Mindi Abair Interview
Just ‘Come As You Are’
Speaking With Mindi Abair
by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
After the release of her debut CD in the spring of 2003, It Just Happens That Way, I would venture to say that she’s been on the road for about 85 percent of the time. And somehow she’s manage to release another great CD called Come As You Are. We spend a moment with GRP recording artist, the lovely and multi-talented Mindi Abair.
Smitty: Wow you have been some kind of busy.
Mindi: I’ve had a pretty cool year. We’ve been busy on the road, we’ve had a blast playing for everyone. We spent the very beginning of 2004 in the studio recording this CD so, here it comes. It’s awesome that it’s being released now, I’ve been waiting for this time, the release date, and finally it’s here.
Smitty: You’ve done so many interesting things in just one year, some of which many artists don’t get around to doing for several years. For example, you played at just about every major venue, TV appearances; you’ve played the National Anthem at baseball stadiums. How do you keep up?
Mindi:: (Laughing) Well, I think I have that kind of personality anyway; I’m really the happiest when I’m out and about, and doing things, and creating things. So this actually fits my personality quite well. But I really wanted to do all of this. People would come to me and ask; “hey do you want to play the National Anthem for the Dodgers game” and I’d say; “Yes, of course I do, I’d love to”! And to get to do Emeril’s show was absolutely amazing. Then I got to taste everything, which was so good. There’s been so many cool things; to open for Josh Groban on tour was absolutely fantastic, playing in front of 15,000-20,000 people. I mean, we were tired at the end of that tour, but it was so amazing. I think for me and my band, we’re having fun doing all of these different things, and we’ll deal with the tiredness later.
Smitty: You mentioned being on tour and opening for Josh Groban, and that had to of been a fun gig. Tell me how all of that came about?
Mindi: I guess Josh was looking for an opening act, and my record label was contacted, and they sent my CD’s, the first one and my new CD. And I guess Josh listens to a lot of stuff, as he really wanted to be personally involved, and choose who was going to open up for him. Which I think is really cool you know, some people don’t do that. So I got a call from his manager, and he said; “We really enjoyed your music and we really think that you would be a really cool opening act, so let’s do this”. So I got the chance to open up for him for a month, and it was just breathtaking night after night. He’s such an interesting artist because he appeals to such a wide variety of people. I mean, you’d have teenagers there, but you’d have older people too. You’d have anywhere from fifteen year olds to seventy year olds. And for someone to appeal that much across the board, it was very cool. And for me it was very interesting to walk on stage to an audience of which probably ninety percent of them didn’t know who I was. So night after night, me and my band got to walk on stage to people who first looked at us and went “hmm, she’s not Josh Groban” (both laughing), to maybe the second song and went “huh, ok, that’s pretty cool”. Then on third and fourth songs they were clapping and clapping after solos and really getting into it, and by the end, a lot of times we’d get standing ovations. And it’s so fun for me to go into an audience that doesn’t know me or doesn’t know my music, I feel like it’s such a cool quest to win them over or to just show them who I am. So this past month has been really, really amazing for me.
Smitty: Well, they know who you are now, don’t they?
Mindi: They do, they do.
Smitty: And I love the conversion factor, because when you’re appealing to an audience that normally doesn’t listen to this genre of music, and have never heard of the artist, and then at the end of the performance, they recognize you so well, it’s just a beautiful thing.
Mindi:Yes, I mean, I was really, first of all just honored to open for him. Because I think he’s such a talented guy, and he puts so much quality in what he does, and he’s really a perfectionist. And his voice is amazing, the music he does is amazing, the arrangements, the orchestra, just the whole show is phenomenal. So to be a part of it in the first place was just incredible. But to have the chance to be in front of people and show them who you are, and hopefully win them over, that’s a chance not many people get, so I was pretty honored, it was an amazing month.
Smitty:Well even though you’ve had so many nice things to say about him, I took the liberty of asking Josh what he thought about you being on tour with him. And this is what he said; “I was a fan the moment I saw a tape of one of her concerts. Her ability to connect with the crowd and appeal to jazz fans as well as those who aren’t as familiar with her, makes her such an exciting artist, and I was thrilled to have her as a guest on my tour”. How about that?
Mindi: : Wow. I’m honored that he would say anything close to that. That’s incredible. He’s a top notch artist, so I’m the lucky one that I got to be on tour with him. What a great quote! Wow.
