A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON MINDI ABAIR:
Having grown up in a musical family, Mindi Abair first picked up the saxophone at the age of eight. She attended Berklee School of Music in Boston as a Woodwind Performance Major, and since has performed with groups and artists such as Jonathon Butler, Bobby Lyle, Duran Duran, Adam Sandler, Mandy Moore, and the Backstreet Boys.
Mindi Abair’s Saxophone Setup
Alto Saxophone: Mark VI silver alto saxophone, Rico 2 1/2 reeds, Oleg 6 mouthpiece, Francois Louis ligature.
Soprano Saxophone: Yamaha 62R curved neck, Plasticover 2 1/2 reeds, Rico metalite 9 prototype, Francois Louis ligature.
SINCE YOU WENT TO BERKLEE FOR COLLEGE, DID YOU FIND ANY DIFFICULTY ESTABLISHING YOURSELF AS AN ARTIST WHEN YOU MOVED TO CALIFORNIA?
“I think it is hard for anyone to establish themselves as an artist no matter where they are whether they are from that area or not. It was really tough for me. I had just moved, and I figured ‘I’ll do it’. I had a waitressing job and I went to sit in at every club. No one would hire me, and I just couldn’t get my name out there. So, finally I started my own band cause that is the only way that I was going to meet people and get them to know me. I begged my keyboard player Tommy Coster, Jr to move out from Boston and he did.”
“All I wanted to be was an artist, and write and play my own music, but no one would hire me to do that. I just kept making demos and getting turned down, so I finally started playing with other people to make a living. It was the only way to get people to pay attention to me enough to get a foot in the door.”
“IT JUST HAPPENS THAT WAY” AND “COME AS YOU ARE” WERE BOTH VERY SUCCESSFUL ALBUMS – APPROXIMATELY HOW MANY OF EACH DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE SOLD?”
“It Just Happens that Way”: 125,000
“Come As You Are”: 60,000
“I did my first CD with Matthew Hager after college on a four track recorder. We sat down to write the music together; it was the first time that we had ever written together. We found someone to give us six hours of studio time for free. I recorded all the vocals, and only played sax on one song. At the time, I had my web site and the CD just went up on the web site to be sold.”
ADVICE FOR FEMALE MUSICIAN?
“When I was a senior in high school, I was going to try out for the All State Jazz Band in Florida. I had done the wind ensemble, but I was at the point where I thought it was very dorky. So, I wanted to try out for the jazz band. I wasn’t very good at playing jazz at the time, so I just practiced and practiced, but about a week before my audition, I gave up because I didn’t think that I could do it. So my dad came in and asked me if I was quitting, and pulled the whole reverse psychology thing on me, which made me decide I was going to go in and do the audition. I went in and got first chair alto in the ensemble. I went back and told my dad, who wasn’t the least bit surprised. He explained to me that sometimes it is not the most talented musicians who get it, but the ones that put themselves out there. So my advice is that if you want something, you just have to go for it. You might be told no a few times, but not everyone can keep saying no.”
ADVICE FOR YOUNG MUSICIAN? CAN YOU HELP EXPLAIN SOME OF THE PROCESS THAT YOU WENT THROUGH TO GET YOUR RECORD CONTRACT AND THE SUCCESS THAT YOU HAVE HAD IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS?
“Getting my record contract was a many year ordeal. After college, all I wanted to do was go out and record, but I realized it was a lot deeper than that. I had offers from record labels, but they were never quite what I wanted. I wanted to sign with someone who would let me make the record that I wanted to make. Verve Records is the label that lets me do my own thing.
After getting off tour playing and singing in other groups, I decided that I wanted to play more sax. I had really only been doing one or the other [voice or saxophone], and I wanted to do something that let me do both. So I got together with a friend and we wrote and recorded a few songs which Verve jumped on immediately. The record came out a few months after I was signed, and it was very successful. No one was surprised more than I was. Making ‘Come As You Are’, the second record, I decided to sing a little bit more. My third record for Verve is going to be out April or May of 2006. The next CD uses more vocals than the previous two, but has fewer solely vocal tracks than ‘Come As You Are’. I don’t like to be like one of the artists that makes a whole bunch of CDs that all sound the same; I want each to be unique and show growth musically.
Verve records has been amazing with me, they haven’t taken away any of my creative control. They initially wanted to choose my producer, but I really bucked that hard. I talked with the president of the company and he let me choose my own producer, Matthew Hager. It made the recording environment more comfortable for me because I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, and I was just getting to work with my friends.”
WHAT PARTS OF YOUR PERSONALITY HAVE YOU FOUND TO BENEFIT YOU AS PART OF NETWORKING AND TOWARDS THE GROWTH OF YOUR CAREER? ARE TRAITS THAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS HAD OR ARE THEY LEARNED CHARACTERISTICS?
“I’ve always been very outgoing and a more friendly type. I do think that it really helps. It is really tough for the shyer artists. I feel that the more outward personality of mine helps me do what I do. I like to be out there and meet everyone. With learned characteristics, you learn what works as you go. You learn from doing and making mistakes. For example, I opened a concert for Al Jarreau a few years ago. There was a meet and greet after our show. I was very nervous. I got there before he did, and I didn’t know what to do. Al Jarreau walks in absolutely fearless. I just sat there and thought, ‘I shouldn’t be so shy’. You just have to be yourself. I learned in situations that I would normally be shy that I just need to go out there and be myself.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DATING WITHIN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
“I feel that dating in the industry is unavoidable, but not so good sometimes. A lot of it is proximity and who you are around. Where am I going to find a doctor or lawyer to date? When I finally did date non-musicians, I just had nothing to say to them. Musicians are flakey, so you just have to find the right musician. I ended up with a composer, and we can appreciate each other because we are enough different to not be threatened by each other.”
