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EXCLUSIVE: Gordon Goodwin on His Big Phat Band, 'Life in the Bubble' Grammy Win and Why 'Whiplash' is Great for Jazz

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Apr 30, 2015 07:17 PM EDT

Yes, indeed, the 2015 Grammys proved to be one populist step forward for jazz at-large. Remember Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett's cheeks? Hell, Herbie Hancock and ?uestlove performed right alongside John Mayer and Ed Sheeran. And no one, save for the haters, batted a valve or crossed a string. For Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band, though, their three nominations and an eventual gong for Best Large Jazz Ensemble were more than just plated platitudes and a non-televised soapbox rant.

It was a kind of vindication.

On February 8, Goodwin's aptly named Life in the Bubble (Telarc/Concord Music Group) was finally able to win a gold gramo, after suffering three prior defeats that same evening. Grateful but not content, Goodwin spoke about that victory and the vindication over the crackle of an iPhone from L.A.

"Four nominations was a thrill. However, we got to [the Grammys] and, right off the bat, you're 0 for 3--which forces you to kind of gain a perspective about it," he says with a humble cadence.

Goodwin continues, unabashed: "Being there was enough, but you still want to hit the podium. By the time our final category came, which I didn't think we were going to win by the way, it took me a minute to come to. I got on my soapbox a little about how jazz and classical music are not something you'll hear in the telecast, which means you're making this music in the context of this hostile cultural climate."

He pauses, "a worthwhile thing to say."

Emerging at the end of the last century, by hitting the road day in and night out, Gordon Goodwin's 18-strong Big Phat Band have been able to accrue a loyal fanbase not unlike the popular pre-WWII groups of yore. With seven studio albums under their belt, too, their marriage of big band sounds of the '30s and '40s with modern, sophisticated writing has kept both ensemble excited and genre relevant.

"Those four nominations got us more opportunities than the music, itself, would," the keyboardist and tenor saxophone player notes, "Especially for a genre like jazz that you're trying to market into our current culture. And while they can be a little indifferent to it, it's four nominations."

"We're on the same list as, say, Jay Z or Usher."

Of course, the Grammys weren't the only ceremony handing out laurels to jazz. America's one, true artform--albeit at her most callous--proved worthy enough for J.K. Simmons' turn in the film Whiplash.

"If you came out of the educational system in our country you can look at [Whiplash] and say, 'Well, it's a little dramatized.'"

Still, as Goodwin duly notes, "the fact they made that movie at all is a step in the right direction for jazz. "

Regarding all the recognition for his own life in the bubble, Gordon Goodwin demures. "Obviously, the point of it is an acknowledgment from your peers. You know, the people in the Academy are recognizing your work."

"And," he laughs, "I'm starting to get used to that."

To listen to Life in the Bubble in full--the Grammy-winning album inspired by Goodwin's realization that, in our age of digi-globalization, people are growing less connected and increasingly isolated--well, put on your earbuds and click on over to Concord's SoundCloud

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Gordon Goodwin, Big Phat Band, Life in the Bubble, Grammys, Whiplash