Jeff Tyzik took only 'a nanosecond' to accept Seattle Symphony post
An interview with Jeff Tyzik, who was appointed principal pops conductor of Seattle Symphony on Tuesday. He succeeds Marvin Hamlisch, who died unexpectedly in August.
Seattle Times arts writer
Conductor Jeff Tyzik's phone started ringing the day after Marvin Hamlisch died in early August. Hamlisch was principal pops conductor for eight prominent orchestras — including Seattle Symphony.
"People were certainly in shock and mourning," Tyzik recalled. "But orchestras who had a season to put on were also saying, 'What are we going to do about this?' "
Soon, Seattle Symphony invited Tyzik, 61, to succeed Hamlisch as principal pops conductor. He accepted, and his appointment was announced Tuesday.
"My decision took a nanosecond," Tyzik said Tuesday. "When they asked me on a scale of one to 10 — one being 'I'm not interested,' 10 being 'I'm ready to sign on the dotted line' — I was a 15."
Tyzik (pronounced TIE-zick), who lives in Rochester, N.Y., will start his three-year contract on Sept. 1, 2013, after guest stints with Seattle Symphony and other orchestras scrambling to fill behind Hamlisch.
Even though Tyzik wasn't personally acquainted with Hamlisch, they worked with many of the same orchestras: "Every time I would go to the conductor's room before a concert and pick up a program book, I would see 'Oh, Marvin was here last month' or 'Marvin's going to be here next month.' "
Many of those orchestras naturally wanted to do Hamlisch tributes, but the Hamlisch estate put everything on hold immediately after his death.
"It didn't look like his library was going to be available for orchestras to play," Tyzik explained. That led music publisher Hal Leonard, which owned the rights to Hamlisch's music, to commission an orchestral suite that would serve as an homage. Tyzik started it five days after Hamlisch's death, and it took him seven days to complete.
"And that is where I got to know Marvin," he said, "because I got inside of his music. ... His harmonic structure was interesting, his rhythmic structure was interesting, and I was also conscious of the fact that here's this amazing spirit and his music is kind of in my hands here for a minute."
Tyzik's background is both eclectic and impressive. For 19 years he has been principal pops conductor for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, where he also guest-conducts classical concerts. More recently, he was appointed principal pops conductor for the Oregon Symphony, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Florida Orchestra.
In addition to conducting, Tyzik is a cornet player, a prolific composer and a record producer. He arranged and produced records for Doc Severinsen, one of which, "The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, Vol. 1," won a Grammy award. Other collaborators include Chuck Mangione, Tony Bennett, Art Garfunkel, Dawn Upshaw, the Chieftains, Mark O'Connor, Lou Rawls and Chris Botti.
His recording career includes light jazz albums and a 2007 Gershwin CD featuring pianist Jon Nakamatsu that was in the top 10 of the Billboard Classical chart.
Before Hamlisch died, Tyzik was already slated to conduct "A Night at the Cotton Club," a June 2013 Seattle Symphony pops program celebrating the musical legacy of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
He first guest-conducted the Seattle Symphony in 1999 in a program called "Tribute to Louis Armstrong." Later engagements included an Italian-themed concert, that included everything from a Verdi overture to Broadway tunes, and a "Fabulous Forties" program that ranged from film music to classical pieces to swing music.
"In those three concerts alone," he says, "I got to see the flexibility of this great orchestra and how they can play essentially any music effectively, one right after the other."
Larry Blank, who was close to Hamlisch, will conduct Seattle Symphony's February "Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch" (originally supposed to be a "Hamlisch Plays Hamlisch" program). "He actually has access to the music because he was an arranger and an orchestrator for Marvin. ... He is truly a friend of Marvin's, and I think that will be a marvelous concert."
Tyzik currently is working with Seattle Symphony to assemble the pops programs for the 2013-14 season. Seattle, Tyzik says, is going to be his priority among all his musical bookings and his visits here will give him a chance to catch up with friends and family.
"My cousin is a doctor in North Bend," he notes, "and some of my best friends live in Seattle — so I've been coming here for 20 years. It does feel a bit like home."
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com