Interview with Tom Dunnett

Posted by Simon Minshall on 18 March 2013 | Comments

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I thought it was time to hear from a young trombone player bursting onto the current Jazz scene who also happens to be current lead trombone with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Tom Dunnett.

 What influenced you into playing the trombone, and also Jazz music?

I started learning the trombone whilst at school in Norwich, age 10 or 11; I struggle to remember. My dad used to play a little but he’s an organist really, but dabbled on Tuba and Trombone when he was at school. He’s also a jazz fan so I stole his tapes and CDs, which really started to get me into the genre of music.

 At this point, who were your teachers and what ensembles were you involved in?

I learnt at school with Jonathan Handley and then Andy Grand, both who did huge amounts for me in the early days, and had a great laugh too. There was a school jazz band that I played in but I also played in the school orchestras and wind bands, as well as the county ones. After a while I started playing more and more in external groups.

Playing semi-regularly in the Jonathan Wyatt Big Band, and often with the orchestras and brass bands in and around Norwich, I was enjoying playing in all styles at this point. Although I had pretty much decided I wanted to play the trombone as my profession, I didn’t really know what style or scene to dive into.

 What made you decide to go down the jazz route?

It eventually came to University decisions and all of that growing up we have to do. I had decided that music college was the direction for me, and despite my passion for jazz, I deeply debated as to what course to apply for - Jazz, or classical? For my first year of 6th form, I had attended the Junior Jazz course at the Royal Academy, which had been a roast to say the least! It was amazing and with lots of hindsight, I wouldn’t have stood a chance getting into a jazz course without the education I got from it.

So come my last year of 6th form I was still undecided as to whether to study jazz or classical music at Music College. So I went to have a lesson with Dudley Bright (Principal Trombone LSO). It was both hugely beneficial and eye opening. He simply asked me what I listened to, to which I replied jazz. I was then ‘told off’ for my use of “jazz like phrasing” in Morceau Symphonique, and wow, I had decided by the time I made it home to Norwich. A jazz course it had to be!

 What you enjoy about Birmingham Conservatoire, the course in particular?

I came to Birmingham Conservatoire nearly 4 years ago now, and it has been great so far. I feel the course has worked very well for me, with all the lectures focused on harmony, improvising and writing. My one-to-one lessons have been with Ashley Horton, who has been incredible at teaching me how to play the trombone, in regards to technique. With this balance I feel I’ve had the best of both world. The course in Birmingham is a bit bigger than the jazz courses of London, and I’ve enjoyed this, as how many other jazz courses are there where a trombonist has two other jazz bone players to hang out and lean off within his year alone.

 How did you get into the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra and then into the Syd Lawrence Orchestra?

When I got word that a friend was leaving MYJO I emailed John Ruddick straight away. MYJO has been great training for your reading, stamina and improvising. I must mention that it is because of John Ruddick and MYJO that I am where I am today. John received a phone call asking if he had any trombone players who might be available for playing with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra for a gig in Solihull, and recommended me.

Soon after, I had a call for some more dates with the band, and things continued from there, depping for the next year and a half or so. At some point last year, Chris Dean asked whether I’d be interested in joining the band if a place came up. I said of course and I joined full time in September 2012

 What do you enjoy, or not, about your job now?

I’ve always enjoyed playing in big bands, so this was a dream job really. I enjoy the gigs and get on well with the guys in the band and for me, being in a professional band where there is of course a certain amount pressure to not get it wrong The Syd band is also the first band since my county jazz orchestra where I’ve played lead trombone and this is a challenge in particular I enjoy.

If there were anything negative to say, it would only be that I’d prefer to spend less time in my car…