Gordon Goodwin is a Grammy award-winning American jazz pianist, saxophonist, composer, arranger and conductor.
He has risen to prominence in the American jazz scene with his big band, The Big Phat Band. In the band, Gordon plays piano and occasionally both the Soprano and Tenor Saxophone.
Gordon Goodwin, many thanks for taking time out to answer some of our questions.
Your Big Phat Band is arguably the most exciting Big Band on the planet at the moment and has received much critical acclaim. Known for it's modern and unique sound we thought some of our customers, and your fans, might like to know a little more about the man behind it all...
7. Your charts have been extremely popular with High School & College bands, does this enter into your creative process when writing new charts
Not really. I write this music for the guys in the Big Phat Band, and we publish the charts as we play them. And the kids want it that way - they don't want the stuff watered down. And even if they cannot get to a 100% performance level on particular chart, they still grow as musicians from the effort.
8. Have you experienced any snobbery from the 'traditional jazz fraternity' due to the modern nature and funky sound of your band?
No doubt we have. But there's no pleasing everybody, right? And in the end, my responsibility is to write and produce music that sounds good to me, not to critics, or even to fans. And to me, a lot of stuff sounds good - I love swing, latin, funk, classical, and more -and the BPB's book reflects that.
9. You've had some amazing guest artists on your albums: Take 6, Eddie Daniels, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn, Lee Ritenour, Jonny Mathis, Chick Corea... to name a few. What extra challenges musically does this bring you and the band?
One of the great honors for us has been to have those people on our records - that I can call artists like that and ask them to play with us, and they say 'yes!' Of course, there were a couple that said 'no' as well,... you want those names? No way! I think the main goal for me as a writer is to provide a framework for those artists that shows them in a good light, and also fits them in with what we do as a band. It helps that all of those guests artists are versatile and flexible, as are the guys in the BPB.
10. You play both the Sax and Piano and are featured as a soloist on both instruments throughout your albums, were you ever tempted to sit in the sax section as opposed to on the piano in the BPB? Or does sitting in the piano chair give you a chance to oversee and direct more easily?
I played in the sax section on our first record 'Swingin' for the Fences.' But at that point I didn't intend to do any live gigs. When those gigs started to come in, I did, as you suggest, realize that leading from the piano would be better for me to more effectively lead the band. Plus that way, I wouldn't have to keep my clarinet chops up! Or however 'up' they ever were!
11. I'm not going to ask for your favourite tracks but I'll ask something else you've been asked probably a lot but I couldn't find the answer to!: If you could play your Sax or Piano in any band past or present (except the BPB of course) who would you like to sit in with?
I would single out two bands. One would be the Count Basie Orchestra, crica mid 60's - I would love to sit in one of those tenor chairs and play under the great Marshal Royal on lead alto. And then, the Thad Jones Mel Lewis band, the original one, also from around 1965. I would love to play in that sax section, with Jerome Richardson on lead alto, and with the great Snooky Young on lead trumpet. Of course, it would also be awesome to play piano with Mel Lewis and Richard David in the rhythm section! But now that you mention it, how can I leave out the great Buddy Rich band, also mid 60s and, hmm - also the Woody Herman Four Brothers band. All right, see what you started?
12. What's next for the Big Phat Band? Are there any projects in the pipeline?
We are currently working on our new record, which is being produced by Gregg Field and will be released fall 2010 on Concord Records. Along with that we are going to Japan to play the Blue Note, and have several US tours pending, along with a possible TV special. Lots of cool stuff!
Finally, something all your UK die hard fans want to know... Do you think you'll ever get over to Europe for a tour?!
Oh man, we are so overdue to get over there. We have come close several times, but our plans have gotten disrupted by money or schedule issues. It's not cheap to move 20 people around, as you know. But we'll keep at it, as long as you guys promise to come say 'hi' when we get there.
1. Do you sit down and dedicate time to writing Big Phat Band charts or just fit them around other projects when you get an idea spring into your mind?
I have to be pretty efficient with my time nowadays, so I often have to cram the big band charts in the cracks, as it were. There's not a lot of time for compositional reflection! But sometimes ideas will come to the surface, and not leave me alone until I get them flushed out, even if it means working overtime.
2. Is your writing affected by the need to write for a studio band (using surround sound!), do you use different live charts for different ending/solo sections etc?
What you hear on our records is pretty much what you hear at one of our concerts. As a matter of fact, on our new record, the one we are currently in production on, we are striving to get more of a live spirit in our studio performances. A for the surround sound thing, I never got very deep into writing specifically for that, since I wanted the charts to work both on the recording and live.
3. How many charts do you choose from when compiling an album? Do those not chosen ever get re-written and used or are they lost forever?
This time around I wrote around 12 new charts, and so far we have recorded 8 of those. I'll probably crank out 3-4 more to round out the record. As to the charts that don't make the cut, you're right, they're pretty much out of here! Although once in awhile one of them works it's way back in. "Backrow Politics" was one of those - I hated it the first few times we played it, and put it away for a couple years. But then we tried it on a gig one night, and boom! What a cool chart, all of a sudden! Of course, nowadays, I kind of hate it again!
4. How do you keep all those great players together and keep the band a financially viable project?
Who ever told you this was a financially viable project? Everybody makes sacrifices to play this music, and if not for my work as a commercial writer, I could not afford to keep doing this band. We are not unique in that regard - pretty much every big band I know of is paid for by the leader to some degree. And the reason the guys in my band turn down higher paying work to be there is due to their love of the genre, and of playing this music together. We have had a fairly stable personnel and it's very much like a family.
5. The Big Phat Band has an immediately recognisable signature sound, is it achieved because of the retention of original players, the production methods or other factors?
As your question implies, I think our sound is a combination of the writing, the skills of the guys in the band, and in the case of our records, the great chops of our engineer, Tommy Vicari. Nobody gets a big band on tape like Tommy.
6. Multimedia & Internet presence is obviously important to spread your bands music, do you feel that has helped give the Big Phat Band its strong branding, image and appeal to a broad range of listeners? Also does it have its downsides, or is all exposure on YouTube etc good.
The internet marketing we have done has been important, especially in presenting this music to young musicians. The grass roots nature of the internet can really help spread the word if your timing is good. As for YouTube, currently the more exposure the better, but I can't help but think that eventually that will evolve to a more parsed out strategy.