Turks & Caicos Magazine Profiles JazzDeck Creator Brian Switzer
A well-played life offers its own rewards. But when it comes to jazz, the playing is really all about improvising on the changes.
Take the childhood of San Francisco-based musician Brian Switzer. He’d just earned a spot in the rotation on his high school baseball team when along came this paying gig teaching trumpet three times a week. “I thought, ‘Am I gonna be a pitcher in life, or am I going to be a musician?’ So I’ve been teaching since I was about 15 years old.”
Switzer built a career around instruction. Leading an acclaimed middle school jazz band. Running his own jazz summer jazz academy. Taking private students via his music studio.
Not that he ever gave up performing, or limited himself to one style of music. He played with West Coast jazz ensembles, reggae bands, symphonies. He recorded albums, played festivals, worked on TV. But teaching paid the bills.
Until pop rock came calling two years ago.
Train — a San Francisco band with six studio albums and three Grammy Awards — had just recorded the hit CD California 37 and needed a horn player for a few live shows. The group gave Switzer a copy of the track “50 Ways to Say Goodbye,” with its signature Mariachi horn flourish, and a weekend to prepare.
He practiced 20 hours that weekend “so there was absolutely no way anyone on Earth would play it better than me when they held this audition.” He got the gig — playing that one song for five nights at clubs around town.
“By the end of the week, I played on 13 songs and they invited me out on tour,” Switzer said. “Ten days later I was playing in Amsterdam, the next night in Paris, the next night in Hammerstein Ballroom in London.”
So Switzer improvised. He’d fly back from dates on Train’s Mermaids of Alcatraz Tour and drive straight to a teaching job. The schedule scrambled his life, but he soaked up the experience. “I got to play with them for two years promoting that album. Got to play live on the David Letterman show, the Talk, and the Today Show. Twice. Which was pretty cool.”
His Train ride came to an end this spring just as his fiancée, Amanda Cusumano — an event coordinator for MarkMonitor, a Bay Area software company — organized a rewards trip to Providenciales for the firm’s top performers. Freed from the exhilaration and stress of the rock-and-roll roller-coaster, Switzer tagged along with his trumpet.
“It was incredible,” Switzer said of his April visit. “In the last two years I’ve stayed in more than 100 hotels, and the service at the Regent Palms was unparalleled. I’ve never experienced a staff like that.”
Switzer spent plenty of time enjoying the hotel and its gorgeous view of the ocean. The couple went for a sunset sail, dined at different restaurants around the island and took a snorkeling trip with Caicos Dream Tours. He kept up his daily practice routine, too, playing jazz for hours as he gazed out at Grace Bay — all while muting his horn to avoid disturbing other guests.
He had a lot to process in those sessions. Two years of rock-and-roll lifestyle juxtaposed against his career as a teacher. His upcoming marriage. Not to mention the ongoing roll-out of his innovative new product, JazzDeck. Fifty-four color-coded chord, key and instructional cards that let students match whatever they’re playing, flip the cards and start improvising. Students love learning theory by playing, and teachers are giving the innovative system rave reviews. And Switzer’s future? It looks like an improvisation on his original themes.
“I absolutely love playing the trumpet,” Switzer said. “(But) I feel most engaged with the truest part of myself when I’m teaching.”
Reprinted with permission from Turks & Caicos Magazine
“Switzer toured with Train, hitting cities such as Paris and London, all the while keeping his teaching job.”
"The JazzDeck card system is Switzer’s brainchild - a fun, easy way to teach students the requisite improvisational skill of jazz."
Jazz improvisation... with a view!
Turks & Caicos Magazine contacted Mr. Switzer after seeing this picture posted from his hotel room on Instagram. "The world is a practice room!"