We had the good fortune of connecting with Mindi Abair and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mindi, what is the most important factor behind your success?
No one ever told me that being a woman saxophonist was an odd thing until it was way too late. I thank them for that! I believed what people around me told me… that I could be anything… that I should follow my heart. I found music early, and my saxophone became this amazing extension of myself. I could scream through it, whisper through it, and emote in a bigger way. I learned later that I would be judged differently as a woman playing an instrument. I auditioned for a college when I was 17 and when I walked through the door of the saxophone professor’s office he promptly told me that he would not let me into the jazz department, as “girls didn’t make it at this school.” He’d let me into the music education department instead. Needless to say, I didn’t attend that university. I attended Berklee College of Music, where they embraced everyone and embraced different styles of music and encouraged everyone to find the best of them and play from that place. They encouraged us to be individuals and create from that personal place. I feel like I learned a huge lesson getting turned away at age 17 for being a woman. I could have left with a big chip on my shoulder, angry and upset. Instead I left with a mission. My mission was to change the perception of what a woman should be… what instrument a woman should play… how a woman should play. I used that rejection as an impetus to strive for excellence and change people’s minds about what women are capable of and how we should be viewed.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I grew up on the road with my father’s band, The Entertainers. They were a crazy high energy blue-eyed soul band that toured the US constantly. My father was the sax player that shimmied and shaked and knocked his knees together when he played. He was so much fun. My grandmother was an opera singer. She was the stereotypical big woman with a bigger personality and a voice like a bird. She was a coloratura soprano. When my father’s band broke up he started putting together rock bands to tour, and I would sit in their practice rooms and watch everything. In my life, music was everywhere. It makes sense that I immersed and found my love of music that would become the thread of my life. I realized early on that if you were a saxophone player, stereotypically you played jazz. I realized traditional jazz wasn’t what moved me as a player. I had watched MTV constantly as a kid. I wanted to sing like Tina Turner and strut around a stage like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I wanted to put on a show like Bruce Springsteen and bring power to the people via a saxophone like Clarence Clemons. I was so lucky to have my professor in college Joe Viola, tell me every week to start my own band… to find my sound… to make my own. I realized early on that I came at music differently than most of the saxophonists around me. I struggled to find myself. I went through a phase of wearing men’s suits to fit in. I went through a phase of not singing on my shows because I thought I’d be more respected if I just played the sax. I finally stopped trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be, and that’s when my career started flourishing. I found me and accepted it. I wrote music that had pop and rock influences. I embraced that… it was honest and true for me. I had people like Gregg Allman and Joe Perry from Aerosmith and Trombone Shorty play on my albums. I joined forces with my friend Randy to create Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers and recorded 4 blues rock albums. I took a summer and toured with Aerosmith as their 1st saxophonist since 1973. And I just finished a new album called “Forever.” It’s rootsy, earthy, and represents the best of me… a little jazz, rock, blues and roots music. They say life is a journey. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to carve out a career making music that inspires me and playing with people that move me. I’m not your father’s jazz musician. If you come to see my band, we’re high energy and move between rock and blues and jazz and roots music … it’s all me, and it makes for a super fun show. This year I’ve pivoted with the rest of the world and I’ve put on 20+ Wine + Music Shows every Tuesday night in my backyard and broadcast them via Facebook Live. It’s all about staying connected and inspired. I also started a wine + music club www.reservetastings.com with my husband Eric Guerra. I’ve spent my life making music and he’s spent his life in the wine business running wineries. We took our passions and put them together pairing wine + music. It’s all part of my journey to stay inspired and live the life I want to live. I feel lucky that my fans have followed me on the journey!