Armed with a satchel full of talent and ambition, and a Master’s from the Eastman School of Music, Jeff Tyzik launched a career in the mid ‘70s that would take him from one musical pinnacle to another. He spent seven years writing and arranging for Chuck Mangione’s many ensembles, and the best part of a decade with TV bandleader Doc Severinsen, producing the legendary trumpeter’s Grammy-winning 1986 album The Tonight Show Band With Doc Severinsen.
Since 1993, Tyzik has been the Principal Pops conductor for the Rochester Philharmonic, in his New York hometown, and holds the same position with four other orchestras across the country.
Including the Florida Orchestra, where he’s been a familiar face – and guest conductor – for more than 20 years. Named the TFO’s Principal Pops Conductor in 2011, he leads the band five or six weekends every season.
Tyzik will be at the podium for this weekend’s TFO Holiday Pops concerts at Tampa’s Straz Center (Friday night), the Mahaffey Theater in St. Pete (two performances Saturday) and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater (two performances Sunday).
Tickets for all shows are available here.
A talented trumpeter and composer with numerous major-label record releases under his name, Tyzik says that conducting a symphony orchestra was high on his wish list from the time he was a kid.
“Even when I was very active with big bands and small jazz groups, I always love the sound of the symphony orchestra, and always wanted to work with orchestras,” he says.
“I didn’t think I would ever get to do it, so that circuitous path that I took through music, that led me to this place was something I wasn’t able to foresee. But I’m right where I want to be.”
Tyzik estimates he conducts about 28 weeks of concerts every year – he’s also the pops guy for the Dallas Symphony, the Detroit Symphony and the Oregon Symphony, and is often hired to guest-conduct in other cities.
He has only great things to say about the Florida Orchestra.
“They’re wonderful players and they have greatly improved over the last 20 years, since I’ve been going there,” Tyzik effuses. “I think [Music Director] Michael Francis has made some amazing strides forward with the orchestra.
“I’m always happy to come to Florida and work with them. We get our work done, but we have a pretty good time doing it. Which is important. You want to have a good working relationship, and one that is very collaborative. And we do.
“I don’t walk in like I know every perfect thing, the way to do it. I want to do what’s right for them. And sometimes what I might think is the perfect way, isn’t. And I’m open to hearing that.”
You’ll hear the best musicians, over and over, talk about the inherent value of collaboration. Tyzik got a lesson in keeping his ears open from Mangione, under whom he’d studied at the Eastman School in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
A few years later, Mangione was on the fast track to becoming a pop star with his small-combo instrumental “Feels So Good.”
It was around this time that Mangione and his former student re-connected over lunch, and Tyzik was invited to join the organization as arranger, producer and performer.
“Feels So Good” was a huge pop hit, but Mangione never stopped writing and performing “serious” music. “There were two larger ensembles,” Tyzik explains. “One was almost like a Stan Kenton Orchestra, because it had trumpets, trombones, tuba, French horns, percussion and rhythm section. And Chuck’s sax soloist, my great friend Chris Vadala.
“And then there were times I would go out with him and it would be the quartet, and me playing first trumpet, with symphony orchestras. We would do all kinds of different concerts where we would hire different symphony orchestras to play his music.”
Tyzik co-produced four Mangione albums, including Fun and Games and An Evening of Magic Live at the Hollywood Bowl.
The Holiday Pops shows are always among the best-attended concerts of the TFO season. Tyzik, who chooses the material, writes the arrangements and has a fun, easygoing rapport with both the musicians and the audience, is a major factor in the shows’ evergreen success.
Choosing the program for a concert like this can be like walking a tightrope – you don’t want to lean too far one way or the other.
“You keep looking for interesting material to do on a Holiday Pops, and it may be pieces that the orchestra knows, and the audiences have heard many times before. But there may be new and different versions of those pieces,” says Tyzik.
“For instance, we’re starting off with ‘Carol of the Bells,’ which everybody knows. However, the version we’re doing is the Trans Siberian Orchestra version, which is called ‘Christmas in Sarajevo.’ It’s just a wonderful Trans-Siberian take on that, and we’re going to play it with symphony orchestra. We’re going to do several classical pieces for the concert, including ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from The Nutcracker.”
Guest vocalist for 2018 is St. Pete’s Michael Lynche, an American Idol finalist in 2010. “Michael will be singing ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Holy Night,’ but these are arrangements of mine that are a bit different from the standard,” Tyzik reports.
“And I have a version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ that I produced for none other than the Stylistics, on their Christmas album a few years back. We’re going to do that with a gospel choir, and Michael’s going to sing it.
“So there are some surprises on the concert, a lot of pieces, and it’s going to be kind of cool.”