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Mimi Fox: Getting Her Due

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Mimi Fox is slowly but surely beginning to get her due. Named a "rising star" in the DownBeat magazine critics' poll in 2003 and again in 2004, signed to a growing young label (Favored Nations), and with a discography that's up to seven discs under her own name (alongside dozens of side gigs), Fox's fluid guitar chops are finally beginning to reach a wide audience.



In January 2005, Fox will conduct a clinic on the art of solo jazz guitar at the IAJE conference in Long Beach, and perform a series of special duet concerts with bassist Harvie S in Berkeley and San Jose. Fans in San Francisco and environs can catch Fox on a frequent basis at clubs around the area.



This interview was conducted in the summer of 2003, concurrent with the release of Two for the Road, a quintet project pairing Fox with singer Greta Matassa. It is presented for the first time here.



All About Jazz: You're really busy these days.



Mimi Fox: Yeah, things are good for me. Professionally, things are great. If I was doing any more I don't know where I would do it or how I would do it.



AAJ: You have a number of new recording projects coming out, right?



MF: I've done a bunch of different things with different people, but for myself, I've signed with an exciting label down in LA called Favored Nations, which was started by Steve Vai, a rock guitar guy who's played with Frank Zappa and a lot of other people. He's a great guy, and the label features all guitar players. They have Frank Gambale and Larry Carlton, but I'm gonna be their first straight-ahead release. It's a great label; they have distribution with Sony, so that's good. Anyway, that'll be my next project [ She's the Woman was released in 2004 to strong reviews -ed.].



Recently, I've done two projects with different singers, and the last project I've done as a leader was a solo guitar project of standards.



AAJ: Could we talk briefly about those three things?



MF: Sure. I did one with a vocalist here in San Francisco, Maye Cavallaro. It's mostly duo stuff, although Paul McCandless plays horn on some songs; he did a beautiful job. And Ian Dogole plays percussion on some. But it's primarily me and Maye. Then I did a project with a quintet in Seattle, featuring vocalist Greta Matassa. Great singer. That was actually a DVD project; it was a lot of fun. And before that was my solo album, Standards, released in 2001. That was also with a Seattle label, Origin Records.



AAJ: Do you find a difference playing with a vocalist as opposed to other instrumentalists?



MF: It depends on the singer. In Greta's case, she's a great scat singer, and is more like a horn, like having another instrumentalist. Some of the other singers I've worked with over the years, like Bobby McFerrin, are like that, just like working with horn players except that they may or may not be singing lyrics. Of course, some other singers are more word-oriented and less busy in terms of doing the scat thing. They're more into phrasing and the beauty of the notes. But even then, I don't know that it's that much different than working with any other musician in a duo setting. I'm trying to be a sensitive accompanist, while at the same time retaining my individual voice.



AAJ: You compose quite a bit.



MF: I do.



AAJ: Is there such a thing as a Mimi Fox song, or a Mimi Fox compositional sound?



MF: I think as a composer, you do funnel all of the different things in your life, both personal and musical, that you are absorbing. It all becomes part of your compositional palette. I've written in all different styles; I've written for sextet and septet with horns, I've written numerous tunes with lyrics, that my vocalist friends sing, I've written blues forms and extended forms, stuff in odd meters, stuff that falls under the broad heading of Latin jazz, and of course stuff that's straight-up and straight-ahead.



I do think that because I play drums also — although I don't have as much time as I wish I did to keep my chops up on that as a second instrument — I do think there's a strong rhythmic sense. I think one of the things that people notice about my playing as a signature or trademark would be a sense of rhythmic drive, and the complexity of some of the rhythmic figures. And that's partly because I play drums and I revere drummers. Drummers were the first ones that got me into jazz, you know, Elvin Jones, and Art Blakey, Philly Joe [Jones]... when I heard those drummers I was enchanted. That was my first influence, and I think my playing and my composing reflect that.



AAJ: I was just about to ask if you still played drums...



MF: Yeah, I started out with drums and played them all throughout junior high and high school, and even the first few years after I moved out here, but then I had a running injury. I was a long distance runner, and one time I hurt my knee. That sort of messed up my drum pedaling — it was my bass drum foot — but it was a blessing in disguise. It curtailed my running career, and curtailed my drumming career, but it forced me to devote myself to the guitar. I still love having the drums to play when I can, and if I'm not in the middle of a project I do try to practice every day, at least a little bit.


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