Sax Sensation Comes Home to San Diego

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 14:25

An Interview with Mindi Abair

by: Casey Pukl

For Mindi Abair, San Diego is more than just a stop on her tour. For Abair, San Diego feels like home. Crediting the city with her start in the music business, Abair still celebrates album releases, tours, and more right here. We couldn’t be any luckier. Next week, Abair returns to Anthology to see her old friends and fans and delight audiences with three shows.

Read on to find out who Mindi grew up listening to, what she’s working on these days, and what piece of advice Phil Woods gave her that she still remembers to this day.

CP: What have you been working on lately? 

MA: This year so far has been a little bit of touring for my band. We’ve done a couple shows in Florida, a few festivals, a few things out here in Seattle, all kind of tour dates so it’s been busy. In the middle of those tour dates, I’ve been writing and planning and scheming for my next CD. So I’ve been going back and forth between traveling and being creative. I’m just seeing what songs come up and what sounds come out of me. I’m just starting to see what this next record is going to sound like. It’s very exciting to get started on that journey.

CP: For sure— that’s the best part!

MA: Yeah, it’s a very creative time coming up with what your next record is going to sound like. For me, I write a lot of my own material, so it has definitely shaped the record, and each record is so different for me. You grow and morph in between projects, and you want that new sound and that new energy on the new project. We’re working on that right now.

CP: Who are some of your influences?

MA: I grew up as a rock and roll girl. I grew up listening to top 40 radio. I had everyone from The Police to Bruce Springsteen to Aerosmith to The Rolling Stones. I really loved listening to rock. I was shaped as a performer by those acts. I’d watch Tina Turner up there just shaking it and running around the stage and sweating, and I wanted to be that. As a saxophonist, I can’t actually sing like that, and if I could, maybe I wouldn’t need the saxophone (laughs), but the sax allows me to do that. It lets me scream and yell and emote. It lets me express those emotions. So it definitely won’t be your father’s jazz band that you see on stage. We all come from backgrounds where we’re used to running around the stage and being energetic. The audience will be up dancing; I can guarantee that. 

But yeah, I listen to really a bit of everything. I got into jazz in college, and that really shaped who I was. Now I’m a huge mix of jazz, rock, soul, R&B, pop, and everything else. I’ve got everything on my iPod from The Rolling Stones to King Curtis, Eliza Doolittle, Esperanza Spalding, and John Legend. I’ve got all kinds of crazy stuff. I’m a mutt of musical influences.

CP: How does that all come into play as you’re writing?

MA: Usually at the beginning stages of a record, I just let it all happen. If it’s a pop song, that’s great. If it’s a vocal song with lyrics, then cool, it’s a vocal song. If it’s a melody for the sax and it’s funky, then cool. It’s not until I get into it all later to see a thread of what’s coming out. That’s when I can say that I see more retro/funky stuff is coming or whatever the case may be, so we should go in that direction. Let’s fill in the blanks and just see where we can go with this. So I do that with each record, but definitely in the writing stages, I just let myself be who I am. If it’s going to be pop, jazz, retro, whatever. I just let it be and then mold it later.

CP: I know you attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. Did you study a lot of writing there?

MA: My degree is actually in woodwind performance, so I was that dorky girl with the saxophone (laughs). But the great thing about that school is that everything is available there. I really latched onto that, and that’s one of the biggest reasons that I went there. I didn’t want to just be a saxophone player. I loved to write, so I took a lot of classes on how to write music and look at it from the inside out. I actually took classes in film composition as well, and I just wanted to see music from different aspects and pull it apart. I think those classes were really great for me as a young writer. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I’d just hear these melodies in my head. I learned how to put it together there. I think college is a great place to do that.

CP: I’m always interested to hear what other people studied there and how it impacted their careers and what they actually wound up doing.

MA: I think that’s the great thing about it. There are so many people that come out of there with a certain degree and do something completely different than that. You know, it goes back to what our parents would say. My mom said, ‘You know, a music degree isn’t going to get you a job!’  They’re totally right, but it can also lead you to more interesting and creative jobs than your degree says you can. 

CP: Absolutely. I read that you’ve also been doing some clinics throughout the year. Are you planning to do more this year? 

