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Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair
@ the PizzaExpress Jazz Club
19 - 22 November 2009

Click an image to enlarge.

Mindi Abair is much more than ‘a female saxophonist’. She has a captivating stage presence and instant ‘sax appeal’ as well as an innate gift of being able to get right to the heart of every song she performs, whether that song be her own composition (or a cover version). There are many saxophonists treading the boards of live music venues today (both male and female), however, though a few can tick the ‘technical virtuoso’ box, few can bare their heart and soul allowing the listener to ‘feel’. Abair is able to do this with ease.

Desert Island Discs

Which 2 albums would you take with you to a desert island?

Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley – Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley
The Beatles - 1

Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.


Mindi Abair was born in St. Petersburg, Florida and spent much of her early life on the road with her father’s band, The Entertainers. She came from musical roots. Her father, Lance Abair, played saxophone and keyboards, and her grandmother was an opera singer, a coloratura soprano.

When asked about their childhoods and musical influences, many artists look back fondly on a certain album or song they heard, or certain moment of epiphany where their future came clear. “Not me,” says Abair. “Between watching my father onstage and spending time with my grandmother who was an opera singer, music was always around me. My parents gave in to my constant banging on the piano with lessons at age five, and when I was able to choose a band instrument in fourth grade, I copied my father and went straight for the saxophone. Music was always my normal. I never considered doing anything else. And by the time someone told me it was odd for a girl to play a saxophone, it was too late.”

Abair continued taking every band and chorus class offered throughout elementary, middle and high school. She became the youngest drum major in the history of her high school marching band, and led the band for her junior and senior years, winning numerous awards as best drum major and best marching band, eventually representing the United States to compete in Vienna, Austria. As a senior in high school, she auditioned and won the 1st chair alto saxophone for the Florida All-State Jazz Band.

“That was a defining moment for me. I was pushed musically by the students in the band as well as the band director. I had the time of my life, and this really gave me the push and the confidence to make the decision to go to college for music.”

Abair spent her first year of college at University of North Florida, a jazz program started by Rich Matteson (North Texas State University). She then transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Woodwind Performance.During her years at Berklee, Abair studied with Joe Viola on saxophone.

“Week after week I would go into his office and he would say to me, ‘I want you to start your own band. I want you to record your own music. I know you write a lot and you’ve got your own sound. You should go after that. Don't try to play like your friends; don't try to play like Coltrane. Don't try to be Cannonball Adderley or Maceo or Wayne Shorter.’ Those were my heroes at the time. I think that was a nice lesson to learn early on. Be yourself. I started my own band, writing and recording in the studios whenever they’d have free time on the books, which was usually overnight. My teacher Joe actually let me play a concert with my own band for my Senior Recital. That was a huge turning point for me because I had to put together a whole concert, play my own music, and be the leader. I went for the sound that was in my own head, and tried to create my own world around me with that. As far as my approach on saxophone, my sound was everything. I wanted a big sound, and I wanted to convey feeling and emotion as a player and as a writer. I was never the player who strived to play the fastest, loudest, and highest. I wanted listeners to go on a journey with me and feel something by the end of a song.”

After graduation, Abair moved to Los Angeles, where she began booking her band into clubs and as Abair has said, “anywhere they would let us play”. “When I moved to Los Angeles, I realized that you didn't just come out and make it in the music business overnight. People had their first call guys that they hired, and you couldn't just come in and take over. I learned that you have to make your own. And because no one would hire me, I made my own. I did everything from playing on the street to booking myself as a solo saxophonist to playing in lobbies of hotels or strolling around solo at parties, and even playing with a trio, or a duo, hiring people I wanted to play with. I begged my friend from college at Berklee in Boston, Tommy Coster, Jr., to move to LA because I didn’t know anyone here who would play with me. I promised him I would get us bookings. He moved to LA from Boston, and I did get us bookings...we did the coffee shop circuit and played basically anywhere they would feed us dinner! After that, he helped me get guys to play with us and between us we formed my first band outside of college. I played all the little rocker clubs in Hollywood, and any jazz club or restaurant that would let us in...everyone was playing for free. We moved up slowly to getting paid maybe $30-$50 a night. We definitely paid our dues. We even played on the route of the LA Marathon (for free) just to play. We didn’t say no to any opportunity to get in front of people and play.”

Abair had a few odd jobs during this time, answering phones for a workers’ compensation insurance company, waitressing, and marketing for a small record label named Brainchild Records. After a month of working for Brainchild records, the owner asked her if she’d go on the road with one of the bands she was marketing, Kilauea. She jumped at the opportunity, and hit the road. Her touring possibilities expanded even more when John Tesh came to see her band play at Le Café in Sherman Oaks, CA. After the show he hired her to tour with him as his saxophonist for his “Sax By the Fire” CD.