SO YOU HAVE BEEN TRAVELING A LOT RECENTLY. DO YOU ENJOY BEING ON THE ROAD? WHAT PERFORMANCE SETTINGS DO YOU FEEL MOST COMFORTABLE IN – LARGE CONCERTS, FESTIVALS, SMALL CLUBS, ETC.?
“I love being on the road. I grew up on the road. I feel really comfortable in odd settings and acclimate very quickly. I always find all the thrift shops and flea markets in new areas. I love to just try out stuff and see what real people do in different towns, not the tourist areas. But if I am away too much, I miss home.”
“I think performance settings are so different, and I have played in all settings. I appreciate each one for what they are. The anonymity of playing for a large audience in an arena is great. Early on I spent a few months playing on the street in Santa Monica so I wouldn’t have to work a day job. I was just tired of saying ‘do you want fries with that’, but it was really scary having someone right in your face listening to you. I love the intimate clubs because I feel I can put on a different show there. The big shows, you play bigger than in a club setting. I really like the change and variation. I like them all.”
WHERE DO YOU GET INSPIRATION FOR THE MUSIC THAT YOU WRITE? A LOT OF YOUR SONGS YOU CO-WRITE, WHAT PART OF THE WRITING DO YOU USUALLY FIND YOURSELF DOING?
“I get inspiration everywhere. There is a song on the new CD called ‘Rain’ dedicated to hurricane Katrina victims. Love. I got married last year, and love is a great muse. You can write tons of songs about love. Everyone does. I’m not one to write songs about traffic, but more about things personal to me.”
I writes all the songs myself and chart them all out by hand. And I tend to have more problems naming songs than writing them. So I just name them after what they sound like if nothing incredible has inspired them.”
WHO DID YOU STUDY WITH?
“I never took lessons until college. Even though my dad was a sax player, he wouldn’t teach me. He figured I would hate him in some way in the future, because you usually always hate your teacher. I did take lessons from this swing band leader. He would dance around if I swung a piece right, and it was very funny. My first official teacher was Bill Prince at the University of North Florida. He was an amazing teacher, but I only had him for a year. He really showed me the basics. The next year I went to Berklee and eventually worked my way up to working with Joe Viola. He was absolutely amazing – the Yoda of saxophone. I copied most of to the music in his file cabinet. He was just an unbelievable influence and teacher. If I made a mistake, he would make me make it again so I would know how not to make it. I also studied a semester with George Garzone who is a master of multiphonics and outside playing.”
YOUR INFLUENCES- HOW DID THEY HELP SHAPE YOU AS A PERSON OR YOUR PLAYING?
“Cannonball Adderley – He’s so melodic. Wayne Shorter – I was Wayne Shorter in the Berklee Shorter Ensemble. I worshiped him. Kenny Garrett – I’m a huge fan of; he has his own voice. When I was younger, I liked Sanborn because he was the link between the rock I was listening to and the saxophone, the same with Marc Russo. And Madonna because she knows how to get what she wants. She’s persistent.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS MUSICALLY FOR THE FUTURE?
“I think a goal is always to become a better musician, whether that means writing or playing. I just bought a new saxophone, so I am all into practicing. For me in the last few years, it has been getting better as a writer. My goal is really to keep doing what I am doing because I am really happy doing it.”
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CONTINUE DOING MUSIC?
“I don’t think that I know what else to do. Music is hard. It is not an easy business. You are constantly buying equipment, hiring, firing… It has to be something that you love, otherwise you are just going to hate doing it.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DID BEFORE YOUR MUSIC CAREER AS A PERFORMER BECAME AS SUCCESSFUL AS IT IS TODAY?
“I was Road Manager for Kilauea and second saxophone. I played on the street so I wouldn’t have to have a day job. I played with John Tesh, played a NAMM show, played countless weddings and club dates, and did tours with Adam Sandler, Duran Duran, and the Backstreet Boys.”
WHAT WAS YOUR COOLEST OR MOST MEMORABLE GIG? WHAT WAS YOUR WORST?
“One of the most memorable gigs was my CD release party for my first CD because it was the fulfillment of a goal that I had since I was a kid. It was something very special that not everyone gets to do.”
“The worst was when I had a gig that I had to play as a flower. I was pretty humiliated about that.”
“My first gig with Backstreet Boys was a two hour show. I was playing percussion, keyboards, and sax. There was stuff blowing up around us, a lot of pyrotechnics with a 60,000 people audience. I had made a book of all the music as a security blanket. We started running to the stage and I realized I forgot my book. I ran back and it wasn’t there and made it just in time on stage for the show. There was so much happening on the stage that I couldn’t even think. I had no idea what I was doing the whole entire show. Would anyone in the audience know that? Probably not, but I was horrified.”
“Going to the beach, drinking iced tea, cooking and baking, and hiking.”
FAVORITE JOKE ABOUT YOUR INSTRUMENT:
“What is the difference between a large pizza and a saxophone player?
A large pizza can feed a family of four.”
Audio Technica, ProTec, Oleg Products, Young Chang
LOOKING FOR MORE INFORMATION: