Written by John Evans
This September, fans of brass music are in for a very special treat when members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s percussion and brass sections, including its recently appointed Principal Trumpet James Fountain, are joined in concert by a true legend of the genre: Allen Vizzutti.
This is the trumpeter’s second appearance with the RPO in as many years, and in Top Brass 2015, he and the Orchestra will be performing two of his own compositions: Rising Sun, and a work composed especially for the occasion, called Quarks. In addition, they’ll be playing works by Watson, Bernstein and Bach, plus many more.
It’s sure to be a magical evening. Vizzutti is an exceptional performer – one who shines in all forms and styles of music. His amazing career has seen him rub musical shoulders with Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Frank Sinatra, and with orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic; and he has performed on soundtracks for blockbusters, including Back to the Future and Star Trek.
All this and he’s a hugely successful teacher too, inspiring young players around the world with his masterclasses and tutor books, including the essential New Concepts for Trumpet.
And to think, it all started when his father handed him a trumpet and invited him to play. “I was seven,” says Vizzutti from his home in Seattle. “Of course, it was difficult at first, but dad never let up.”
Vizzutti Senior, who owned a music store, was a keen trumpeter and would give his son pointers each day, culminating in a weekly lesson. “He’d draw up lesson plans he didn’t think anyone could get through, but it didn’t set me back.”
He knew a good sound when he heard it and insisted his young son concentrate on developing beauty of sound and phrasing. “‘You’re Italian,’ he’d remind me,” says Vizzutti.
From lessons with his father, Vizzutti eventually won a full scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in New York, where he scooped most of the major awards. “Eastman School really fired my pants,” says Vizzutti.
It surely did. Within a few years of graduating, Vizzutti’s astonishingly varied career started to take shape with sessions as a trumpeter in Hollywood for movie and TV soundtracks, recordings with pop legends and, in later years, appearances with some of the world’s greatest orchestras and their associated wind ensembles.
“Shifting between musical genres has never been a problem for me,” he says. “You develop a conceptual shift in your mind that allows you to let certain musical and technical things change. It might be those playing aspects you need to maintain control of in classical music but let go of in jazz, or vice versa.
“I listen hard to people who immerse themselves in some specific musical niche – be it jazz, pop or classical. I notice things I want to emulate and I work them into my own music.”
Throughout his long career, composing has never been far away. For Top Brass 2015, Vizzutti and members of the RPO brass and percussion sections, conducted by Philip Harper, will be performing the trumpeter’s latest composition, Quarks. It’s named after the subatomic particle and is inspired by its six types, each called – bizarrely – up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom. Each gives its name to a movement in the piece and Vizzutti plays with the RPO’s musicians either in duo or trio. One movement is just for tuned percussion.
Vizzutti is looking forward to performing his new piece, but, above all, playing his trumpet for the RPO audience.
“I love playing the trumpet because of the communication it establishes between me and my audience,” he says. “I love the instrument because although I’ve worked hard at it, it seems to come naturally to me.”
Thank heavens his father thought to put the instrument in his hands all those years ago.
Allen Vizzutti performs with Philip Harper and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Brass and Percussion sections in Top Brass 2015 on Tuesday 22 September 2015 at Cadogan Hall.