Mindi Abair Sax, Wine and The Boneshakers
When did you start playing the sax, and who are your musical influences
I started playing the piano at age 5… I think I was beating on my Dad’s piano and it was annoying, so my parents started sending me to lessons. I started playing alto saxophone in 4th grade band. I was 8 years old and the saxophone was bigger than I was, but I’d seen my father play it on stage and he looked like he was having a blast. He was that guy that shimmied and walked the bar rocking with a sax. I wanted to have that much fun! I was surrounded by music, so my musical influences started with my father’s blue-eyed soul band and my grandmother singing opera. From there I watched untold hours of MTV and aspired to be in Heart, or sing like Tina Turner. I couldn’t sing like Tina Turner, but I could scream like her on a saxophone. I loved it. I went to college at Berklee College of Music in Boston and all of a sudden I learned what jazz was. I heard my first Miles Davis album…life changing! And I quickly became a fan of Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and many more artists that really showed me a whole different approach to music. I immersed in it. David Sanborn was the saxophonist who really showed me that you could be the “lead singer” of a rock or pop band with a saxophone.
How did you get your start in the music business?
I worked my way through college and played 6 or 7 nights a week in clubs with different bands around Boston. It was a great chance for me to immerse in different styles of music and get some incredible real time experience. My saxophone teacher Joe Viola gave me great advice to start my own band every time I came into his office. I did just that, and it allowed me to start to find myself as a bandleader and artist early. I moved to Los Angeles right after I graduated from college. I played on the street for a while to pay the rent. I didn’t know anyone and I just wanted to play and do what I do every day. I was hired off the street by a jazz keyboardist named Bobby Lyle. He said to me “Hey you’re good. Would you want to play on my next album?” I came back with a resounding “Yes” and I ended up touring the world with him for years. That snowballed into me playing for a lot of other artists like Teena Marie, Jonathan Butler, The Backstreet Boys and Adam Sandler. I just needed someone to give me a shot.
Your current band, The Boneshakers, has an energetic Blues/Rock sound. This seems to be a departure from past projects, what inspired this sound?
I grew up on the road with my Dad’s band, which was a blue-eyed soul band called The Entertainers. Then I hung out in the practice rooms of the rock bands he would put together for the next 15 years. As a kid I was a total top 40 radio kid, just loving rock and pop and R&B. When I got into college I immersed in jazz. So coming out of college I had this wide set of influences. When I signed my first solo album deal with Verve Records, my music was pop instrumental. It had elements of jazz, but it was basically pop melodies and instrumentation. It was categorized as Contemporary Jazz. Over the years I noticed any time I moonlighted from my own band, I was playing rock or blues.
With 10 studio albums under your belt, is there one that you are most proud of? You also have a live recording with the Boneshakers, tell us how that came about.
It’s so hard to choose favorite songs or albums as an artist. They’re all my babies! I pour everything I have into every album I make. They’re all a snapshot of my life at that point. It’s been quite a journey. I’ll always have a spot in my heart for my first album It Just Happens That Way because it was monumental to be signed to a record label and get the freedom to be me and record my songs and have them out there for the world to hear. It’s completely different from what we’re doing now, but it’s something I’m so proud of. The president of the label told me I was the new generation of jazz and to just do my thing. I did! I’m going to say my latest album with The Boneshakers is my favorite right now, though. We’ve become such a family over the years and we really complete each other’s sentences musically. That’s so much fun to experience. I love the music we’ve made together and I feel like we stretched for this album. No Good Deed is a deep album for us and I’m so proud of it.
You asked about our Live in Seattle CD… now that’s a story. Randy Jacobs and I decided to join forces musically at the end of 2014. We named our band Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers. We wanted to create music that was the best of both of us that would really be something special. Everyone in the band is so incredible with such distinct style and personality. We wanted everyone to shine. Our first show together was in Seattle at Jazz Alley on Valentine’s Day 2015. I had a friend in town who had recording equipment and asked him to come down and record the band that night. I told him what a crazy amazing band this was. I just wanted to commemorate our first night… I figured I’d have fun listening to it years later. Well, we all listened to it and loved it. It had so much fire and swagger. We decided it should be our first album together. We’re a live band. That’s where we shine. And it was our first night playing together as a band. That’s special. Looking back, we were nuts. Who does that? I’m so proud of that album, though. It was the start of something great!
