Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band have, since forming in 1999, carved out a huge reputation for themselves as an 18-piece big band, playing traditional 1930/40s swing through to more recent fusion and funky jazz. They have recorded several albums and notched up multiple Grammy Awards.
Several publications have been issued over the years, including lead-sheets and backing tracks for popular Big Phat Band favourites.
But with Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos, his latest publication from Alfred Music, Goodwin has taken a different approach, offering stylish intermediate piano solo versions of some of the band’s most enduring tunes.
According to Gordon Goodwin in his introduction to the book:
“The pieces in this book are piano solo adaptations of the most popular Big Phat Band titles that I have written over the years, arranged at an intermediate to later intermediate level. Preparing music for less experienced musicians presents a challenge. I worked to capture the essence of the Big Phat Band versions of these songs, while making the music technically manageable yet interesting. The goal was to create arrangements that are musically challenging without being overwhelming.”
I’ll take a look at the book in a moment, and consider whether I feel Goodwin has succeeded in his goals, but first I should note that in addition to the book itself, Goodwin has recorded a series of performance and tutorial videos, available to watch freely on Alfred’s YouTube channel.
These videos promise to add enormously to the value of this project, so I will start by taking a look at them…
In this opening video from the series, Gordon Goodwin explains the background and concept for Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos:
While aspects to this intro may seem chuckle-worthy to British viewers, it’s clear straight away that Goodwin has an engaging personality, is a clear communicator, and really knows what he’s talking about!
With each of the videos that follow (you can see them all on Alfred’s YouTube channel here), Goodwin starts by playing through the piece as written in the score, before giving a short masterclass in which he discusses the background of the composition, harmony used, jazz techniques and – for the more adventurous jazz enthusiast – ways to extemporise using the given material.
Overall I think these videos are both innovative and inspiring.
Innovative, because they model a brilliant way in which todays’ streaming media can complement the written page rather than supplanting it. Too many YouTube videos aim to do little more than teach by rote, so it’s great to see these videos rather model the sound of the piece, with all the inflections and enhancements a truly excellent and experienced musician can add.
Further, Goodwin’s masterclasses on each piece – though I suspect that they may at times go above the heads of his target audience – are super helpful in clarifying just how the player can really get inside this music.
Inspiring, because they encourage the player to really go deeper into the music, exploring it’s many facets, quirks and technical features.
The videos really bring the music alive, brilliantly succeeding in their core aim. I am more than impressed!
Fans of The Big Phat Band will no doubt be wondering which tunes are included, so here’s the list:
- Settle Down
- Samba del Gringo
- The Jazz Police
- I Remember
- Maynard & Waynard
- Back row Politics
- An American Elegy
- Brother Bones
- Hunting Wabbits
Those less familiar with the music will no doubt guess from this list of titles that the Big Phat Band excel at infectious, good-humoured feel-good vibes. Stylistically, there is great variety here too – from swing to bossa, and from boogie to ballad.
The publication itself is a fairly standard Alfred Music affair, with an eye-catching front cover in durable matt-laminated card, a 36-page book within, printed on white paper.
The presentation of the notation is clean, as well-spaced as always from this top publisher, and excellently edited. In most cases, page-turns are sensibly organised, and it’s clear that great effort was taken to ensure accuracy throughout.
Some pieces require confident legato pedalling, all of which has helpfully been included. I usually also mention the fingering provided in publications, and here it deserves particular praise…
Gordon Goodwin of course not only composed these pieces, but has lived with and performed them worldwide over many years, so it is inevitable that he will be able to suggest fingerings which are both technically and musically effective. However, his fingerings seem to me to go further, offering an unusually informed insight into jazz playing technique.
From an educational perspective, he has also one a good job of gauging the appropriate technical level for his target audience. The pieces in most cases nicely lie under the hands (although in some cases require a fairly large pair) while never lacking the rhythmic and harmonic sophistication that the music demands.
For my UK readers, I would say that the book is best suited to players somewhere around ARBSM Grade 5 level.
What a superb publication this is!
For some time I have felt there’s space for more and better jazz publications written by true exponents of the art, but suitable for intermediate to early advanced players – this is one of a few books appearing this Autumn which ably and stylishly address this need.
Fans of the Big Phat Band will be thrilled to find these highly playable arrangements, which, as the composer hoped they would, really do nicely capture the full essence of the group’s music.
Those not previously familiar with the Big Phat Band are, meanwhile, in for a real treat. These pieces give you full access to the sophistication of American high society jazz, as performed by these top-drawer exponents. The score provides a succession of hugely enjoyable and musically varied pieces, while the online videos back this up with great explanation and demonstration of just how jazz music works.
Gordon Goodwin deserves top marks for this great publication, as do Alfred Music – and if you like what you hear in the videos, don’t hesitate to grab a copy of the book from your music retailer today!
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