Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American saxophone powerhouse and singer Mindi Abair is on concert tour with legendary rock & roll band Aerosmith. Abair, who is also a songwriter and bandleader, is the featured saxophonist on the group’s six-week “Global Warming Tour,” which kicked off last week. She will also perform with Cheap Trick in Canada.
I recently talked to Abair about her tour with one of America’s greatest rock & roll bands. We talked about her life as a musician and her solo album, In Hi-Fi Stereo as well. The album was released in 2010 on the Heads Up International label – a division of Concord Music Group. Listen to Abair and her songs.
“I’m having a blast,” Abair told Jazz Beat. “As a kid, I grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll and pop. I didn’t get into jazz until later. I was well into high school when I started seeing jazz bands in different schools and thought, oh that’s pretty cool. I like that.”
Mindi Abair’s Albums
Mindi Abair was born in Florida and spent much of her early life on the road with her father’s band, The Entertainer. Lance Abair (her dad) played saxophone and keyboards. Mindi started on piano at home at the age of four. When she was in elementary school, the band instructor laid out instruments on the first day of band class, asking each student to choose the instrument they most wanted to play. Eight-year-old Abair picked up the saxophone. In high school, she auditioned and won the first chair alto saxophone for the Florida All-State Jazz Band. She later graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts then started her early music career in Los Angeles, California, before forming her own band.
As a young girl, Abair listened to Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. Later in life, after improving her skills, Abair performed with Springsteen at New York’s famed Beacon Theatre in Comedy Central’s “Stand Up For Heroes” show. She has also played with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra on the “Late Show with David Letterman”. Most recently, she landed as spot as the featured saxophonist on American Idol. Now Abair is performing with Aerosmith.
“When I got hired for the [Aerosmith] tour I thought, well this isn’t going to be a lot of work. I knew most of the songs,” explained Abair who is staying on the cutting edge of saxophone techniques and styles for her own brand of rock, pop, and soul meeting jazz.
Abair, who won the prize for Best New Artist at the 2003 Smooth Jazz Awards, says she was bummed about not having a “huge rock ‘n’ roll voice” like Tina Turner. “I wanted to run around the stage and sing like Tina Turner, and I couldn’t sing like her, which is very disturbing,” said Abair. So instead, she built a career around rock, pop and jazz music. Her extensive saxophone skills, virtually allow her to do anything she wants. “So, I think saxophone was a great avenue for me because it allowed me to have that huge voice, you know, I could scream on it like she [Turner] did, and kind of have that edge,” she explained.
For the first time ever, Abair will perform with Aerosmith and also with her own band at the Hollywood Bowl on August 26. “I’ll play the Hollywood Bowl twice in August, which is actually pretty unheard of for me at least,” she noted. “I’ve never played there with my band. What an amazing, historic night for me.”
Music critics say Abair’s talent is reminiscent of some of her heroes, including Clarence Clemons, King Curtis, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, and David Sanborn. “I’m a huge David Sanborn fan,” Abair admits. “He bridged the gap between pop and jazz for me.”
Her solo career has produced 11 number 1 singles on the Contemporary Jazz Radio charts. The latest is “Be Beautiful,” which remained at number 1 for seven weeks. Her records have also topped Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Charts.