Brass Pathways Q&A: Carol Jarvis, trombone

Carol Jarvis is a much in-demand freelance trombonist, keyboard player, arranger, orchestrator, musical director and backing vocalist. She has toured, recorded and worked extensively with the likes of Sting, Queen, Seal, Rod Stewart, Amy Winehouse, MUSE, James Bay, Jess Glynne, Ellie Goulding and Bon Jovi but can also be found working with internationally renowned ensembles such as the London Symphony Orchestra, and performing in London’s West End shows.

To find out more about what being a professional brass player can involve, we asked Carol some questions about her career as a trombonist, how she got there, what she loves, and advice she has for those wanting to follow her in her footsteps.

Can you tell us a bit about your career to date?

As a trombonist, being versatile is so valuable, as I perform in all genres of music. I do everything from playing guest principal trombone with many of the UK’s leading symphony orchestras, to playing in West End shows, to pop tours performing around the world, to session work in recording studios. I have performed with the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra and toured and recorded with the likes of Sting. 

What first inspired you to learn the trombone?

The comedy glissando that it can produce! I passed a music test at school and the music teachers asked me to play the oboe, so I went home and asked my parents what an oboe was. They played me some recordings and I apparently turned my nose up, and asked for the one with the “slidey arm thing” instead!

What sort of education on the trombone did you have?

I was really lucky to have an incredible music service in Milton Keynes when I was growing up. I won a Buckinghamshire County Music Scholarship, which enabled me to have piano lessons alongside the trombone, and I was in all the groups including brass bands, orchestras, big bands, improvisation groups, musicianship groups, and composing groups right from the start. I was taught by cornet teachers up to Grade 6, and then a specialist trombone teacher who had toured with the likes of the Spice Girls, so I was exposed to the kind of variety of music the trombone can play, all the way along.

What made you want to turn learning the trombone into a career?

The fact that I was building up a full-time freelance career during my years studying at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). It had always been my hobby, and the fact that I was being paid to do what I love, made it a very easy move into a career. By the time I got to my final year at music college, I had to request to not be in any of the college activities because I was too busy freelancing... and it’s still my hobby today!

How did you first get into the industry as a professional?

Carol Jarvis plays tromboneMy first professional gig was aged 15, depping for my trombone teacher on some pop and jazz gigs. Once I was at the RNCM, I picked up freelance work with the Hallé Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra right from my first year. It’s easy for students to forget that everyone has a reputation, and people talk about you, but it’s true. If you work on making a good reputation for yourself, and work hard, then things will generally work out well for you.

What inspired you to follow the career path that you have?

I was amazed that I could see the world by playing the trombone, and get paid very handsomely for it! I’ve had so many experiences all over the world which will stay with me forever. When I began touring with the pop star Seal, the production manager asked me to book three other female horn players, so I got to tour the world with three of my best friends!

With regards to recording work, I love this probably the most of all. It can be the most intense type of work I do, as very often parts aren’t ready for you to see ahead of the session, so there’s a lot of sight reading, and a lot of music to fit into one session, and the red light is on straight away, so it’s eyes down!

What have been your career highlights so far?

Possibly the most magical experience was recording a DVD with Sting. He was so incredibly musical, and not even one note was slightly off. An amazing musician. I have had so many highlights throughout my career though… The buzz of performing a huge symphony with an orchestra in one of the best concerts halls in the world is always a thrill. Touring the world and performing in different places is always an adventure. Playing with famous pop stars on huge TV shows like the Royal Variety Performance, the X Factor, the BBC Music Awards, the Brit Awards, or the Olivier Awards is always exciting.

What do you love most about what you do?

In terms of touring, it’s seeing the world and meeting lots of different kinds of people. The world is so small once you have been around the globe a few times, and it’s all right on our doorstep!

When recording, I love the concentration involved in working as a tight team and getting things right first time. (And the royalty cheques!)

What do you think are the most important skills needed by a trombone player, and when working in the industry professionally?

Carol Jarvis plays tromboneFor brass and woodwind instruments, the most important thing is breathing. It’s amazing how many students at music conservatoires still need to get the breathing mastered. But once it’s mastered, and the air speed is used correctly throughout the register, things will fall into place incredibly fast. Skills needed for working as a touring/recording musician: become bullet-proof at sight reading, be early for everything, and prepared. And rest whenever you can! Today, for example, I started at 5am. I’ve just boarded my first plane of the day, I have another two flights, then a three hour drive, straight to a three hour rehearsal, and will finish work at about 1am UK time. So I am planning to be asleep before take-off!

What advice would you give to someone learning the trombone?

Say yes to every opportunity you get. Whatever the ensemble, whatever the music. You never know who you’ll meet, and what it’ll lead to. And have fun with it - it’s the comedy instrument after all!

What advice would you give to someone looking to make it as a professional in the industry?

Follow the grade system of exams, as it’s a great tick list for all the skills you need. Get lessons with all sorts of different trombone teachers, and even cellists: we play in the same range, and I gained a lot from being coached by a cellist whilst at music college. And always bear in mind that you have a reputation, even now!

What are you involved with at the moment?

I’ve got all sorts on at the moment. My new project, a studio music production company, is really busy right now. I’ve also recently become a voiceover artist, recording from my studio at home, and on the road: TV adverts, corporate videos, animations, etc, which is really fun, and all linked to recording and music, as you need to know the intricacies of vocal tones, pitches, and convey emotions. I have a portable recording rig which I take everywhere on my travels. Most recently I played the part of a policewoman in a radio drama, all recorded from my campervan! My funk group Soul Tubes is about to do some work on CBeebies, I’m currently depping on the new Tina Turner musical in the West End, about to play with a Brooklyn-based band at the Tate Modern, and in Europe, and right now I’m on my way to Bulgaria to perform a solo gig at a festival tomorrow!

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