Mindi Abair

From the city that has been tagged as an “American Best Beach,” Clearwater Florida is also home to one of the United States best jazz, blues, rock musicians Mindi Abair. Since her debut album Always and Never the Same released in 1999, this two-time Grammy nominee (Best Pop Instrumental in 2014 and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in 2015) has received many awards and performed with several world renown artists.

Catching up with this extraordinarily talented vocalist/horn player, she revealed some details about her new album The Best Of Mindi Abair, her new show presently on tour, her side projects and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: How is the tour going? I understand the show at the Funky Biscuit was awesome! What can fans look forward to seeing?
Mindi Abair: We have just had so much fun getting back on the road. It’s been a year of not seeing anyone face to face and not playing for anyone and feeling that energy in a room, and so it’s just been electric (she laughed). I mean, we played at the Funky Biscuit two shows in a row and after not playing for so long, it was surreal. My band and I were looking at each other like deer in the headlights. You know, really happy joyous deer in the headlights (she chuckled).

SFL Music: How did you put this band together?
Abair: You know, my band (The Boneshakers) has been together for so many years. The keyboard player (Rodney Lee) has been with me twenty years. My guitarist (Randy Jacobs) and I have played on and off together for twenty-five years. So, I’ve got a core band that I’ve had with me forever, but coming to Florida to do this, you know we had to do limited capacity shows. We played in Punta Gorda three shows. We played my hometown which is Clearwater, Florida fifty percent capacity and then the Funky Biscuit which at the last minute we took to one hundred percent capacity, but we thought it was going to be fifty percent. So, I actually put together an all-Florida band. My one anchor was my drummer Third Richardson and yeah, we put together just a bunch of guys from my hometown and we had a blast and did it. So, it wasn’t my normal band that’s been with me for ever and ever. It was people who were here that could make it happen and they’re awesome. We had so much fun.

SFL Music: So, you’re from Clearwater?
Abair: Yeah, I was born and raised in Clearwater, so we end up doing a lot as much as we can in Florida. We just played last weekend for 4,000 people at Seabreeze Jazz Festival in the Panhandle and we’re coming back to do Daytona Jazz weekend May 21st-23rd. So, it’s nice to be in Florida a lot (she chuckled). It’s nice to be home.

SFL Music: What influenced you to become a musician?
Abair: My father plays saxophone and keyboards and I grew up on the road with his band. And when I say I grew up on the road with his band. Not playing in his band, but they took me from the hospital to the tour bus. You know, I was just a baby on the road and we stayed on the road until I was probably four or five. It was a blue-eyed soul band called The Entertainers. They formed in St. Petersburg, and we were just on the road, so we didn’t really have a house until the band broke up and we moved back to St. Petersburg. I was always interested in music. Obviously, I was around it 24/7. My grandmother was an opera singer. So here I had blue-eyed soul music in one ear and opera in the other. My father went on to put together a bunch of rock bands. I then joined the school band and when my teacher Ann Reynolds put all the instruments down on the ground and said, “choose one,” I looked around and looked at the saxophone and just thought, you know what? Dad looks like he’s having a blast up there onstage. He was shimmying and shaking and you know, knocking his knees together and having fun and I just thought, I want to have that much fun! And I never looked back. It was the best decision of my life (she laughed).

SFL Music: That’s very cool! So, who would you say are your influences musically? I hear in your music jazz, funk, rock, bluesy.
Abair: Yeah. I grew up a rocker girl. I listened to the radio and I watched MTV. Even though I’m on the contemporary jazz charts now and the blues charts now. I really grew up with people like Tina Turner and Heart as role models and I watched people like Aerosmith and (Bruce) Springsteen and that’s how I figured you should be onstage. So, at my concerts you know, I almost want people with their hands over their heads. Dancing and singing and having fun with us. It’s definitely not your father’s jazz band, you know? You rock out, and we’re usually soaking wet by the second or third song just having fun being in it. It’s a really fun band.

