played first. This has also a physical reason, in jazz one often play "off pitch", that makes it difficult to switch back to a more "pure" ideal.

Finally we ask Vizzutti for some good advice:

"Never forget that you play the trumpet for you own pleasure. Also remember that you shall please other with your playing. This basic attitude will also make your practice attractive. Don't get caught up in minor details, play with joy, and you will become much happier and reach your goals sooner".