I came across an interesting interview with Mindi Abair, in The Scene Newspaper. Abair will be performing this coming weekend at the Jazz on the Vine festival, which will be held at The Osthoff Resort, in Elkhart Lake, WI.
Jazz on the Vine: Mindi Abair blazes saxophone trail
By Jim Lundstrom
Saxophonist Mindi Abair doesn’t believe in glass ceilings.
“I go in believing that for any show or concert or record deal or anything that’s in front of me,” she said. “If I prove myself, it’s a level playing ground.”
And she has a great story to prove it.
“I used to play with Jonathan Butler, a jazz/R&B artist,” she said. “My mother and father were out in the audience one night. I walked out on stage to play a song with Jonathan and a lady sitting next to my mother said, ‘What is that skinny little white bitch doing on stage?’ My mom just cowers down in her seat. Not only was I not a man, but I was white, too. But I played, and by the end of the song that same woman was on her feet screaming ‘You go, you skinny little white bitch!’ Her hands were in the air and she was screaming for me.”So I think that’s a perfect example. As a woman you have to prove people’s misconceptions are wrong and show them it’s not a man/woman issue, not a black/white issue. I’m a woman and I feel things differently and I’m going to say things differently, but I don’t think it has any bearing on excellence or professionalism or success in a field.”
Mindi is one of those lucky people who always knew what she was going to do with her life.
“My grandmother was an opera singer and later in life became a voice and piano teacher. My father – her son – played sax and keyboards. He did a lot of touring and I grew up on the road with his band. Music was just a part of everyday life for us. I always knew I was going to be a musician.”
She started piano lessons at age 5, and three years later found the instrument that would put her name in lights.
“When school band started in 4th grade, I chose saxophone because I thought it was cool and my father played it. I thought I’d copy him. He looked like he was having a good time. So I just kept going on it in school band. I was the ultimate band geek. Went on to be the drum major of the band and any band class they would let me take, I would take.”
Funny thing was, although she came from a musical family, Mindi said no one in her family would teach her.
“They all felt that at some point you hate your music teacher and they didn’t want to be the one to turn me off music,” she said. “They wanted it to be something that I found, something I stuck with and loved and not because a family member was pushing me toward it. They wanted to be supportive of me, which they were, but they wanted it to be my own journey. Looking back, I think that was a really good decision.”
Mindi said her musical world really opened when she attended Berklee School of Music in Boston.
“I was listening to anything from the crazy pop bands of the day – The Go-Gos and Blondie, The Police, Janet Jackson. But I was also getting into saxophone players, too – David Sanborn, The Yellowjackets. I’d never heard of Lester Young or Charlie Parker, but when I went to college I got exposed to everything. I listened to music all the time and started writing a lot.”
Her music began fusing the many influences she was listening to. She says it was Berklee sax teacher Joe Viola who helped her put it all together.
“Every time I went in for a lesson he told me, ‘You’ve got to start your own band’,” she said. “He would really push me to start my own band, and he let me for my senior recital do a concert with my own band. They didn’t let people do that. That was my direction and I had really great coaching that I should be myself and develop my own sense of what my music was.”
After school she moved to Los Angeles, where she found breaking into the music business was going to be a hard row to hoe.
“So I called my friend from college, Tommy Coster Jr., and said, ‘You have to move here. I need a partner in crime. I need my posse here.’ I beat him down over a couple of months and he finally moved here. He played in my band for years and we played every place imaginable, from coffee shops to clubs and concerts in bigger places. He’s gone on to an amazing career as a songwriter. He co-wrote ‘The Real Slim Shady’ with Eminem. It’s funny, we both found our way. Who has that opportunity?”
A huge career boost came when Mindi was hired to play sax with the Backstreet Boys, which led to a succession of high-profile gigs.
“I’d be on stage with the Backstreet Boys in front of 60,000 people a night. I was in their band for a year,” she said. “I’d be shooting HBO specials with Adam Sandler. I had these amazing experiences. It’s just a journey and I take each experience as it comes and revel in each experience. I come home from a concert smiling and thinking, that was awesome. What an experience! And then on to the next one.”
If you want to find out more about Mindi Abair, check out her website.