Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Tuba player to the stars


Jim Self


Los Angeles-based tuba player Jim Self hasn't seen the next batch of Hollywood films coming out this winter, but there's a good chance he helped make them. For 30 years he has been one of Hollywood's busiest studio musicians.

His trademark solo is the five-note theme that was the "Voice of the Mothership" in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Recent studio gigs of yet-to-be-released films include the comedy action thriller The Pacifier, director Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, and the Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman drama The Interpreter.

Jim Self sits in Saturday night at Murphy's Place. At 12:30 p.m. Sunday he presents a tuba master class at BGSU.

The Oil City, Penn., native and former University of Tennessee professor didn't plan for a Hollywood career. He broke into the business in 1974 when his teacher, Tommy Johnson, then Hollywood's number one tuba player, sent him to cover for a recording date that Johnson himself couldn't make.

From then on, the gigs poured in.

Self admits that he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. All told, there are probably no more than 200 musicians doing all the film work in Hollywood.

"Everyone else is just picking up the pieces," said Self, 61.

In fact, over three decades Self has watched the studio work slowly dry up. There is almost no television recording work anymore. As for movies, contractors are increasingly recording in Eastern Europe, where they find good musicians at low fees. Here in the United States, recording is also being done on the cheap with nonunion labor in Seattle and Salt Lake City, he said.

"It's getting pretty shaky. The fact is that it's expensive to record in LA. So, gradually there has been less work with fewer people doing it," he said.

Work is erratic, pressure high.

"We never see the music ahead of time. Sometimes if the budget is tight we record the music the very first time we play it."

Since 1974, Self has played more than 1,200 film soundtracks, including: Lemony Snickett, Finding Nemo, Sleepless in Seattle, Jurassic Park, Home Alone, and Hook.

Self spent much of 1979 playing string bass in Toledo native Jon Hendricks' musical revue The Evolution of the Blues.

When not in the studios, Self plays around the Los Angeles area, including gigs with the Los Angeles Opera, the Pasadena and Pacific symphonies, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and others. He also teaches tuba and chamber music at the University of Southern California.

Tuba player Jim Self performs Saturday night at 9 p.m. Murphy's Place, 151 Water St. Admission is $8. Information: 419-241-7732. At 12:30 p.m. Sunday he presents a free master class at in the Choral Rehearsal Room in BGSU's Kobacker Hall.

Contact Steven Cornelius at:

or 419-724-6152.

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