SFL Music: What inspires your music when you write?
Abair: You know what? That’s a really interesting question. I just put together a record called The Best Of Mindi Abair, and so I had the chance to look back at twenty years of my recording. I really feel like every record I’ve done is a snapshot of where I was at that time, and the songs I write. I write about things I’m feeling and things I’m going through. You know, there are some records that are love song heavy and that are romantic and flowing, and there are other records that are sheer muscle and power and kind of mojo; and it’s interesting to see the different, just phases I’ve gone through as a musician and I’ve always tried to follow my heart, but all of my influences have come out at different times. You know, definitely influenced by pop because I toured as a band member with Duran Duran and the Backstreet Boys, but yet I’m influenced by rock. Growing up with it, and then touring with Aerosmith and recording with Gregg Allman and Joe Perry. Jazz came into my life because I went to Berklee College of Music and just emersed and so, that comes in as well. It was fun for me to put together this new album and kind of take stock of album by album how my life changed and that you can hear it. So yeah, I think everything influences me with my songwriting. I try and get it all out. It’s a big catharsis, the songwriting process.

SFL Music: People can order your album on your website?
Abair: Yeah. You can order a signed copy on our website which is mindiabair.com and you can get it wherever music is sold or wherever you can listen to music. So, Spotify and Apple music. Amazon. It’s a cool package. You can get the physical package. We really had fun. We put 28 pictures in there from over the last twenty something years of performing and album artwork that I had in my archives, and I wrote really extended liner notes just telling the story of how a lot of these songs came to be. You know, stuff that probably people don’t know that might know my music, but they don’t know the stories behind it or maybe who was on it. So, I really had fun making a cool package and making it meaningful and telling the story of who I am, to the music.

SFL Music: You mentioned the people that you toured with like Joe Perry, Aerosmith, Duran Duran, Backstreet Boys and you also toured with Joe Bonamassa, Trombone Shorty. What would you say you took away from those experiences?
Abair: You know, it’s so interesting, All I wanted to be is a solo artist coming out of college. I was playing music and I started my own band and I was just, full steam ahead at that, but it was not an easy path. At that point in time unlike right now, you had to get the record deal to get into the pipe line and make records. You couldn’t just do it in your bedroom with your computer like you can now. So, you know, I just heard everything. Oh, we have enough sax players. Good God or your horn and you play, you sing and we don’t really know what to do with that. Maybe you need to choose. Come back to us. So, it didn’t happen for me early on, but then I started touring with other people and through these experiences, I gained this depth of who I was. Kind of immersing myself in other people’s music, so you know, I toured with Adam Sandler. That was a blast! I learned that you didn’t have to take everything seriously. I come out of this intense jazz school overthinking everything and I was like wait, you can just go out and rock out. Backstreet Boys, I was their keyboard player, sax player, percussionist and every time they changed clothes, I did a sax solo. That was a lot by the way. So, I was running around in front of all these screaming girls every night and there was just so much energy and intensity, and it was an amazing way to live my life for a couple years. Duran as well. Duran is so artistic and John Taylor became a part of my music. He co-wrote the title track to my first CD. It just happens that way with me, and he appears on a bunch of my records. He’s either singing or writing or playing, and he’s always just been a trusted musical partner. I just think he is an incredible musician. Playing with those guys, it really taught me that it can be more than just the music. They think about the art. They think about what it looks like. They think about how it comes across as a whole piece of art. I mean, that’s cool you know? Aerosmith was just sheer power. I walked away from that thinking, Oh. I’ve got to give more (she laughed). But if you learn something from every artist you play with and take something away, I always think it makes me grow. American Idol was incredible because I got to play with a bunch of different artists. I had been in my own little bubble as a solo artist. You know, I hire who I hire, and I write the songs I write and I get to record the songs that I write, but every once in a while, I really think it’s a cool gift to go outside your bubble and do something a little dangerous that pushes you. All those experiences were amazing and even Joe Bonamassa too. He came in to play on “Pretty Good For A Girl” and he took it from a four-minute song to an almost eight-minute song and I was sweating profusely by the end of recording that song. There’s a video playing back and forth with him going, oh my God. This is awesome!