You have an extremely successful career that includes: Grammy nominations, #1 radio hits and a list of major artists who you have played/toured with - What is your advice for young musicians who want to be in your shoes?
There are no rule books that tell you how to be successful in the music business. It’s hard, and there are so many aspects to success. I think the best advice I got was early on. I was in high school and I wanted to be in the Florida All State Jazz Band. There were these elite bands that they chose people from all over the state to be in. There was a Symphonic band and a Jazz Band. I wanted nothing to do with the Symphonic Band. I wanted to play with the cool kids! So I started practicing, but I realized I really didn’t know what I was doing playing jazz. I didn’t really know what it all was. I just loved to play. So I gave up, thinking that there were guys that were going to play so much better than me… why should I even try? My father came in and talked me off the ledge, and talked me into auditioning. So I played, and I got 1st chair alto saxophone in the Florida Allstate Jazz Band. I was stunned. My father said, “Sometimes it’s not the most talented people that get what they want. It’s the people who put themselves on the line and try and go for it day in and day out. Remember that.” Thinking back, those were very wise words! I’ve worked for it and put myself out there ever since. I haven’t succeeded at everything I’ve tried, for sure. But I’ve succeeded at much more because I’ve always gone for it and tried for things I believed in and wanted to do. Don’t get psyched out… go do your thing.
With so much success, is there a career highlight that stands out for you?
I had the ultimate “pinch me” moment a few years ago. Clarence Clemons “The Big Man”, had passed away and Bruce Springsteen was going to perform at “Stand Up For Heroes” at the Beacon Theatre in New York. He needed a sax player. Max Weinberg called me and asked if I’d come play. He knew I knew every solo Clarence played. I was a blur to the airport. I played “Spirit in the Night” with Bruce that night and I was in heaven. He’s an incredible role model as an artist, writer, and human being. I was so honored to play and stand in for my hero Clarence Clemons that night.
Aerosmith, Duran Duran, Adam Sandler, Gregg Allman, The Backstreet Boys, Kenny Wayne Shepherd: are a few of the acts you have either toured or recorded with. What goes through your head, when you receive a request for your talent?
Ha… that’s such a great question! Every situation is so unique. I’d spent 2 seasons as the featured saxophonist on American Idol. The morning of the show finale I got a call from Steven Tyler just saying “We have to do this…time’s running out… time to hit it… “ I had no idea what he was talking about. I went to his trailer on set and he played me the new Aerosmith album and asked me to play along. He then asked me to sing back and forth with him. Finally he asked me to go on the road with Aerosmith. They hadn’t had a sax player since 1973, but they had some killer horn parts over the years. I’d sing too. I was stunned. You can’t say “No” to Steven Tyler! I said yes and took my summer vacation with Aerosmith!
I never thought I’d tour with Duran Duran. I had been friends with John Taylor for a number of years. He co-wrote the title track of my first album with me “It Just Happens That Way” and played with me. He’s played and/or sang with me on a number of my cds. Duran Duran had all but broken up..there were only a few original members left in it and John wasn’t one of those. But in 2004 the original members all came back and decided to do a comeback to America tour. It was amazing. John asked if I’d do it with them, and I jumped at the chance. I knew John well, but the rest of the band needed to approve me. I met them on the street in Hollywood one afternoon. Nick looked at me and remarked that my hair would fit in perfectly (I had blonde and black hair at that point.) And he asked me what I’d wear. No musical questions…. All fashion all the time. I knew it was meant to be. Those guys are incredible musicians and writers… what a great time I had with them.
