For Jazz Bandleader Gordon Goodwin, It's 20 Grammy Nominations and Counting

Gordon GoodwinEXPAND
Gordon Goodwin
Photo by Rex Bullington

When this year's Grammy nominations were announced, multiple nominees included names like Beyonce, Sam Smith, Eric Church, Eminem, Pharrell Williams, Taylor Swift...and Gordon Goodwin.

If you're asking “Gordon who?”, you're not alone. But despite remaining little-known outside the jazz and soundtrack worlds, the Westlake Village resident is no stranger to Grammy nominations. He's been previously nominated 16 times and has three wins, beginning in 2006 for Best Instrumental Arrangement for “Incredits” from the Pixar film The Incredibles, followed by 2012 and 2014 Grammys in the same category for recordings by the Big Phat Band, Goodwin's long-running 18-piece jazz orchestra.

This year, Goodwin has received four nominations for his latest Big Phat Band album, Life in the Bubble. Begun more than 15 years ago as a side project, the Big Phat Band is now recognized as one of the most dynamic large ensembles in music.

But because all of Goodwin's nominations are in the jazz and instrumental categories, you won't see him on the Grammy telecast. Though the Grammys routinely honor jazz artists, they rarely include them in their primetime ceremony.

One of the categories in which Goodwin has been nominated is Best Arrangement, Instrument & Vocals, for the song “Party Rockers,” a co-nomination with former Michael Jackson backup singer and The Voice contestant Judith Hill, who also co-starred in the 2014 Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.

“I heard Judith for the first time when we were both playing a Governor's Ball after the Oscars, and I noticed she'd done the vocal arrangement on one of the charts we used," Goodwin says. "I asked her about possibly recording something with me and she seemed hesitant at first, but when she heard I was Gordon Goodwin, she immediately told me she was a big fan of the Big Phat Band. When the time to record came she was sequestered at a hotel while appearing on The Voice, but we were able to spirit her away for a few hours. Even though she wasn't feeling well that day, when her time came, she really brought it.”

Goodwin, who cut his composing and arranging teeth within the Disney organization, doing music for theme parks, television and film, looks at the Big Phat Band as his way to make a personal statement musically. “When I'm doing film and television work, I'm usually composing at the discretion of the producer. The Big Phat Band allows me to write and hear what I want, on my terms.”

The group's membership has remained largely intact, allowing Goodwin to become increasingly familiar with how the band works best. “Now when I write, I can tailor parts and solos for each individual's strengths, and showcase the best of what that particular player has to offer... Being together that long also allows us to take chances and even be goofy sometimes onstage. If you're in my band, you have to be willing to do that — we're there to entertain people and have fun!”

Goodwin with his Big Phat BandEXPAND
Goodwin with his Big Phat Band
Photo by Rex Bullington

The logistics of touring a large band, however, mean that the group's road trips (and even rehearsals) have to be planned well in advance. “When you're traveling with a bunch of young players just starting out, you might be able to double up at cheap hotels on the road. This group is all top-line veteran studio musicians, and we're not going to do that. So when you tell a promoter they need to provide rooms and transportation for 20 people, that's a major expense.”

Those costs mean that, as with many other top jazz acts, Europe and Asia are often more willing to host the Big Phat Band than venues in the U.S. As of now, the band's only upcoming Southern California date is Thursday, Feb. 12, as part of the opening night of the Newport Beach Jazz Party.

“I'd really love to have more opportunities for the guys to play multiple nights in one place,” Goodwin commented. “When we're at the Blue Note in Tokyo, by the second or third night the band reaches another gear. Tickets there are $90 — something it's very difficult to do in the U.S. So when we travel here, we're always looking to do clinics at colleges and other ways we can supplement the tour's income to make it affordable.”

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Regarding the Grammys, Goodwin echoes the sentiments of many other musicians in the less high-profile categories, wishing there was more time devoted in the main telecast to his preferred genre. “When was the last time you saw jazz on the main awards show? I think Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke got 45 seconds a couple of years ago for a Dave Brubeck tribute after he passed away, but even [those] few moments is almost all there's been for years.”

This year, the Grammy Awards for categories not presented on the main CBS telecast on Sunday, Feb. 8 are slotted for the renamed “Grammy Premiere Ceremony," to be hosted at the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live and streamed live via Grammy.com, promising higher visibility and production values than in years prior. The pre-telecast will give awards in 70 categories beginning at 12:30 p.m. local time. Among the other L.A. area nominees up in various jazz categories are pianist/composer/arranger Billy Childs, with three nominations, and vocalist Tierney Sutton, who's nominated for the sixth time, this year for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Like most other Grammy contenders, Goodwin says he is happy just be nominated. “Right now I'm three for 16... and by the end of this round I may be three for 20. But that's OK.” 

[When the Grammy Awards were announced on Sunday, Feb. 8, Gordon Goodwin and the Big Phat Band won the Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, making him a four-time Grammy winner.]


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