Smitty: Indeed it is! Just to switch gears a little, you’ve got to tell me a little about the Emeril show. That had to be so cool!
Mindi: Yes, I played there for about two or three years. It was quite an education, it was fantastic for a young man as I was, to be there in the symphony orchestras in Paris and play with all of the great composers, discovering music that I did not know of and the sound of the orchestras. It was a great experience.
Smitty: Yes, I can just imagine. So, how did you slip into jazz from all of that great orchestral music surrounding you (both laughing)?
Mindi: Yes! I have to say, he was one of the nicest guys on the planet. You know, you never know how people are behind the scenes, you always kind of wonder. He seems like such an amiable guy when you see him on television. But he couldn’t have been more gracious and nice. I sent my music to his band, and his band learned about six of my songs, and we went in there and just rehearsed for about twenty minutes before the show. And they knew everything, and we did these cool little acoustic arrangements, and changed around some instrumentation to kind of fit them, and it turned out so vibey and cool. And Emeril, between all of the segments, he would introduce us and introduce the song or the album and……it was just a party!
Smitty: Could you smell the food on the set?
Mindi: No, you couldn’t smell it too much because it was a chocolate special. For example, he made this chocolate mousse out of mascarpone with all of these really rich ingredients, and he made this chocolate spaghetti, it was inSANE, it was SO good and he passed it around and anything that didn’t get passed around of course was passed to the band. So, I’m sitting over there getting ready to play, because I know the break is coming up, but I’m woofing down this chocolate stuff and strawberries…(both laughing). I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do before you play, but I broke the rules for Emeril.
Smitty: How could you resist!
Mindi: I couldn’t. That was the perfect show for me….C’mon, you get to play on a show that’s doing a special about chocolate.
Smitty: That’s to dream for, no doubt.
Mindi: Pretty much, it doesn’t get much better than that. That was a good day.
Smitty: Mindi, you’ve been on the road literally all of 2003, you were in every major event as far as contemporary jazz, and beyond. And then you had some time the first part of 2004 to do this great CD. What was that like, coming out of that barrage of all-out great shows and appearances and then getting into the studios? How did you get into the mode of doing this new CD?
Mindi: For me, it’s very much kind of a ying yang situation, and I really love the live performances, it’s what I’ve done my whole life, it’s just amazing to me. But then to come off the road and be able to let all of this music pour out of you, it’s a whole different amazing. And for me, I enjoy both and it’s a great kind of evening out period for me. So, I got off the road in January from the Peter White Christmas Tour, and I just started writing and worked with a few friends and spent a lot of time with Matthew Hager, writing, he is the guy who produced my first record. We really had a kind of very “home grown’ experience with the whole thing. I would go over to his little bungalow right across the street from my house, and we’d get on the porch and we’d write songs, and when we thought it was written enough, we’d move inside and start recording. And a lot of the recording process happened as we were writing the songs, and I’d record sax in the bathroom, so I had my whole little setup in there. And he would be in the control room which was the bedroom (both laughing). So it was very “Low Fi”, as a lot of recordings go. Some people get into the big studio and spend lots of money and lots of time. But we really embraced the opportunity to take chances, record what we wanted, and try some different things. And if we didn’t like something, we’d do it over. We didn’t have a big studio with a clock running, with money being spent, we really got to do what we wanted.
Smitty: And that is so cool because then you’re into such a beautiful atmosphere for writing, recording, and you don’t have the pressure and you recorded it while it was fresh, you know.
Mindi: Yes, that’s my feeling. On my first CD, It Just Happens That Way, a lot of times we had the demos that we would do, kind of like when we would write the songs you just go in and put a mic in front of me and I’d just blow through it and do my thing. While when you actually go to record the album, you try to recreate that. And many times on that record, we tried to recreate it, and it just wasn’t the same. It didn’t have that spirit of …we’ve just written the song, when it was fresh and it was new, and I wasn’t thinking about what I was playing. Therefore, it came out but not with the same spirit, and half of that record was the demos. But we just went back and said, “You know what, it’s shinier and cleaner, and all of this, but it just didn’t have the spirit that it used to have. So, we scraped a lot of stuff in the big studio. So this (The new CD) for us was …we wanted to make a very real record, a record that was very honest to what I was feeling at the time, to who I am as an artist, and explore some different facets of who I am that maybe no one has heard before.
Smitty: And the vocals, wow Mindi the vocals are fantastic! I could feel some crossover pop vibes there too. Perhaps you should have been standing next to Josh Groban (both laughing).
