Mindi Abair is probably the coolest, sexiest, most down-to-Earth and talented saxophone player in recent history. She's graced arenas across the world with some of rock 'n' roll's biggest players (cough, cough -- the Boss), and she's done it all with style. With blond flowing hair matching that shiny gold sax at her hip, Abair has an undeniable presence in the music industry.
Gaining widespread experience since the '90s, she garnered respect for her talent and began writing and performing her own songs. In support of her new album, Wild Heart, Abair performed last night and tonight at Jaziz Nightlife. We were fortunate enough to chat with her on all things musical, and for a good while, we might add. Here's a breakdown of our conversation.
Abair on her beginnings:
"Through school, I kind of just found music myself. It really led me in the right direction. I think to a certain extent, you really do have to forge your own path; you have to find your passion. You know, as a kid, we all look for those things that we find a sense of self in, and we find a sense of success. Or something that makes us feel special. I found that with music."
On activism within the music community:
"I'm the president of the Los Angeles Chapter of Music, which is the company that puts on the Grammys. And you know it's not just the Grammys all year; that's not the one day we work towards. It's charities that go through the entire year. One of the biggest is the Grammy Foundation. We spend a lot of money and a lot of resources on getting education to kids on music, getting time and effort put in by artists and educators to inspire kids and give them resources that they wouldn't otherwise have.
"We have another program we call Music Cares that is an outreach to musicians so that if they have a health problem or lose their insurance, need a kidney transplant, we're there for them. Or if they have a substance abuse problem and need to go into rehab, we're there for them.
"We even just went to Washington to fight for our rights as creators of music, Two hundred of us descended on Capitol Hill and just went for it. We had 65 different meetings with senators and representatives, and it was just phenomenal to be there and be a part of our democracy and fight for what we believe in."
On who was key in her musical growth:
After graduating from the Berklee School of Music, she moved to L.A. "I got hired off the street by a guy named Bobby Lyle, who's one of the brightest keyboard stars of our generation of jazz artists. He wanted me to go on tour with him and work on his next record. He was like a second father to me, and he and his band were the who's who of music, I mean, Al McKay was the founding guitarist of Earth, Wind & Fire, and he was playing with me and Bobby Lyle. All these incredible musicians took me under their wing and really showed me the ropes. They took me through the paces of what it was to be a professional musician.
"And then it all snowballed and I went into Adam Sandler's band at a certain point. And Adam was a whole different sort of learning experience. You know, I'd come from a really serious jazz school and then gone through Bobby Lyle's band, which was just these incredibly proficient jazz musicians, and into Adam Sandler's band. It was a bunch of really incredible rockers; you know, there was this abandon to what they were playing. They were just out there to have a good time and play and just let it all hang out. He really taught me to let go and just have fun, and what a great lesson to learn early on."
On touring with Aerosmith:
"There was a lot of muscle and a lot of testosterone onstage every night, and it just pushed me to be better and pushed me to play with more muscle and more power."
On playing with Bruce Springsteen:
"It was just magical. I felt like I could retire after that."
On Wild Heart, Mindi's latest album:
"Those artists in the past two years have inspired me so much to make this record. It inspired me to push for and expect more from myself. Extreme abandon. I wanted it for my own music and I wanted it for my own career; I wanted it to continue when I went back to my band. I really strived to make music that would allow me to play like I was in front of 50,000 people.
"It's a lot of mojo and a lot of inspiration from these artists that have been a part of my world, but I've been a part of their career, and now they're a part of my career! Which is so great."
On touring solo versus touring with a big name:
"It was interesting, because I played the Hollywood Bowl twice in two weeks. The first time was with Aerosmith, and it was sold out, pandemonium, rock 'n' roll tour de force. It was unbelievable. Just a crazy rock 'n' roll crowd. And to be a part of something like that, it's just so much adrenaline and so much fun.
"Then, two weeks later, I played the bowl with my band. What I realized, and what really hit me, was that they bought a ticket to see me. They didn't buy a ticket to see Aerosmith; they bought to hear my music and see me. That is such a special, beautiful thing to realize, that you have this very personal connection with each audience member. That they're there and they want to hear you play and they want to connect with you and your music. I was really choked a couple of times throughout the night, and it really hit me how special it is to have your own project and know the worth of that and not take it for granted."
On the impact of touring with others:
"It only makes my music grow. It makes me understand what I do more, and it adds dimension. You invariably learn and invariably gain different knowledge and different ways of approaching things that are just going to make you better."
On bringing the sax back to popularity:
"For this particular record, I really looked back to early rock 'n' roll, when the saxophone was just as integral to the sound as the guitar. Saxophone was this instrument that was the coolest shit of all time!
"I really think that it's time that saxophone is able to go back to those days when it was just a mainstream instrument. Saxophone was a crazy rockin' instrument for so many years, and we shouldn't lose that. It can be that again."
On being a vocalist:
"This may sound a little funky, but early on in my career in college, I didn't want to tell people I sang. I never sang out of the closet in college because it was a respect thing. As an instrumentalist, you had a different respect level because you played an instrument and you understood theory; it was kind of more of an educated and intellectual pursuit than singing.
"I used to sing on people's demos in the studio under different names! But I finally grew out of that and finally realized you should be what you are."
On ditching music theory and letting go:
"I think that we make music to make ourselves, and other people, feel. And that's so important.
"There's a famous quote by Maya Angelou, 'They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.'
"I think it's incredibly true in music. They'll forget that you played an E minor chord, they'll forget that you know how to play a major scale, but they'll remember the song and how it made them feel. If they were falling in love to it or if it made them hopeful at a tough time in their life. It sounds totally hippie, but music really can change the world.
Mindi Abair, 7 to midnight, April 29, at Jaziz Nightlife, 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Call 561-300-0730, or visit jazziz.com/nightlife.