Jess Godwin returns to Chicago for Columbia stint, then off to NYC

By Matt Watson

After spending a year in Atlanta recording music, 27-year-old singer songwriter and Columbia alumna, Jess Godwin, returned to the college to teach for a semester in fall 2010. Now a solo artist, Godwin transcends genres. She began in classical, moved to musical theater and now sings pop while playing the piano. She released two EPs in the past few years and is currently recording a single and filming a music video before she moves to New York at the end of February.

Recently, Godwin tried out for NBC’s new reality show “The Voice,” an “American Idol”-style contest, and is waiting to hear if she made it to Los Angeles. The Chronicle caught up with Godwin to discuss her sound, traveling and how she stays grounded.

Jess Godwin: My mom was a musician—she played piano and sang in clubs. My dad was her roadie so I got to go on tour to the clubs and hotels with her. I started out on piano and then took voice lessons when I was 12. I went to Vanderbilt [University in Nashville] and studied classical music, but they wanted me to sing one style and I love singing pop, musical theater, jazz and all kinds of [other] music. So I transferred to Columbia and learned how to act in theater, which was something I was lacking in. It was a

great experience.

The Chronicle: How long after college did you start playing shows?

JG: It was definitely full-on theater after college. I was almost in “Wicked” twice. It was all the dance calls that got me. It was the same with “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia.”

The Chronicle: How would you describe your style of music?

JG: I like to sing it all, but the style of music I write is soul-pop. I’m actually in the studio right now recording a song that’s going to be [made into] a music video. We’re shooting at the Dance Center and the Blackstone Hotel downtown. It’s called “Katy’s Side,” and it’s about being jealous of a girl.

The Chronicle: Do you play with a band?

JG: I do play solo, but I have a band in Atlanta, a band in Chicago and a band in New York. I’ve just been building these bands up so I can play these shows. I have a nice network.

The Chronicle: Do you get to travel a lot?

JG: I do. I stayed last year in Atlanta recording. I’ve been putting a lot of my energy up toward New York. Chicago is wonderful, but you need to go to New York at some time. But I’m always going to end up [back] here.

The Chronicle: What were you doing in Atlanta?

JG: They have a big music scene there. I was going to go on tour to Atlanta, Nashville and L.A. After recording the album [in Atlanta], this studio said, “You have to stay.” Jan Smith produced my EP “Quiet in the Room.” She’s Usher and Justin Bieber’s vocal coach and also [Bieber’s] mentor on tour. She was a really good influence on me because the other studio wanted to make me into some sort of product. And she’s like, “No, it’s about the music,” and told me to stay true to myself. I learned a lot about artistic development in Atlanta.

The Chronicle: What other things have you learned about the industry?

JG: You’re nothing if you don’t promote yourself and get people to shows. If no one comes to your shows, they’re not going to ask you back. If you’re not a good marketer, there’s no hype about you.

The Chronicle: What are your plans for 2011?

JG: To get this video out. I want to market [it] as much as I can. This year is going to be about building up the fan base, because with the music industry it’s about people being behind you. Then I’m moving to New York and booking more shows. My goal is to have fun doing this because if you’re not having fun, just get a desk job.

Jess Godwin’s next show is at the Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., on Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. To hear her music, visit