MA: You know, that’s actually a new thing for me. I’ve never really done clinics or master classes, but I got involved with Naras, the company who puts on the Grammy Awards, and I’m a governor in the LA chapter. We do so much charity work for the different arms of Naras. There’s something called the Grammy Foundation that reaches out to all these schools and sends in different artists to inspire the kids and things like that. We try and get instruments and band equipment, really whatever we can to support the programs. That inspired me to start doing it on my own. A lot of our shows over the last year have included some sort of high school band. I’ve been closing a lot of my shows with a high school marching band. I just bring them in, and they just bring the house down. We did an arrangement of one of my songs for marching band, and it’s fun to see kids wonder what it’s going to be like. I’ll go in and coach them a little bit, and by the end, they’re total rock stars! They love it, and we love it, so that has brought me to do some clinics and master classes in the cities we’re in. It’s been really fun to give back to kids who I was in their shoes at one point. That’s how I became what I became. I think it’s fun to walk in there and give them a little inspiration.

CP: I think that’s awesome. Clinics are so memorable. I have so many from college that I think about all the time.

MA: Yeah! I remember like it was yesterday, Phil Woods did a clinic at Berklee College of Music, and he said something I’ll never forget. It was actually kind of dark (laughs). He said, “Don’t become a professional musician unless you don’t have the choice to be anything else.” He was basically saying, “Don’t do this unless you can’t see yourself doing anything else.” I thought that was pretty dark and jaded, but the longer I’m in the music business, I really start to think that was pretty good advice (laughs)! It is a hard business, and it’s not glamorous. You have to be tuned in and willing to sacrifice. But yeah, that’s something I still remember from that clinic. 

CP: Stuff like that just sticks with you. Coming back to your upcoming show, you’ve got a lot of connections to San Diego. Every time you release an album, you do it here. What is the connection for you? 

MA: I have a huge connection to San Diego. When I graduated from college in Boston, I drove everything I owned out to Los Angeles to move for the music business. Everyone goes to either New York or LA, so I figured LA was warmer and sunnier, so I went (laughs). I realized very quickly that it is really difficult to walk into LA and establish yourself in that music business. I was an incredibly small fish in an incredibly big pond. I would try to get hired, and no one would hire me. I’d go to jam sessions, and it was just no after no. To give them their due, I’m sure I didn’t look the part— I looked like a cheerleader playing the saxophone, but I deserved a shot. 

So I was out there looking for gigs, and someone called me from San Diego. She was in a band called Allure, and they were twin girls who fronted this band, and they needed a sax player. So I was thinking this was great, so I would drive down to San Diego to play with them, and then drive back up to LA for my waitress job. From that gig, I got other gigs in San Diego, and I started playing with a few other bands down there. I was staying on their couch and then drive back up. That was how I started, and that was how I started playing professionally in Los Angeles was from San Diego. You name it in San Diego, and I’ve played there. I have played everywhere.

Anytime I release a record, I start it off in San Diego. That’s home base for me; it always has been. You guys have always been friends and fans, and that’s how I got my start.

CP: That’s very cool to hear.

MA: You’ve got to give respect where it’s due. San Diego started me. It was just amazing, so I go down there for everything.

CP: What are you most looking forward to about returning to Anthology?

MA: I just want to be in San Diego for a few days and hang out with the people who come to my shows. It’s a little different in different genres of music, but in my genre, the people that come see me become friends over the years. It’s not a crowd of people I don’t know— I know all the people out there, and they come to all my shows! I hang around, sign CDs, have a drink with friends, and just get to see everyone. I’m looking forward to it. Of course, I’m also looking forward to playing. The band is awesome; it’s just so much fun. We’ve got a few surprises to pull out just for you guys, and we’re going to have some fun!

CP: We’re looking forward to having you back!

Special thanks to Mindi for her time. Don’t miss out on her 2012 homecoming back to Anthology! You can listen to some of her music on Spotify and purchase tickets as always at the link below!
Mindi Abair on Spotify

WHAT: Mindi Abair
WHEN: Friday, March 23, 7:30pm & Saturday, March 24, 7:30 & 9:30pm
TICKETS: $11-$59 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile