Ian Bell is a freelance trombone player in Melbourne and he spoke with Jamie Kennedy about playing in musical theatre.
Jamie: You count studio and TV work as part of your early working experiences, what’s your playing background and how did you come to be playing regularly in shows?
Ian: I moved to Melbourne from Geelong to do Year 11 and 12 at VCASS (Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School) and then into first year at the VCA studying with Roger Davies. Around this time, some of my tutors from past music camps and ensembles started to get me in on the odd recording session or TV show. The musical directors of these included Graeme Lyall, Pete De Visser, Kevin Hocking and Geoff Harvey (long time GTV 9 band leader). The Midday Show would occasionally be filmed in Melbourne and doing this led to me being booked for the annual televised Carols by Candlelight – a job I still do.
In the late 1980s there was a noticeable reduction in the amount of studio work from previous decades. Many of the excellent and well established players from this scene were attracted to the pay and regularity of the theatre scene. It was also a great way for some, who after years of playing, were at an age where they wanted to get a bit more into their super before retiring from regular work.
After spending a year playing in Brisbane during Expo, I came back to finish my VCA degree. I hadn’t necessarily planned to do show work – I was happy to do whatever was asked of me! I did a little bit of “depping” and was booked for my first long run, which was 42nd Street in the early 1990s. I assume that my studio and TV contacts from earlier had recommended me to the bookers.
Jamie: Do you count shows as a big part of what you do?
Ian: They’re a large part of the work that I do now and have made up the bulk of my income for quite a few years. 42nd Street ran for seven months and was a pretty big orchestra, which I enjoyed a lot. Chorus Line came in straight after that and I was booked to play in that as well. I learnt a lot about section playing and fitting in from the more experienced guys, and started to notice that if you play a show well and don’t upset people, you’ll get asked back. Sometimes there are breaks between productions but that’s the nature of freelance work.
Jamie: It sounds like the show industry has changed a bit in the last twenty years, can you give us an idea of what your working week and working year looks like these days?
Ian: I’m just coming to the end of a 9-month run of The Lion King, but have managed to fit in the occasional TV jingle, some episodes of Dancing With The Stars, backing tracks for The X-Factor, several one-off band or orchestra jobs, and I finish up the year with a 3-week tour backing Hugh Jackman.
In previous years, I’ve had the opportunity to play with Orchestra Victoria and their brass ensemble. The orchestral work most often involves playing larger equipment than in the commercial and big band scene – this versatility is very beneficial and it feeds back into the theatre work which recently has required more large equipment and bass trombone.
Ian playing in the stage band for the Logie Awards, 2012
Jamie: You mentioned Jingles, what’s involved in those?
Ian: Lately it’s become more about multi-tracking the trombone parts because people have moved to smaller studios and budgets have become tighter. I did one recently for Mt Franklin Mineral Water, which required recording three tenor trombones and one bass. There are two parts to the ad – a slightly cheesy Austin Powers-style dance band and something a bit more orchestral.
The lighter side of commercial work