Mindi: Thank you! You know I sang a lot on his tour actually. We did three vocals in our set and two of them were off this new record and they went over great. It was really fun to be able to play them for the first time and kind of find out how they work live and feel the audience response to them, and they responded great, which is always nice.
Smitty: Oh yeah, that’s for sure. I know you and I did a follow up of last year’s tour, and I know there were many performances after that. So tell me, what was the most interesting experience you had on tour last year?
Mindi: I don’t know if I can break it down to just one experience. I think looking at the year as a whole; we started out as a band that no one knew. And me myself, people knew as someone’s saxophone player. They knew me because they seen me with Jonathan Butler, or Adam Sandler, or The Backstreet Boys, or Duran Duran. But no one knew me as a solo artist, no one knew what to expect. So we were the band that started out as the opening act for every festival. And we’d open up at 11AM or 12 Noon, and people were walking in. And from that point to where we are now, we started headlining, and I’ve had a lot of theater shows where I’ve been the headliner now, and wow it’s such a different feel, and a different place than where we were even a year ago. And it’s so fun, the guys in my band and I look at each other sometimes and just go “Wow, we’ve done this in the last year, we’ve come this far”. And it’s so fun to work your way up and to prove yourself, and get out there and play, and win fans. People actually come back to the shows now and they say “Hey we’ve been to three shows of yours in the last year, and wow this is a different show and it’s so cool, we’ve seen you grow this far”, and it’s fun. It’s fun to change your show and evolve and to try different things, and to win over new people. So in that respect, I don’t know if there has been one thing that would stand out, I think it was the whole year that was just spectacular in that respect.
Smitty: Yes, I guess I’m guilty of that too, I think I caught at least two or three shows last year myself.
Smitty: Mindi, I’ve got to give your Dad some props here. Because I really love that little duet thing you did with him in Vegas. That was ultra cool.
Mindi: Thank you. Well I’ve been trying to get him to sit in with my band for so long. And he’s always been kind of shy about it, or you know…didn’t want to invade his daughter’s space, you know he’s very wary of that. He doesn’t want to intrude and be the dad, “hey ah, I can come sit in, you know.” That kind of stuff (both laughing). But I really just beg him and beg him, and finally he was like “you know, maybe we’ll come out to Vegas”, and he sat in and it was amazing wasn’t it?
Smitty: It was truly amazing. I couldn’t help thinking, “I know where she got her talent”, because man he ripped it up, it was totally cool. And I noticed how the audience was totally into that, I think they wanted more.
Mindi: I think they did want more. We only had a finite amount of time to get up there because there were a lot of groups on that day. But I don’t even think my band knew what to expect. Because I told them that my dad was going to sit in, and this is what we’re going to do, and they were like “yeah, ok cool, Mindi’s dad’ going to sit in, that will be nice”. And really, when he came out, I just don’t think they expected that much, and he came out and really played. I mean, he’s like a rock n roll, gutsy, growly, fun player. He gets out in people’s faces and get down! And I think they were more shocked than even the audience. That was a dream come true for me. We’re going to do it as much as humanly possible. I’m actually flying him down to play at my CD release party.
Smitty: Oh cool! When’s the CD release party?
Mindi: September 15th in Los Angeles, at the “Garden Of Eden”.
Smitty: Oh a “Wave” deal!
Mindi: A “Wave” deal! My home turf, you’ve got to do it.
Smitty: Yeah, I must come out for that.
Mindi: You must come out to it. It will be a lot of fun.
Smitty: Mindi you’ve had so many highlights in your career already, I think you’ve erased three years. I think you are three years ahead of where most artist are, given the time of your debut release, you’ve erased a lot of time, and a lot of great shows in such a short period of time. You’ve covered a lot of ground.
Mindi: I appreciate that. We’ve just been having a good time and taking what’s been thrown our way, and it’s been a pretty special year and a half for all of us. I think that we all, from myself to the guys in my band to Matthew who produces my CD’s, we all just get together and soak it in. We’re not the types of people who take it for granted, or don’t think about it. I think all of us worked to get to where we are. I mean I’ve done everything from play on the street, to waitress, and answer phones when I first moved to LA, and did anything I could to sit-in at all of these clubs. I’m just not the type to, now that it’s in front of me, to not take advantage of it, or not have a good time with it and not embrace it, and know what a special thing it is. So for me and the people surrounding me, we’re just soaking it in and having a good time with it. Because it doesn’t happen this way for most people. And most people don’t have the opportunity to do these really cool amazing things like open for Josh Groban or play concerts with people like David Sanborn, or Al Jarreau, or whoever. I mean these are just amazing life experiences, so I’m just soaking it in and smiling a lot.
