Tom Burlinson has had a career spanning more than 40 years in the entertainment industry, including his big break in film with The Man from Snowy River,.
As well as more recent work, like being a judge on Australia’s Got Talent, or his run playing Billy Flynn on stage in Chicago last year, what he is best known for, perhaps, is his numerous shows over the years in which he performs swing and big band.
And now Tom is bringing his new show Swingin’ the Great Standards to Adelaide this Friday and Saturday October 16 and 17.
The reason Tom keeps coming back to swing and big band is simple.
“I do love this style of music. I mean, swing is in the title of practically every show that I’ve done over the years. And it’s the way it is, because I want people to know what to expect basically,” Tom says.
Tom’s lifelong affinity with this style came during his youth, and has a lot to do with the influence of his parents.
“Our house was filled when I was young with the music of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Oscar Peterson and all those greats of jazz and swing jazz,” he says.
“My parents and their friends would come over and they’d sit and listen to jazz. And I’d say, ‘You would sit and click your fingers and tap your feet when you’re listening to the music.’ And she said, ‘Yep, doesn’t that make you want to do that too?’ And I thought, as a matter of fact, yes, it does and I’m still doing it.”
While Tom is open in terms of what the audience can expect from his shows, Swingin’ the Great Standards focuses specifically on the Great American Songbook.
“I’m talking about Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Irving Berling, Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter. We also have other songs that are written by or composed by people that are perhaps not as well known,” he says.
However, Swingin’ the Great Standards is about more than just the composers from the first half of the 20th century.
“There are some that were written in the sixties and even into the seventies, which have become standards. And we present those later on in the show. It really is one great song after another. And between the songs, I talk about the various composers, their backgrounds, sometimes the circumstances surrounding the writing of a particular song, what was happening in their personal lives at the time,” Tom says.
“It’s the orchestra, it’s me, it’s a concert, and a bit of hopefully entertaining information.”
Joining Tom during these shows will not only be a band consisting of standard big band musicians, but also a string section. Of the 20 musicians in the band, 19 are South Australian.
“Some (have) played with us before in various shows because we’ve been coming to Adelaide for, gosh, since 1998, when I first did the Sinatra show there at Her Majesty’s, as a matter of fact. And some of them are still in that lineup,” he says.
“Of course, there’s been generational change in that past 20 years or so, more than 20 years. So, some of them will be new, some I’ll look forward to seeing again.”
Speaking of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Tom was eager to jump on the opportunity to play there after the initial dates of Swingin’ the Great Standards were postponed in March.
“We had dates booked into the Dunstan Playhouse in Adelaide. And of course, they were not able to go ahead and then they actually offered a change of venue to the redeveloped Her Majesty’s, which I jumped at because with only 50% capacity being able to be used in the theatres, having the larger house means that you can get more people in,” he says.
The postponement of the show in March, and subsequent lockdown, was the beginning of a challenging period for Tom, as it has been for many people in the arts industry.
“All of a sudden, everything was cancelled, basically. And for most of the people that I work with, musicians for a start, all of their bookings, all of their income, everything just stopped. All the theatres closed, everything just stopped,” he says.
“I’ve managed better than most have been able to, I suppose, because of the work that I’ve done over the years. It still has been difficult from a financial point of view and certainly from a feeling of, ‘well, if I can’t perform, then what am I’, you know?
“So being able to come back to Adelaide is very important for me. I’m really looking forward to it because I’ve had no paid work since March… Adelaide’s always been very supportive of me and my shows as they are generally of the arts and music. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’ve done with [Her Majesty’s].”
Swingin’ the Great Standards plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Friday 16th of October and Saturday 17th of October. Buy tickets HERE.
By Tania Nicholas