After decades of musical performances, nationwide tours and collaborative projects, Old Bridge native Colin Bell decided to settle in Matawan to raise a family. The well-traveled composer now operates out of a home studio while teaching band and orchestra in the Old Bridge School District.
Bell described himself as the byproduct of Scottish musicians, explaining that his grandparents, George and Shirley Bell, emigrated from Scotland to the United States after World War II. He said his grandparents helped to establish the competitive scene of Scottish bagpipe bands in America.
Bell said his father, Gordon, played the drums professionally. He said that when he was 2 weeks old his parents took him to a pipe band festival in Montreal, Canada.
“I grew up with Scottish and Celtic music. I loved it,” he said.
By the age of 7, the only question regarding Bell’s future was not what career he would choose, but which instrument he would play.
Following in his father’s footsteps, he gravitated toward drums. In keeping with tradition, he soon began playing as a drummer in a pipe band.
Upon entering middle school, Bell’s concept of drumming was based on his family’s traditions. However, his musical horizons would expand when a friend suggested he attend a band class.
“I already played drums, but I didn’t know anything about the school band. My buddy said, ‘Hey, you play the drums, man, you’re pretty good. Why don’t you come to band?’ That was a life-changing moment for me. Up until that point I was doing pipe band. I didn’t know anything about the school band,” Bell said.
Upon entering Old Bridge High School, Bell dove deeper into music by participating in the choir, band, drumline and orchestra.
At Kean University, Union, he studied music education and joined the Boston Crusaders, a touring drum and bugle corps. During college he also played gigs at theaters. Bell’s education and experience inspired him to pursue a career in music.
“I had my music education degree, but I didn’t want to become a teacher. I wanted to keep playing, I wanted to keep touring. I spent my entire 20’s as a freelance musician and composer,” he said.
Eventually, he found his opportunity when two brothers in a band found his profile online.
“I linked up with two brothers, Stephen and David Fowler. They had a band called Echo Movement. They found me on Myspace and I auditioned for them. They had a whole recording studio. I could tell they were serious and I was looking for something serious,” he said.
From 2005-08, Echo Movement cultivated a loyal fanbase throughout Monmouth County and central New Jersey.
“In 2009 we got our first break as a band. We got an offer to do a couple of weeks on the Van’s Warped Tour. Then we would tour regionally during the fall and winter. We went out to the Midwest and down to Florida on weekend trips. I learned a lot from that. Dave and Steve were standup guys … We achieved a pretty good level of success for an independent band,” Bell said.
Echo Movement released three albums while Bell was a part of the group. In 2012, the band performed on a final tour after the members concluded it was no longer profitable to keep going.
By 2015, Bell was working as a composer and arranger for the Jersey Surf drum and bugle corps when the unit was contacted by actress and musician Janina Gavankar, who was looking for someone to arrange a drum corps rendition of a song by Martin Garrix and Usher.
Bell volunteered and in four weeks, the arrangement, a studio session and a music video were completed.
“Janina had a recording of a Martin Garrix and Usher song called ‘Don’t Look Down.’ She wanted to do a cover of it. One of the things you have to do in this business is just say ‘yes’ and figure it out along the way,” Bell said.
Bell credited Gavankar for being a humble individual.
“When I was in a band trying to make it, if you are not a person of perceived worth, people will ignore you. Janina is not like that. She trusted me and I was just a local composer and drummer. She is a genuine person,” he said.
Bell’s collaboration with Gavankar also allowed him to work with musician Questlove.
Eventually, the aftermath of the extensive touring he had done as a drummer caught up to Bell and by the age of 30 he was dealing with a severely herniated disc which necessitated spinal surgery.
Bell ultimately realized it was time to retire from the road and find stability. In 2016, he and his wife, Glaucia, purchased a home in Matawan.
“We wanted to be in this area. I like Matawan. It’s a nice, small community,” he said.
At about that same time, Bell was hired at the same school district from which he had graduated years before.
“It has been awesome and rewarding. I have been able to share my passion with my students and to start some new things. It’s nice to be back home and to be contributing to the next generation,” he said of his new career.
And while Bell’s action-packed days of playing in a touring band seemed more distant as time passed, the desire to compose new music still lingered.
Bell recently decided to attend the Berklee College of Music. He plans to finish his course work within the next year and receive a Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games.
Today, he is composing original music for films and video games. He said he is grateful to be able to teach his students and his children, Lachlan and Logan, the value of music while actively creating new works.