Sax Symbol

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

A young lady named Mindi Abair is causing quite a stir in smooth jazz circles these days.  Her debut CD, “It Just Happened That Way,” debuted at number three in the contemporary jazz chart, and the first single from the album, “Lucy’s” spent eight weeks at the top of the national jazz charts.  In a market which is notoriously conservative when it comes to accepting new artists, especially women, saxophonist Abair’s mix of smooth jazz, R&B and pop is certainly turning heads.  You can hear her for yourself this Sunday evening in Monterey.

If you are a fan of mainstream pop music, you might recognize Mindi Abair as a backing musician.  She recently spent two solid years on the road with the Backstreet Boys, and has worked with Mandy Moore and Adam Sandler among others.  It was her experiences as a touring musician that inspired much of the music on her CD. She says, “I’ve done many different styles of music, and they all come into play in these songs.  Everything I’ve learned is here, because those lessons take on a life of their own in the music.”

Mindi Abair grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, surrounded by music.  Her father was Lance Abair, a saxophonist and keyboard player who toured all over the country with his band, The Entertainers.  He took his wife and daughter with him, and so the young Abair grew up watching her father perform with his band.  “He would get up front and take these crazy solos and wiggle his knees on the high notes,” she recalls, “Seeing him perform formed my thoughts about music at a very young age.” 

At age five, Abair began learning to play keyboards, and started to play the saxophone at eight.  As a child, she admits that she was “a Top 40 geek,” but as a teenager she became interested in jazz.  She won an all-state sax playing contest while a senior at high school and earned a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.  By day, she studied with the late, renowned sax teacher Joe Viola; by night she played with her class mates.  “Every evening was a jam session, people playing in their rooms,” she says, “You just kind of learned by osmosis.” While at Berklee, she won the school’s Performance Achievement Award and graduated magna cum laude in 1991.

After graduating college, Abair moved to Los Angeles, where she began attending jam sessions on the jazz circuit.  It wasn’t long before she was being asked to play with various bands, eventually leading to the Backstreet Boys tour.  She views these experiences as invaluable in her development both as a musician and as a person, and her new CD as the culmination of a lifetime of hard work.  “I’ve worked for this all my life [and] this album means a great deal to me,” she says,” To be out under my own name, with my music… and I’m proud to be doing something that a woman doesn’t usually do.”

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, July 31, 2003

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