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love Los Angeles. I love coming off the road and being home and enjoying everything this city has to offer. There’s no place like it on earth. I’ve lived in Hollywood for so many years, and it’s addictive. If you come to LA there are a few stops that you should make to soak it all in! I’m food driven, so you’re going to get a bunch of eating and drinking destinations from me! For breakfast, stop in at The Griddle. It’s in the middle of Hollywood. It’s small, crowded and there is blues music rockin’ the place 24-7. An order of banana pancakes will serve a family of 8 … it’s big food. Their bacon is to die for. Start there! I’m a beach person. I grew up in Florida, so being at the beach makes me feel at home. My favorite beach in the LA area is Manhattan Beach. I lived there for a few years, and it was such a beautiful community to be a part of. It’s a haven for great volleyball players. I’m not one of those… I just like watching the games! And the surrounding blocks for food are incredible. My favorite restaurant at the beach is Fishing With Dynamite. It’s a few blocks off the beach. It’s small with super hip art on the walls, and everything they serve is fresh, thoughtful, and amazing. I’m not a big workout girl, but I love a good hike, and LA Is packed with cool places to hike. There’s a street in Los Feliz called Commonwealth. Drive to the end of Commonwealth into the Hollywood Hills. Park and start walking. You’ll end up at the Griffith Observatory, which is historic. You get an amazing view of the city from there, and it always puts me in a completely different headspace. If you’re looking for great Mexican food, you’re in the right city! I named my first single “Lucy’s” after Lucy’s El Adobe on Melrose. As the single worked its way up the jazz charts, I would show the chart to the owner, Lucy. Special margaritas started showing up at our table. And after “Lucy’s” stayed #1 for 8 weeks, she placed a “Reserved” sign on my favorite table. It stayed there for the next 10+ years. Lucy was a huge supporter of artists, and her loyal clientele reflected that. The Eagles, Linda Rondstadt, Jackson Brown, and more were her “kids” as she called them. Check out the photos all around the restaurant as you’re sipping on a margarita… or two! It’s an amazing place. You’re going to need to see some music while you’re in LA. The Hollywood Bowl is a must. There’s no place like it on earth. It’s iconic. You can bring a bottle of wine and it doesn’t matter if you’re in the bleacher seats in the back or the tables front row, you’re going to feel the magic. I have a favorite haunt that I’ve loved since I moved to LA. I’m a super fan for Marty and Elayne, who have played The Dresden in Los Feliz for 38 years straight. There’s no cover charge. Tuesday through Saturday they play from 9:15pm -1:15am. If you saw the movie “Swingers” you might recognize them. It’s pure joy for me… I grab a vodka tonic and just chill and listen. Request “Stayin’ Alive.” Thank me later. A few fun destinations… go back in time at The Old Place in Malibu. The food is great, and you can grab a glass of wine before dinner next door at Cornell Winery. Downtown LA is bustling. There is so much going on… definitely grab a drink at the Edison. It feels like an entire underground city ala Gotham City. And they have incredible burlesque shows throughout the week! One of my favorite shopping destinations is Wasteland on Melrose Avenue. It’s a “vintage” boutique, but you’ll get crazy designer clothing that was either used for a day on a shoot or bought and worn once. I’ve bought a lot of my stage clothes there. You’ll see vintage jackets and shoes right alongside brand new Gucci, Chloe, Prada, RtA, Hermes, and more. Trust me when I say you’ll never go to another vintage shop that holds a candle to this place! I think everyone needs a little rock ‘n’ roll in their lives. You can check into the Sunset Marquis hotel and revel in rock ‘n’ roll history. The art gallery in the lobby is epic. The bar in the front is legendary. The restaurant in the back is a secret gem of LA. And there’s even a recording studio hidden away in the building. So much rock ‘n’ roll history has gone down here. This is the epicenter of all those stories you’ve heard about… live it for a few moments, even if you just grab a drink at the bar! I hope you enjoy my tour of LA… enjoy! And come back often… there are so many things to do and see.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
When I moved to Los Angeles I realized I’d jumped into a very big pond of amazing musicians. Where did I fit in? There were already a million great saxophonists… why would someone hire me? I realized I couldn’t just arrive and take over the music industry, as I’d dreamed. I needed a job, so I decided I’d play on the street. I’d open my case and just play. I didn’t want to serve food… that’s not what I came here to do. I came here to play, so that’s what I did. I paid my rent for quite a few months playing on 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. One day a tall stately gentleman stood and watched me play for a while. When I finished playing he walked up and introduced himself. His name was Bobby Lyle, and I knew who he was. He was a famous jazz musician. I was a fan. He said “Wow, you’re pretty good. I should hire you. I’m recording an album right now and we’re going to hit the road soon.” I said “Yes you should hire me.. that’d be amazing!” I was over the moon excited. He literally hired me off the street. I played on his album “The Power of Touch.” I toured the world with him and his band for years, and working with him snowballed into me working with so many other artists. He and his band took me under their wing and taught me the ropes. I never wanted to admit he hired me off the street, but he thought I should wear that like a badge of honor. I think he’s right now. I got out there and did what I loved. I was lucky enough to have Bobby hear me and hire me. He changed my life, and I still play with him on and off to this day. Shoutout to Bobby Lyle!!
Other: My wine + music club: www.reservetastings.com
White full length photo: Josh Daubin Round chair photo: Greg Allen B&W farmers market photo: Irvin Houghton Purplish live shot: Chyrisse Tabone My feet on Manhattan Beach: Me (Mindi Abair) Photo of My husband Eric Guerra and myself for our wine + music company: Chyrisse Tabone Rolling Stones T-shirt photo: R. Stuerk Live Photo of the Levitt Shell: Dan Wireman