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  • Smooth Jazz Network

Mindi Abair: Behind the Beats

Updated: Apr 18

Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Mindi Abair.

When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? I grew up on the road with my Dad’s blue-eyed soul band watching them play every night. And when his band broke up, we moved to Florida where my grandmother would come over and play and sing Italian arias. She was an opera singer.. a coloratura soprano. I’d come home from school and there would be a drummer set up in our living room and a singer singing into my closet recording. My childhood was basically music 24-7, and really varied different music. I loved it. I was a band geek in school, playing in the jazz band, symphonic band, singing in the choir and even became the drum major of the marching band. I never seriously considered doing anything else. I loved music and I figured I’d find a way to do what I loved and see where it took me. What is your favorite style of music outside of jazz and smooth? Any favorite artists? I love smooth jazz… it’s given those of us who are instrumentalists a beautiful home to make music and express ourselves. It’s hard to find a genre of music where there are better musicians… the musicianship in the smooth jazz community is staggering. I listen to a lot of rock ’n’ roll and Americana at home. Some of my favorite artists/albums of this past year are Chris Stapleton Starting Over, Ray LaMontagne Monovision, Marcus King El Dorado, and Larkin Poe Kindred Spirits. What do you love to do during downtime? I’m a beach girl.. I grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida where the water gets 85-90 degrees in the summer. It’s just a beautiful laid back beach town. My husband and I live in Hollywood, California now, and we take weekly trips to Manhattan Beach here to keep that connection and soak in the beach. It’s a total happy place for me. I also love to get busy with projects on my house. I have a 1916 Craftsman that was pretty beat up when I bought it 20 years ago, but in between tours I’ve restored it and it’s a beautiful little oasis in Hollywood now. The pandemic has given us time to do a bunch of little projects we’d wanted to do before, but never had time. It’s been fun to get down and dirty and make our house better by the day…instant gratification. Favorite place to perform live? For 2020… my porch on Facebook live every Tuesday night! But historically, I love playing the Clearwater Jazz Holiday… 15K people in my hometown on the waterfront… it brings back so many memories of growing up and watching amazing bands. I also love the Catalina Island JazzTrax festival. I’ve played it since 1994 when Art Good gave me a shot to play as an unknown. And we’re coming up to Valentines Day … for the past 17 years I’ve done a residency for 4-6 nights at Jazz Alley in Seattle playing every night for Valentines week. We’re still booked, but with the covid numbers as they are, I have to think that’ll be cancelled. I love it so much. There are so many great festivals that I love… Seabreeze Jazz and Berks Jazz are favorites… there are so many fans that have become friends through the years at these festivals. I miss everyone so much and can’t wait to come back and play and hug when it’s safe!

Which is more rewarding for you creatively… playing sax or singing? I think it’s great to be able to create and be able to express myself in different ways. If I write a song with lyrics, I’m singing it. If no lyrics come, I’m playing saxophone. I started playing piano when I was 5, and sax when I was 8 in 4th grade band. But I was singing through it all. And different points in my career have brought out different songs and approaches. When I toured with Aerosmith I sang more than I played sax. When I toured with Duran Duran I only played sax. As a solo artist, my first album had only one vocal song on it. My “Stars” album was 1/2 vocal songs. I was just feeling it. On my “Wild Heart” album, it was mostly instrumental, but I sang duets with Keb’ Mo’ and Gregg Allman. They were meaningful and very autobiographical. You can tell a story with lyrics differently than you can with just a melody. I always feel like an album should be a snapshot of where you’re at. I never want to make the same record twice… I want my music to reflect my life. It takes more work to delve into what you’re feeling and bring it out in the music, but I believe in that approach wholeheartedly. So I’ll use all the tools in my tool belt to make the music I’m hearing! Favorite Pandemic shows you have binged? I love that you’re asking what I’m watching on tv. 2020 is that year, isn’t it?! Usually I hardly watch tv, but I binged a series called Abstract: The Art of Design on Netflix. I love art, and it features great artists of every kind and delves into their process, whether they’re album artwork designers or architects. I bought Masterclass for my husband Eric and we’ve been binging Thomas Keller’s cooking classes. We lived in Napa for a few years and his restaurants were ridiculously good. We’ve never been to his flagship French Laundry restaurant, but Bouchon and Ad Hoc are killer. So now instead of making scrambled eggs in the morning, I’m making a Thomas Keller - inspired omelette! If you could write and record a song with anyone living or not, who would it be? Wow that’s a crazy question… there are so many incredible musicians that I’d love to write and record with. David Bowie was a huge hero of mine. He played sax, and created such great works of art with his songs changing and morphing throughout his career. He’s gone now, so that can’t happen. I’m a huge fan of Bonnie Raitt. Her voice is mesmerizing and I love her heart. She makes music that moves me and she’s an incredible role model to women in music. She’s an excellent player, singer, writer and human being. I love Dolly Parton as well… she’s written thousands of songs… She is a force of nature musically and personally, and has built an empire on her talent. She gives so much to the next generation and just keeps making amazing music. Advice for up and coming musicians? I learned a great lesson in high school when I wanted to audition for The Florida All-State Jazz Band. I got the music and started practicing for the audition, and a few weeks into practicing I lost my nerve. I psyched myself out! I talked myself into giving up, as I figured there were guys out there that could play way better than I could. My father came in asked why I wasn’t practicing. I told him, and he eventually talked me back into auditioning. Well, I ended up winning the 1st chair alto sax position, and I was over the moon. When I told my dad, he said “Sometimes it’s not the most talented people that succeed and get what they want in life. Sometimes it’s the people that just go for it and put themselves on the line. You have to put yourself out there and go for it and work for it, and then you have the chance to succeed.” What great advice, hmm? I still live by that today. I go for it and care about the music and try for what I want. What a great thing to learn early on!

Learn more about Mindi Abair on her website.

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