Smitty: That’s too cool. I guess it just happens that way sometimes huh?
Mindi: (Both laughing) It’s funny how that phrase ended up being used a lot this past year and a half. Very fitting.
Smitty: I must tell you that I often get numerous requests for Mindi Abair to come back to Houston, Texas.
Mindi: Oh, I want to come back to Houston so badly. We are actually working on it as we speak. So hopefully I can come back there.
Smitty: It was such a great night when you were in Houston, and everyone after the show was just blown away, which is normal, and they just couldn’t wait for you to come back. So you have a special request from Houston, Texas.
Mindi: All right, you tell Houston that I will be there as fast as humanly possible.
Smitty: Yes, and please give my regards to Matthew and Bud Harner, as they did a magnificent job with the production of this CD. Great sound, the vocals are great, you really mixed it up on this one very well.
Mindi: Yeah, I think that maybe people have a preconceived notion of what this record will be for me, and I think it is probably wrong (both laughing). I think that this is probably not the record that people might think I’d make, but it’s definitely the record that was in my heart to make. And it explores a lot of different styles and fun things while still keeping, even more keeping with who I am. It’s a very personal record for me, I had a lot of friends play on it, my father played on it and I wrote everything on it, so it’s a very fun record, I’m very proud of it.
Smitty: Yes, and you rolled out some great guitar players on this one.
Mindi: Yes, well you know me, I love guitars. So most of my songs are very guitar based. So yeah, you’ve got to have some fun guitars on it. Mike Landau, Matthew Hager, and Ty Stevens.
Smitty: Yes, and give it up for the Band, they really rocked it out.
Mindi: Ah, thank you. They do a great job, I have great guys playing for me.
Smitty: Are they still acting as body guards?
Mindi: (Both laughing) Ahh, no, no, not so much. We just have a good time out there and goof off and eat Krispy Kreme donuts, and get into trouble and, you know.
Smitty: And you’ve got Steve Ferrone, Luis Conte on your new record, and smiling Russell Ferrante.
Mindi: Yes, Russell Ferrante was amazing. I actually got together with him to write a couple of songs and it was pretty amazing.
Smitty: What’s the release date for the record?
Mindi: September 14, 2004.
Smitty: Wow, that’s not far away.
Mindi: Not far away is right! I’m so excited!
Smitty: You should be. Youve had such a great solo career. Short in time frame but packed full of substance. So people can go to the website and check out some new things about the new record, and all of the activities and check out your seriously cool road diary of course?
Mindi: Yes, you can either go to my website which is www.mindiabair.com and check out the road diary, it’s pretty fun, it’s on the “touring” page. There I put up pictures of most every show that we do, with kind of a recap of what happened that night, and special stuff like that. Actually, we do have info about the new record on my website, and if you go to www.grp.com they have some samples of the new songs, some information about who’s on the record, the artwork and everything.
Smitty: Well Mindi it’s always great to talk with you and all of the exciting things that you are doing, and it gets us excited as well. It always a party, and you know that you have a standing invitation here at The Jazz Nation.
Mindi: Thank you! You guys have been so good to me, and thank you so much for coming out to so many shows, and you know, keeping up with the latest, because there’s a lot to keep up on. You’ve been so great, just calling or coming up and saying “what’s going on, or come back up and do an interview”. I love that.
Smitty: Thank you. It’s my pleasure. So I will catch up to you soon on the road. I can’t wait to hear some of the new songs at the shows, because I know it will be times ten live.
Mindi: Yes, we have already been changing up the show and putting a bunch of the new songs in, and it’s turning out to be a lot of fun to mix it up and try the new material, and who knows what craziness we will get into this year.
Smitty: Mindi, it’s been my pleasure. Please come back again and talk about your great career and the new music.
Mindi: You got it.
Smitty: We’ve been talking with saxophonist and songwriter, GRP recording artist, the lovely Ms Mindi Abair, she has a great new CD that comes out September 14, 2004 appropriately called Come As You Are. Put this one at the top of your CD purchase list! Mindi thanks again, and much success in 2004.
Mindi: Yes, thank you. Hopefully I will see you in Houston soon.