I got hired for Adam Sandler’s band from playing a random wedding. I got a call asking if I wanted to play a wedding in 1996. I said yes, and showed up to play with a band I’d never played with. It turned out to be a killer band. What I didn’t know was there were tons of musicians in the wedding party and as guests. Someone took my number that night and gave it to Adam Sandler’s music director Waddy Wachtel. They were holding auditions for an upcoming all music tour with Adam. They wanted background singers. But they loved the idea that I could play saxophone too. I auditioned with 200 other girls singing, and eventually got the gig. We had the most fun summer tour I could ever imagine. I’ve recorded with Adam on a few of his albums now and he’s called me ever since to play on his movies and for every special occasion. He’s an incredible guy that surrounds himself with great people and holds on to them. I’ve learned so much from him.
It seems like every year you come back to the Hyatt Regency, Newport Beach, Jazz Series - what brings you back year after year?
I’ve played the Hyatt Newport Beach for almost 20 years … first with other artists as their sax player, but for most of those 20 years with my band. It’s become such a home base for me as a solo artist. I love the setting… I always see bunny rabbits hopping around in the bushes… so fun! It’s an incredible place… so beautiful… and the crowd is always ready to party. I mean… it’s become family at this point. I know half of the audience every year. I love that. I look forward to playing every year.
You and your husband Eric Guerra, are very passionate about wine. You started a wine club and even host wine and music festivals. Please tell us more.
My husband Eric Guerra has been in the wine business for 17+ years. He’s a San Diego State graduate and jokes that drinking was the thing he was best in at college. He’s managed some of the most prestigious wineries including Kendall Jackson and Mumm Napa. We were set up on a blind date by my friend and fellow saxophonist Dave Koz. Dave had a signature wine, and Eric created that wine brand for him. Well, the date went well and here we are almost 7 years later married and going strong. I never wanted just my own wine brand. What made sense to me, though, was taking the best of both of us to create something bigger. I’ve spent my life as a musician, writing, recording and performing music. My husband Eric has spent his life managing some of the world’s most prestigious wineries. So together we created a wine membership that pairs our two favorite things, music + wine. Eric finds incredible wines through his connections and has it bottled just for us. I take it from there and name the wine and help create the artwork ..all from my musical inspiration. I then create a playlist of music that pairs perfectly with the wine. When we’re at home we drink wine and listen to different styles of music that fit the wine. So… why not create that for our friends to share? We started our company http://www.reservetastings.com/ and we’re having so much fun with it. It’s a wine + music club. We ship wine to you 3-6 times a year. It’s all our own brands that we’ve created that are, of course, named and styled with music in mind. And you’ll get a playlist with every wine so you can sit and drink and listen and be inspired.
You have a website that celebrates, motivates and inspires women. It’s called Pretty Good For A Girl. What inspired you to create this site, and how did you come up with the name?
I wrote a song called “Pretty Good For A Girl” a few years ago with Randy Jacobs. It was a tongue-in-cheek look at being a woman in a man’s world. We were having fun. It turned out to be a big hit for us! Joe Bonamassa came in to sit in with us for the recording. Our little 3 1/2 minute song turned into an epic 7 1/2 minute song with Joe and me trading solos feverishly! I see so many amazing women taking over the world every day as doctors, lawyers, scientists, mothers, writers, photographers, and musicians. They inspire me. At the same time, I’d have guys walking up after the show saying “Wow, you’re pretty good for a girl!” I realized there was this disconnect with what I viewed women as and what the world viewed us as. I figured it was time to lift women up… support… celebrate. I realized it starts with us. So I created my website http://www.prettygoodforagirl.net/ and it’s there to celebrate women from all walks of life who do amazing things. You can follow on instagram and facebook @prettygoodforagirl
What’s next for Mindi Abair?
Me and The Boneshakers are touring like crazy now. We’re supporting this new album we made No Good Deed. The shows are incredible and this band is just on fire every night. We’re having a blast. That’s the future. There’s so much more music to come, I promise! Get on our email list at http://www.mindiabair.com/ so you know where we’re playing and what’s new. I continue to be a part of the GRAMMY Music Education Coalition. Our mission is to get every child in America who goes to a public school to have the chance to create and play music in school every day. We’re in the trenches, uniting some of the world’s biggest charities to use their powers for good TOGETHER to make this dream a reality.