SFL Music: You mentioned American Idol. You were also on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show with David Letterman. You played on the set with Paul Shaffer. How were those experiences?
Abair: You know what? Sitting in with The Roots was nuts! They are just a well-oiled machine. I walked in there I think with five or six of my original songs that they were gonna learn and play on the breaks and you know, I was the featured guest and oh my God, those guys learned those songs in five minutes flat. In a room the size of my bathroom. We were just all in there like, because backstage, it’s not a big place. I mean, we’re all just looking at each other you know, grouped around and oh my God, they played those songs like they wrote them, and when we were on set, they were just, they were amazing. It was epic! The same thing with Paul Shaffer. Paul Shaffer, we played a couple of my songs and they played them as good or better than I usually play ‘em. It was great! Then I was the sax player for the show as well and those guys. You don’t even realize. They don’t even know what they’re going to play ten seconds before some breaks and Paul Shaffer will just say “Vehicle” the bridge in B flat. I’m like getting out my slide ruler to figure out what that means for me and meanwhile, they’re playing the song. And I was just thinking wow! I was not trained for this. I was trained as a band leader and a songwriter. I know what I’m doing there, where as it was like a drug. I walked out of there just (she laughed). I had the time of my life and those guys are just immense musicians. I have the upmost respect for them. It was so fun.

SFL Music: That’s something people probably don’t even realize. You’ve also won a lot of awards. You’ve been nominated for two Grammy’s early on in your career. Eight Independent Blues Awards (Artist of the Year, the L.A. Critics Award for Best Holiday Album). You’re also ten years as the L.A. Chapter Governor President and National Trustee for the Recording Academy. Are you on the Board of the Academy?
Abair: I served for about ten years on the Board of Governors for The Recording Academy which is the organization that puts on the Grammy’s, and I went from a Governor on a local L.A. chapter to the President of the L.A. Chapter. I served as a National Trustee for the Recording Academy, and basically what that means is, I was a part of a lot of the outreach that they do. They have incredible, incredible programs that are charitable organizations. That are part of the Recording Academy. Music Cares is their biggest charity and they give to musicians in need. I think most people don’t think about it, but musicians don’t have 401K’s. They don’t have insurance plans. There is no kind of safety net. Everyone’s independent just trying to make it on their own and that can lead to some bad stuff. So, the recording academy has this art that really is a safety net for musicians and all people who create music. And I did a lot with their educational outreaches as well. The kids and getting resources to schools that are trying to keep music in schools. So, it was very inspiring to be a part of that organization and do what you can to kind of help our community and uplift our community.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to up and coming musicians?
Abair: I would say to people, go do what inspires you. There’s so much possibility right now. Go find what inspires you and go for it. I mean, when I was a kid, I was in Florida growing up. I was a senior in High School. I wanted to be in the Florida All-State Jazz Band and I remember practicing and you had to audition and everything, but then I, I kind of got psyched out. I thought ooh. There’s got to be a hundred people that can play me under the table. I’m just this you know, little chick from St. Petersburg Florida and I got psyched out and I quite practicing. I just figured I’m not going to go for it. There’s no point. And I remember my dad coming in, he was like, “hey, playing the saxophone. You’ve been playing a lot.” And I told him my reasoning, and he was like, “alright. Well, I guess you can just quit. Sure.” And I didn’t like that. So, I went for it and auditioned and I got it. I got first chair in the Florida All-State Jazz Band. And I ran back to dad and I was like, oh my God. I did it! This is crazy and he goes, “hey look sometimes it’s not the most talented people who get what they want. It’s the people who put themselves out there and go for it, and go after what they want. Put themselves on the line.” And I just thought that was the best advice and followed that my whole life. I haven’t gotten everything I’ve wanted, but definitely I reach out and I try, and I say do that. That’s your golden ticket (She chuckled).

