Trumpet Artist Profile: Allen Vizzutti

Regular readers will most likely need no introduction to Allen Vizzutti – an artist of the highest calibre: soloist, recording artist, composer, educator and master clinician!

On a visit to the UK earlier this year I caught up with him and wanted to discuss two main topics with him – a fascinating topic on which Allen often talks in clinics and also in his method books that have become standard literature for students around the world: whether there is an over-emphasis on the word “buzz” in a trumpeter’s vocabulary; and also the design process behind the impending launch of the new Yamaha Vizzutti Model Trumpet.

I had a (brief!) opportunity to have a blow on a new prototype 9335V when Allen was touring Europe recently, and my first impression was that it felt very similar in response and tonal character to the 9335NY New York model. There was perhaps a slightly richer tonal core across the range though. I very much look forward to having a proper test-drive when the instrument is launched later this year – watch this space!

Below, Allen tells us a little about the thoughts and processes behind this new model:

The new Yamaha 9335V Bb trumpet will be launched in it’s second iteration in November. The Vizzutti model idea was born in a conference room in Japan several years ago and I was given the go ahead to help design a personal model from the ground up. It was an exciting opportunity and one for which I am very grateful. I worked on the project with Yamaha genius designers Bob Malone and Wayne Tanabe in New York at the Yamaha Atelier on 5th Ave.

Even though we had permission to start from scratch I had been enjoying using a gold plated but otherwise stock New York Xeno for some time. Logically we chose to start with that trumpet as the basis for the new model. If that didn’t prove successful we could always begin again from scratch. I would like to make clear that I am not a trumpet designer. My input was based on evaluations of the physical feel, the sound, timbre and the trumpet’s characteristics in different registers. Again, I was pretty happy with my stock Yamaha New York Xeno. I should note that I brought along a Bach Strad that belonged to one of my students because there were characteristics of that horn that I liked and wanted to reference.

The short story is after a few hours of experimenting with different small part changes we were getting amazing results. We blew the Bach away early on. Changes consisted of using different small parts made of varying materials and having different weights. We moved bracing and tested myriad slides, water keys and valve parts. I would ask for something and Bob and Wayne would head into the workshop and return to the testing room with changes. The final result came relatively quickly. The new 9335V had a better harmonic structure and was slightly more open and free blowing without being a large bore. It was much easier to play above high C regarding both response and resistance. The sound was a little darker than the New York Xeno. In reality, the improved characteristics of this trumpet are most noticeable by professional or near professional level players. When played with maximums of flexibility, power, control and beauty it is the best horn I have had.

Later when production was in full swing I tried 40 examples of the trumpet. Asked to pick 2 for my personal use I couldn’t really tell the difference between them. In the end I randomly pointed at a couple and those were the horns I ended up using. Unfortunately the first run of the 9335V was limited to a small number of units. The good news is the newer version will be unlimited!

Yamaha 9335V 2.0. What’s been changed? Over a couple of years Bob Malone worked on small tweaks to the 9335V. After he was happy with it I tried out several examples. We ended up with a minimal version of changes through evaluation most of which you cannot see. The water key structure is probably the most observable difference to the newest 9335V. It plays great. I like it a little better. I can honestly say I would be happy performing on either version.

Like a great automobile company, Yamaha is committed to constant development and improvement. The evolution never stops. The Yamaha 9335V should be available in November 2017.

Regarding the question, “To buzz or not to buzz?”, Allen has kindly pointed me towards the relevant page in his method which I have reproduced below this. From my perspective, buzzing has always been a fundamental part of my teaching and important concept for beginners to grasp early on. The main priority for me is that the buzzing is used to show students how relaxed the chops should be and to put the emphasis on the air and support.

Aged 16, I was put through quite an aggressive embouchure change that set the mouthpiece onto a “buzzing embouchure”. This meant that my embouchure barely moved across the range of the instrument, but unfortunately my sound went to crap! It was only when I started at the RCM at 18 that James Watson told me to ignore the past 2 years, and I suddenly had my sound and flexibility back! Therefore Allen Vizzutti’s theories below strike a chord with me…

The use of the word buzz in trumpet study is pervasive. When creating sound with the lips alone or playing the mouthpiece alone it is easy to understand why this is true. The sounds created are sounds of buzzing. However, buzzing one’s lips into a trumpet mouthpiece will create an unwanted “beginner’s” sound. Even actual beginners can avoid ever having a beginner’s sound when taught to blow and not to buzz.

Using the embouchure [described on page 153], one can learn to send a steady and firm airflow through the aperture – made by the lips, into the trumpet, creating a wonderful tone without ever thinking of buzzing. The tense, tight sound of buzzing and the accompanying weeks of frustration associated with “unlearning” this habit can be completely avoided. Unfortunately, for most of modern history, the conventional wisdom of trumpet pedagogy has been to instruct beginners to buzz their lips. Aggressively sending air through the trumpet without buzzing causes the air column to cycle in waves against the tubing of the horn. The vibrating air column is a result of the air meeting the resistance set up by the lips, mouthpiece and leadpipe. The trumpet bell amplifies the vibration. The smoother one blows through the horn, the smoother the sound. Buzzing does not create the sound.

ls there any purpose in buzzing? Actually, yes. Buzzing is just a different entity than trumpet tone production. Buzzing the lips without the mouthpiece and trumpet, including flapping them (loose and low-pitched), is a very useful relaxation technique. I do it to loosen my lips, warm down and as an emergency substitute when warming up may be impossible. Lip buzzing exact pitches to then match on the trumpet, as suggested in some educational material, is of little value (other than ear training), in my opinion. My range on the lips alone is very limited. My range on the trumpet is much more extensive.

Playing the mouthpiece alone is often referred to as mouthpiece buzzing. lt can be very useful as part of an organized warm-up. The concept of playing the mouthpiece should be the same as playing the trumpet. lmproving one’s mouthpiece sound can really help improve one’s trumpet sound as well. Eliminating the trumpet and its sometimes-confusing technical concerns can encourage successful breathing and relaxed blowing. Playing melodies on the mouthpiece is very helpful for ear training and embouchure pitch control. Ultimately, the smoothness of playing the mouthpiece alone will translate to a smooth and steady trumpet sound.

To find out more about Allen, his projects, recordings and publications please visit www.vizzutti.com

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