A Cyber interview with Nick Drozdoff

Nick Drozdoff is currently a physics teacher at the New Trier high school. Earlier in his career, he worked as a scientist for such renowned firms as McDonnell Douglas and Motorola. Besides being an engineer, Drozdoff has successfully pursued a career as a trumpet player, both as a freelance musician and a member of the Maynard Ferguson orchestra. Nick Drozdoff has published articles for both the «Instrumentalist» magazine and «Windplayer» magazine. Also, he is working on a book on trumpet playing that is due for publishing next summer. Besides playing the trumpet, Drozdoff plays almost every brass instrument that you can think of.

I was so lucky to get a cyber interview with Nick:

You play many different instruments. How has that helped you?
What made you think of playing other instruments than trumpet?

When I first started experimenting with doubling I was very uncomfortable about switching back and forth in the course of a practice session and doing it on a gig was out of the question. But when I finally started to work with doubling seriously I found that I could not only make the switches but also found that it actually helped my trumpet playing.

I found that I was concentrating on how I was using the embouchure in a very introspective fashion on each instrument. That seemed to help my trumpet playing by virtue of the fact that I was developing a "standard operating procedure" on each instrument. That is to say, I was developing a cerebal approach to playing the instruments that would allow me to deal with the idiosyncracies of each instrument, including trumpet.

As to why I started doing this in this serious a fashion I must say that it was essentially economic. I wanted to perform and record brass music but I simply couldn't afford to pay the players to come in for the sessions. I suddenly had the idea that it might be both a good intellectual exercise as well as a means to an artistic end to try overdubbing all of the parts myself. After I got started, I got hooked on it as a serious study.

Will doubling on low instruments loosen the embouchure so that
trumpet playing gets easier? Or are different muscle groups exercised?

Now I must qualify the answer to this question with the comment that I am essentially a trumpeter. My feelings about this or my impressions might be drastically different from those of a full time professional low brass player.

I feel that I use the same muscles in playing all of the instruments, but just to different extremes. I feel that I am in general controlling the size of the vibrating aperature by using the corner muscles. The lower and larger the horn the larger and looser (looser by virtue of lower pitch)the embouchure.

The most significant challenge to me was adjusting my concept of "air flow" for the lower instruments. Obviously, on a trumpet, the restricition to the flow of air is quite a bit higher by virtue of the rather small lip aperature. However, on tuba, there is very little resistance to the flow of air by comparison. I genearlly found, while working on my little recording project, that the only instrument that I needed to devote a specific session to with a break on either side of the session was indeed the tuba. When I recorded Del Staiger's Carnival of Venice I found it a bit of a challenge. Threading all of the rubato sections together with the cornet cadenzas required that I switch back and forth a great deal. I had the most trouble playing the tuba on that piece, however. Cornet wasn't the problem.

You have been quite successful as a trumpet player. What is the secret?

My ego certainly enjoys this question, but honesty and integrity forces me to blunt and frank on this issue.

When I first began playing in the Chicago area I found that in order to develop my business I needed to resort to the methods of American used car salesmen. I did this consciously, deliberately and with considerable study on the issue. I bought hard core marketing books and studied them religiously and applied the techniques therein with demo tapes, mailers, phone calls, prospect lists, etc. A few of my trumpeting peers didn't like this. They felt that these techniques were heavy handed. There was just one problem.

They worked.

Now, I like to think that the product that I was aggressively marketing, my tumpet playing, was something I believed in. I could back up my claims.

I was also very careful not to hurt anyone. I absolutely never took the position of trying to get some other player's gig. I always approached each prospective employer with the notion of filling a need; i.e., if he needed my skills, I was at his/her service. This seems only the principled thing to do, and I live by principle in a very religious sense.

Now, if you were expecting to simply say that the secret was PRACTICE, I'm sorry to dissapoint. Obviously, if I marketed like this and then showed up not being able to play, I wouldn't have lasted very long. Practice is certainly an important component. But practice alone won't make the phone ring.

Now, times have changed for the business, for my playing and for my sense of artistry, so I do things drastically differently now, but that's the subject of another question.

For more on the issue of the businees of music, you might look into some old articles I did for the "Instrumentalist" magazine and "Windplayer" magazine.

Oh yes, there is one last "Key" to success in brass playing in the 90's. This can, indeed, be summed up in one word: TENACITY. You simply can never yeild to discouragement.

Besides playing, you are a scientist. Is it difficult to combine two careers?

Not at all, but you must understand that I choose to be a high school physics teacher. I am not burdened with the "publish or perish" imperative college professors are saddled with. I have summers off to devote to jobbing and concerts. I work at a wonderful school in the north shore suburbs of Chicago (New Trier High School) that allows me to do my work professionally and yet allows me the freedom to pursue my second career in music without judgement. In fact, they support it and want to tap it.

