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At The Vizzutti Masterclass
Les Tomkins interviews Allen Vizzutti during his masterclass at the Royal College of Music in 1989
Source: Jazz Professional
In January 1989, sponsored by Bill Lewington and Yamaha Musical Instruments, Allen Vizzutti conducted a master class/recital at the Royal College of Music. To a packed hall, Allen played music of sheer virtuosity: classical on the piccolo trumpet and the trumpet, jazz on the flugelhorn. He dealt in detail with all questions; the following are some of his statements.
The mouthpieces on the two horns, the piccolo and Bb trumpets, are only different in cup depth and back bore; the rims are the same. I’m using a custom–made mouthpiece that’s approximately the width of a Bach 6. The piccolo trumpet mouthpiece I use is deeper than on the Bb, actually, because I’m able to use a medium but strictly bowl–shaped mouthpiece, and still have what I consider a decent sound in most of the registers.
Always remember to think fundamental thoughts about playing a brass instrument—it takes air to do it. And the whole key, I have found, to technique, range, endurance and varying styles has to do with how efficiently and with what control you use and have developed your air column. I’ve noticed, in clinics that I’ve seen and in printed material, the tendency is to talk about air column in terms of volume—how much can you blow through your horn, how hard can you do it? Now, in context of developing a big sound to fill the hall, that’s one item, but I’ve found that efficiency and economy really, really help—and that’s where the resistance of the horn has to be matched to the individual player.
I hear a lot of general comment in England about resistance in trumpets—and it surprises me, because no two people are the same when it comes to mouthpieces, shoes, glasses, teeth, fingerprints or anything else. Yet they all want to play the same resistance horn, and I can’t understand that.. Take Doc Severinsen—he’s sixty years old or so, and he’s improving very day; he practises like crazy—here’s a person who, whether you like his style or not, is a consummate trumpet player in what he has developed. And I can barely play the horn that he plays; as for the mouthpiece, forget it! He plays kind of deep ones too, compared to the brightness and intensity of sound he gets. For him, my horns are inevitably too stuffy. But when we play side by side on stage, as we have done, it’s quite compatible, you know.
I’ve found that I like a little bit of resistance, while still having the equipment that you can lean on, volume–wise and range–wise—for volume in any register and range that’ll have some give to it. Through this way, I can develop the air control. When you have a good day on piccolo and some of the other smaller horns, you can play softly and lightly with a lot of control—and the notes happen to be in the upper register, because that’s where the literature is. That kind of feeling applied to the larger horns is a goal to have. It’s the kind of control of the air that enables you to do large leaps in terms of phrasing easily, as opposed to a lot of contortions and having to blast it out.
The consistency with which you practice, the concentration during the session, and daily routine is really crucially important for most of us. There are always going to be a few exceptions to these rules, but we don’t need to talk about them; there are other people who can pick up the trumpet and play that, pick up the trombone and play that, and have no trouble switching mouthpieces, but the fact of the matter is that eighty or ninety per cent of us do much better if we have a matched set of rims to play all of our different instruments. By the same token, a kind of general rule is: concentrate when you sit down; take an occasional day off, but with that daily practice one can improve vastly, sticking to fundamental thought and challenging yourself.
You should get to know the “Clark Technical Studies” book, because trumpet literature is not that large in scope. I came to realise the value of playing patterned scales and studies—going through those real long phrases in one breath, that kind of thing, with control, etc. I feel improvement when I do it. Also, when you’re on the road, and you haven’t got time to practise more than half–an–hour, it’s great for technique preservation. But I became bored with some of those exercises; after quite a few years of major keys, it dawned on me: “Hey there are other keys!” So I began to do them in major, minor, whole tone, whatever.
To define pressure, in relation to undue, unnecessary pressure: I used to practise quite fanatically playing with less pressure than felt comfortable—not the whole practise, but just for a few minutes a day—by holding the horn lightly, and playing notes that were quite fuzzy and weird, just to feel how much pressure there needs to be, and what my embouchure could take. I never get sore when I play; that’s not because I don’t use any pressure, but because it’s not undue, and it’s controlled with the cushions. When we make an embouchure, there’s a cushion there of tissue formed by the muscle around the mouth—and human flesh is an amazingly resilient material. It’s possible to treat it pretty roughly and still play great for a long career. We’re a little bit overcautious about that sometimes, I think. Now, a good way to figure out how much pressure you’re using at certain times is to use numbers from one to four: one being the lightest, where the note doesn’t really come out, and four being the point where you can feel like you’re cutting the blood supply off. Then play through a piece, observing and calling out in your mind: “One, three, four, two, one, three...!”—however it goes. That way you’ll become aware of these differences. I always had pretty good control of that, but I did stay conscious of it. If you don't have a regular plateau as far as range, you're probably in good shape. If you do have the plateau, where you play really well, then bang, you can't play any more that day, there's usually a pressure problem to overcome. Shift emphasis to your breathing, of course; make sure that the air goes in a relaxed fashion, and support what you're doing. So once you have it under control, or you feel you're doing it well and correctly... I practised a lot of things that were taxing; I opened the book and played through five, six, seven etudes without stopping. Certainly by the last two, they're far from perfect; they're starting to sound a little bit scruffy. But as long as you have control of what you're doing, you're not doing yourself any damage. As you all know, when you're under the gun, in public performance, if you can give ninety to ninety–five per cent of your normal efficiency you're doing very well. When anxiety crops up, and the little pressures that come from performing, you're very seldom as efficient as when you're relaxed in the practice room.
You have to try and keep control of your frustrations. We've all gone through the thing of: "I'm going to play one more high F before I put it away today," because it makes you feel better when you walk away, having done it. But if you've done something and missed, and you're getting inflexible and stiff, you keep trying sometimes. If you have the luxury of time, put it in the case and go and do something else—get your mind off it. When you come back it'll be better.
While I'm on the subject—everybody has bad days. It's just that what we try to do, as actively working professionals in different genres, is to develop a type of consistency so that we can walk on stage and be very disappointed in our own physical abilities that night—but the audience doesn't know it, because you play musically. Other nights, when everything is so easy, you can't understand why you ever thought it was hard; then we take all kinds of musical chances, and I like to embellish a bit, and do lots of things that I hope are exciting.
Copyright © 1989, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved