Gordan Goodwin at the keyboard and the saxophone around his neck during the 2011 Jazz in the Pines. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

For the second consecutive year, Gordon Goodwin returns to Jazz in the Pines. On Saturday, Aug. 25, Goodwin headlines the day’s entertainment.


This year, Goodwin, a triple threat — conductor, pianist and saxophonist — brings the Big Phat Band with him, a 19-piece jazz ensemble. The Big Phat Band will cover the stage and their music will fill the amphitheatre with sounds of swing, Latin and, of course, his Grammy-winning arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Last year, Goodwin and the Little Phat Band performed at the 18th annual jazz fest. They were so well received that festival music consultant Bubba Jackson implored Goodwin to return, but with the Big Phat Band. And they’re coming.

When asked what it was like playing at the Idyllwild jazz fest in a natural amphitheatre, Goodwin quickly replied, “You’re playing music you like and in front of people who like it.”

For jazz aficionados, Goodwin stressed that the two bands are completely different. For those who heard the Little Phat Band in 2011, this year’s appearance of the Big Phat Band will be a totally different musical experience.

The Big Phat Band “represents the full scope of what the music can be — in variety and power,” promises Goodwin, who describes the band as a family. “They’re handpicked and fit like a puzzle.”

Reviews of their albums and concerts are uniformly exciting and revealing. Goodwin attributes the quality of the performances to the simple fact that “we’re 18 guys who remember and realize it’s a gift to play music. The audience to us is someone and something that is really rewarding.”

Despite the personal pleasure each derives from playing their music, Goodwin acknowledges music is a business and has always had a problem earning its value, especially jazz. To achieve the level of quality which these musicians have and maintain, takes a lifetime, said Goodwin, who has been playing a piano since kindergarten. The effort, practice and perseverance are as great as other professions, he stressed.

He admits that he is fortunate to have other musical endeavors that support his investment in the big band genre. He’s also fortunate that his family understands and accepts that this investment affects their lives, too.

This musical genre is better known and supported in Europe and Japan than in the U.S., which adds to the players’ frustration, he said. The Big Phat Band has just finished a tour of the United Kingdom and there was an abundance of fans at every venue, noted Goodwin.

In Japan, people will pay $90, before dinner and drinks, for a ticket to a nightclub to hear the band.

In the U.S., Goodwin and his bandmates strive to make the music feel contemporary “so that the audience doesn’t think of it as from the 1950s and 60s,” he said. After a performance, he frequently is thanked and then hears the comment, “I didn’t know I like jazz!”

Consequently, the Big Phat Band perceives themselves as ambassadors for the music.

And their success, why jazz fans are so attracted to the band, was summed up when Goodwin casually said, “I like what I do so much it doesn’t feel like work.”

At 3 p.m., Aug. 25, you can share that enthusiasm with 19 guys who love doing what they do for you.

The Little Phat Band performed at the 2011 Jazz in the Pines Photo by J.P. Crumrine