“All I ever wanted to be was a solo artist. I wanted to write and play and sing my own music. I made demo after demo and I'd shop them to any record label that would listen. I played everywhere and anywhere I could. I ‘ve been told ‘no’ so many times by so many people. I was told “We don't need any more saxophone players, we have too many.” I was told “Are you a saxophonist or a singer? You have to choose, because there's not a market for you to do both.”

Meanwhile, Abair created her own path. After leaving John Tesh’s band, she struggled to pay the bills. She decided to forgo the usual “day job” approach play her saxophone acapella on the street in Santa Monica, CA Jazz veteran Bobby Lyle took her card as he walked by one day and hired her to record on his “Power of Touch” CD and tour with him.

That led to the start of an impressive career as a sideperson. Abair joined Jonathan Butler’s band, and on her off time from his tour, really started to hit the LA music scene playing with her own solo band as well as many others. She toured with many people during this period, including Rick Braun, Teena Marie, and even some local clubs with friend Keb’ Mo’. She was featured on saxophone in the Go West video “Tell Me”. And in 1996, Abair hit the road with Adam Sandler as a saxophonist and singer for his summer tour, appeared in his HBO Special, and recorded on his platinum CD “What's Your Name?”. She played the saxophone solo on the famous football anthem “The Lonesome Kicker”.

In 1999, Abair joined the Backstreet Boys for their Millennium World Tour, She spent the next year and a half as their saxophonist, keyboardist and percussionist, instantly becoming a role model to millions of young girls across the world. One of the opening acts for the Backstreet Boys was Mandy Moore, and as one of the only girls out on the road with a huge travelling tour, Abair befriended Moore, so when the time came for her to start her own live band, Abair put it together for her. She was the musical director, keyboardist, background singer and percussionist for Mandy Moore for many television appearances and shows.

On her off time from touring, Abair was completing her first complete solo record. She called her best friend from college, Matthew Hager, to co-write the songs, and it turned out to be a long lasting musical partnership. Between flights and odd cities, Abair recorded in Hager’s extra bedroom on a Tascam 8 track. All her friends and band members pitched in and played, and Abair released it on her website, selling thousands of copies as an indie artist.

On a break from the Backstreet Boys tour, Bud Harner, A&R for Verve Records, saw Abair perform with Jonathan Butler at a New Year’s Eve show. He approached Abair and gave her his card and said, “If you ever want to make a record, give me a call”. Abair made that call as her tour with the Backstreet Boys and Mandy Moore came to an end. Once again, she called on her friend Matthew Hager, to co-write with her and produce, and ultimately talked Verve Records into taking a chance with her own songs and her original sound.

Her 2003 debut major label release on Verve Records, It Just Happens That Way, debuted in the Top 5 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and remained in the Top 10 for 19 consecutive weeks. The hit single “Lucy’s,” was #1 on the airplay charts for a record-breaking eight weeks and Abair was hailed for leading a new movement in contemporary music.

Abair went on to record with the likes of Lee Ritenour, Jeff Golub, Peter White and Keb Mo to name a few. Her song “I Can Remember” was featured in Aaron Spelling’s hit ‘Summerland’, and her song “Every Time” was featured in the Robin Williams/Mandy Moore movie ‘License to Wed’. Her video was featured on Panasonic's jumbotron in Times Square, and she and her music were featured in a ‘Women in Jazz’ concert for the Grammy Foundation.

Abair hit the road again, this time opening for Josh Groban on his sold-out summer tour .She was featured as a solo artist on “Forever For Always For Luther”, nominated for a Grammy later that year. In 2005, Abair joined pop icons Duran Duran for a handful of dates on their comeback to America tour; John Taylor from the band co-wrote and played on the title track to “It Just Happens That Way”, sang with Abair on her cover of “Save Tonight”, and would continue to write and record with her, making an appearance on her “Life Less Ordinary” CD as well.

In April 2007, Abair began hosting “Chill With Mindi Abair”, an internationally syndicated radio show featuring chill music from across the globe. And after 5 successful years of touring with guitarist Peter White and trumpeter Rick Braun for Christmas, she recorded a Christmas CD “A Peter White Christmas” featuring Rick Braun and Mindi Abair.

Abair is very involved with the Grammy Foundation and GRAMMY in the schools and is an Artist Ambassador for the Campbell’s Soup Labels for Education program, visiting schools and sharing her knowledge and experience with the kids in music programs around America.

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair, Jessy J & Rocco Ventrella

Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair & band

Mindi Abair & band



Stars Life Less Ordinary Come as you are it just happens that way

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