According to her website, Mindi Abair has sold a half million records as a solo artist, has been a featured saxophonist for American Idol for two seasons, and has had 10, #1 radio singles and 6 major label solo releases that have topped the Contemporary Jazz Charts. She has hosted the internationally syndicated radio show “Chill With Mindi Abair” for 8 years. She is the President of the Los Angeles Chapter of NARAS and has won numerous awards, including the Best International Instrumentalist at the 2011 Wave Awards in Toronto, and Best Female Artist of the Year at the 2011 Oasis Contemporary Jazz Awards. She has authored the book “How To Play Madison Square Garden” and toured with a long list of artists including Aerosmith, Keb’ Mo’, Lalah Hathaway, Duran Duran, Lee Ritenour, the Backstreet Boys, Mandy Moore, Max Weinberg, Bill Champlin, David Pack, Mocean Worker, Adam Sandler, Rick Braun, Teena Marie, Bobby Lyle, Jonathan Butler, and Peter White.
Innovative, substantial, beautiful and fearless are just a few adjectives that describe Mindi Abair, as well as her career. When we found out that Mindi had agreed to an interview with “The Notes” we were pretty excited! Just coming off a Grammy nomination (for her work on the album “Summer Horns” with Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot) and having attended the 56th Annual Grammy Awards Ceremony, we decided that we had to find out what that was like! So our discussion takes place in two parts. Here, in part one, we talk to her about her recent experiences with the Grammys, and Mindi gives us some great advice for young musicians about dealing with competition in the industry:
TTN: What a ride you have had lately! You are now a Grammy nominated artist for your work on the album, “Summer Horns,” (which is currently up for Outstanding Jazz Album at the NAACP Image Awards) and you’ve just returned from the 56th Annual Grammy Award Ceremony. What can share with us about that incredible experience?
Mindi: Going to the Grammys is an amazing experience, but going as a nominee is life changing. We were lucky enough to open up the pre-Grammy telecast, which is the Grammys before the actual telecast, where ninety percent of the Grammys are handed out. We got to perform at the very beginning and open up the pre-telecast, and we were just electrified! Me and the guys in Summer Horns have played everywhere, huge and small, but to play on the Grammy stage as a nominee was an incredible energy. You are very cognizant of the fact that all of your peers you grew up idolizing are in the audience, and you get the chance to perform for them, which is pretty incredible! It was a fun studded day! We were all dressed up and got to soak it all in. There was a gifting suite where we got all the things as a nominee. Then we got to go to the actual telecast. I sat in the fifth row back, right behind Macklemore. To see such a spectacle, which is absolutely music’s biggest night, from a super star seat was amazing! It was a day of adrenaline and fun. We are just normal saxophone players, but we really felt like we got to be super stars for the day. I highly recommend it!
TTN: How did you find out that you were nominated for a Grammy? And what does that moment feel like, since most of us will never experience it?
Mindi: It happened for me that I was on tour. The nominations come out in December, and I was on a Christmas tour that we do every year. I walked off stage and grabbed my phone, and there was a text saying; “Congratulations on your Grammy nomination.” I knew they were coming out that night, but the text was from a friend, it wasn’t from someone at the Grammys. Then, I got another text from Dave Koz, in Summer Horns, that said “I hear unofficially that we got nominated for a Grammy.” So he went on the website to see, because we had to see if it was official, we couldn’t just take the word of friends. Sure enough, we were nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album! Telling the guys in the band that we just got nominated was amazing! Two of us had never been nominated and the other two had been nominated eight times. Richard (Elliot) and I were off the charts!
TTN: There is so much competition in the music industry, and yet we also see artists working together. “Summer Horns” is a great example of amazing talent pulling together into an incredible collective musical effort. How do you characterize cooperation versus competition in the industry and the role those aspects might have for young artists starting their careers?
Mindi: When I started playing music, I never thought of it as a competitive sport, and I still believe that to this day. I see a lot of competition and there IS a lot of competition out there when you go into something as a life plan and a way to make a living. Obviously you have to be competitive because you need to get a certain amount of gigs, or sell enough records to create a living, but I always thought it healthier to look at it as being creative. You have to be yourself to be incredibly successful. You have to delve deep inside yourself and find out what is special about yourself that no on else has. Plenty of people sound alike, and that has nothing to do with competition. Finding the best part of yourself and what makes you special is important.
For the creation of “Summer Horns” there was no competition involved. What was hard, was trying to find people to play with that we thought would be a blast and would make an excellent project. We were hoping for people who would come together, have their own style, and be ego-less about it. What got each of us hired was that we were different. We each had our own personalities, our own special thing about what we played, or how we played, and we brought that to the table, and then to the record. We didn’t beat each other up that we weren’t the same. We really rallied with the fact that we were all different. I love to hear Gerald Albright play high tones and Richard Elliott man-handle the horn and Dave Koz play incredible melodies. We reveled in our differences and that helped us form, what I think, is a great band.
As far as younger kids on the way up, I would tell them to not look at playing music as something competitive. Understandably, coming up the ranks there are things set in place to make you compete, those things are built-in. But in your mind you have to look at what you do as an art, and as a gift, and your job is to fulfill your gift and hone what you do to the point where no one else can do it like you can do it. That will get you further than any competitive atmosphere around you. There is no time or reason for competition. Just do what you do and be great at it, and have respect for those around you and their gifts and differences. Not only will it make for great partnerships and records but you will be a nicer person too!
COMING UP NEXT–MINDI TALKS ABOUT HER UPCOMING ALBUM IN PART TWO OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH MINDI ABAIR!
Learn more about Mindi Abair, visit her website for info and tour dates near you!