Do you feel that being a scientist has helped your playing?

I feel that my reviving my scientific work after a 20 year layoff has helped my playing in ways I would have never imagined. I am playing now better than I ever did when I was on the road with Maynard, for example. What's more, I can sense improvement every day. What's exciting about it is that it is (at least on the surface) by design. I can take it as far as I want to.

What I think is really wonderful is the fact that ANYONE can do the same things simply by making up their minds to do so.

Why did you choose such careers? What drives you, passion, fame or money?

I am so flattered that you would even include the word fame in a question to me. While I am quite well known in the Chicago professional (free-lance) music circles, I have never really thought of fame as any sort of possibilty for me. I am just another hard working trumpeter who loves his music (there are so many of us! The TPIN certainly impressed me with that wonderful fact as well as the email contacts that I have made since going on the net).

What drives me in everything that I do is simply love. I love music. I love trumpet and the way it feels when I play one. I want to share it with everyone who will listen. While the need to feed my family requires me to try to get paid for my performances, that is a necessity.

I spent 13 years as a music contractor in the Chicago area. I found that contracting was stultifying my playing. What I wanted to do was play trumpet, not book bands for parties. I closed my contracting business (a tough thing to do because my musicians were wonderfully talented people and good friends) and went back to being a sideman. Before I had children I might have been willing to put up with the poverty brought on by rebuilding my sideman work, but I couldn't do that now. I needed a day gig. However, I couldn't bring myself to just go out and get a "joe job", so to speak. I had to do some good that was palpable. Teaching seemed the natural way to go.
I decided to teach physics because of my undergraduate work in electrical engineering. I had taught music privately for many years and decided that I couldn't handle being a high school band director. I didn't feel that I would have the patience to do the kids justice. However, teaching physics has given me the opportunity to help many young people realize how genuinely bright they really are. That is certainly a joy.

When you practise, do you have a plan for what to do every day? Or do you practise whatever problem you might encounter?

I always have a goal for every practice session. When I go through my horn cycle my goal is to develop the mental flexibility to cover the Instruments and the ranges on each without flinching and with a fluid style. When I go through my routine outlined in the embouchure tips section of my personal web page my goal is to specifically develop the "driver" of my horns. When I go through my Richie Corpolongo routines I am specifically and deliberately working on developing my jazz technique. And so on...

I do try to spend some time just playing for the sheer enjoyment of the

instrument. However, that is something I am more likely to do during summer break. During the school year I need to adopt a more utilitarian approach as time is precious.

When teaching students, what are the most common problems?

I don't teach trumpet to teenagers anymore. On some occasions I will take on an adult professional for coaching, but I will reach back into memory to answer this question.
The biggest thing that I felt troubled many students was a tendency to lock their embouchure open - too big all the time. They had trouble concieveing of the idea of allowing things to move as the covered the range of the horn.
I also found many of them had the notion that bigger mouthpiece were better as opposed to finding the setup that worked best for them and the idiom in which they were performing.
Other than that, every student that I ever had came to me with a variety of problems that were unique to them. That is part of the challenge of instrumental instruction. The teacher must be extremely flexible.

Do you have some particular exercises or methods that you are fond of?

Right now I am very excited about the routine that I have outlined on my embouchure tips page. In fact, I am planning a proposition to the school at which I teach to see if I can get several young trumpeters to pilot test a more formal approach to this technique. This routine is strictly a physical endeavor, however, not musical.

I really enjoy the Richie Corpolongo routines (see Drozdoff's trumpet teachers page on my web site. There is a link to Richie). They are not only technical but are also great musical studies.

Finally, I love to sit around and just play orchestral excerpts. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't pursue a symphony career when I was yonger. Hindsight 20/20...

What do you think of the Cyperspace. Does it have anything to offer the trumpet player?

I feel cyberspace offers a level playing field for the more obscure musicians out there, like me. I feel I have something to give, but circumstances have not worked to allow me the noteriety to share. Cyberspace may very well provide a way to get around that. I am afraid to say any more as I don't want a mercenary motive to surface here. Let me simply say that I hope to build a tiny little recording CD business on the net that I don't think I could build anywhere else. I'd better stop there.

You have an interesting home page with lots of trumpet tips, also a book is soon coming?

There certainly is, but not till next summer. I ran out of time this year. My commercial web sight will be the marketing tool for that, as well.

Nick Drozdoff has his own web site at : http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/3941/
Also, his comersial site featuring recordings with Nick playing all brass instruments : http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Strasse/3698/

Nick Drozdoff can be contacted via e-mail : ndrozdof@interaccess.com