SFL Music: That was great advice. Now you also have a Reserve Tastings Wine Company? How did that come about?
Abair: We started our company the end of 2019. I married a wine guy, (she laughed). Yeah, I spent my life making music and my husband has spent his whole life running super cool wineries and he just really wanted to do something more organic and run his own company. So, we decided that we could put the best of ourselves together. We always drink wine and I inevitably pair it with music ‘cause that’s where my head is at. So, he’ll bring home some amazing Cabernet, and I’ll just think ooh. A big muscly red wine. That’s gonna to be soul music we’re listening to tonight! And I’m turning on you know, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin. So, we decided if we like to do that, that we would create a club for people to do that. It’s a membership-based club. We would ship them wine four times a year. He finds amazing wines that no one else can find because he knows a bunch of wine makers and gets these special deals from them on you know, incredible luxury wines. Then I do the artwork and have some of my friends do the artwork who are amazing, and it’s all music centric. Then I put a playlist to each wine. So, each playlist has to do with the wine style you know, pairs perfectly with it. We’ve got play lists that are total hippie music. We’ve got play lists that are jazz. We’ve got playlists that are rock. It just depends on the style of the wine. And we do zoom calls with our members to do tastings when our new wines come out, and we do adventures. We’re actually going to Sonoma with about thirty of our members in June and just doing all these amazing tastings at wineries and eating great food and I’m going to play every night. So, it’s become a really cool family, and we spend time sharing wine and music with them. You can go to reservetastings.com and check it out, or you can go to my website mindiabair.com and there’s a link to it as well, but the wines are spectacular. They’re amazing! You can join on the website and you can choose, you know for each shipment there’s four shipments a year you can choose. If you want four bottles or if you want six bottles or if you want twelve bottles. We found that people were drinking just as much as us during the pandemic (she laughed). I mean look, I didn’t have a gig for a year, but we were dinking up a storm and our wine company was flourishing. Forbes wrote us up. It was pretty funny because all of the sudden you know, people were drinking, so it was a really cool year to kind of do something different and expand this business with my husband. We’re having so much fun with it, but check it out. I think you’ll love it.

SFL Music: Also, you wrote a book How To Play Madison Square Garden. What inspired that?
Abair: I wrote the book How To Play Madison Square Garden and it’s a guide to stage performance. A lot of people have written books about the music business or how to navigate that. Different books on how to play their instrument. How to be a better musician. This is neither of those. This is a book about if you’re an artist or a musician, how to better your stage performance, and that’s something that I don’t think a lot of people kind of think about. I went to an incredible music school Berklee College of Music, but that’s not something that was ever taught. We learned how to play our instrument or how to write music or how to you know, theorize about music, but most people I know in the music business make their living playing live. Apart from this past year. So, I just thought look, I had the incredible honor to be onstage with all these incredible artists. I’ve seen people kill it onstage and just have audiences in the palm of their hand. I’ve also seen people do everything wrong. I’ve seen every mistake made onstage. I’ve made em. So, I just started thinking, I’m gonna write this down. I’m going to put this in kind of a fun textbook form because I think that it’s valuable. People need to know this stuff. They need to think about it and it can make their live shows so much more appealing. It can allow them to connect with an audience where maybe it wouldn’t be because right now, it’s not really fair. Some people who are incredible musicians don’t have anybody buying tickets to their concerts and vice versa. Some people who are marginal, like have tons of people buying tickets to their concerts and you know, it should make more sense though. I think some people think it’s not a learned possibility. I totally think you can learn to be a better performer, and so I had fun writing the book. I go in here and there to colleges or to different places and give like master classes on how to create something that’s perfect for you onstage and how to make it you. Its very fun.

SFL Music: Was there anything else that you wanted readers to look forward to? Any new music or videos or anything?
Abair: Yeah. I have a new video that we just put out for a song called “April”. You can check it out on my YouTube page, and my record just came out this month as well. So, check that out and that’s The Best of Mindi Abair. We already talked about that, but it’s always fun having new music.

SFL Music: I know your fans will be looking forward to that. Was there anything else you wanted to add?
Abair: We actually have shows coming up. It’s crazy. What a fun thing to actually have tour dates for this year. We do Facebook live shows on my porch every Tuesday. Follow me on Facebook and you can see. We’ve had 44 of them since the pandemic started and I have guests every week. Everyone from Bill Champlin from Chicago, to Dave Koz, Casey Abrams from American Idol. So, we’ve had a bunch of cool people on my porch. That’s kind of a fun thing. Always a different show.

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