Mimi Fox: Getting Her Due


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AAJ: Okay, here's a new subject. You give a lot of interviews. In all the time people like you have been interviewed by people like us, but especially in the past few years, it seems that musicians have been very critical of jazz journalism. Do you have any thoughts on that?

MF: I think that any time you're writing about something and maybe not doing it yourself, you're an easy target. The musician can turn around and say, "well, what do you know? You're not out there in the trenches, playing these gigs and dealing with these promoters and so on. You're not an artist." I think it's really easy to get into that, and I think there's some truth in it. I know that there are some very knowledgeable, literate, even brilliant jazz journalists, but then there are those that maybe aren't so knowledgeable. There, wasn't that diplomatic?

But personally, jazz journalists have been very good to me. You know the old adage, "just spell my name right?" Basically, short of saying someone's an axe murderer or whatever, I think that generally just getting any publicity is a good thing. I think most critics do try to be well-balanced, but everyone comes to the plate with their own series of biases. Hopefully they don't have too much of an axe to grind, but I guess there are some people that do.

I think it's just a delicate thing, and sometimes musicians and journalists, who should be friends, just fall into an adversarial thing, simply because sometimes you say something, and then it gets to print and you didn't mean it to come off that way. Or maybe something you said tongue-in-cheek comes off the wrong way.

I had a funny experience in Seattle a few years ago. I was sent to a big radio station, I can't remember the call letters. One of the marketing people or publicists had set this up for me. So I dutifully showed up on time and ready for my interview. Well, I was a little nervous because the woman who was interviewing me had like ten piercings and didn't look like someone you'd normally see at a jazz station. It was more like a college station, definitely a different look. But I thought, "oh, Mimi, shed your prejudices, just do your interview." Well, midway through the interview, she asks me what rock guitar players I liked, and me being rather flippant and casual, I said, "none." The next thing I knew, all 80 lights on the telephone switchboard lit up. Apparently, the publicist never told me, but they had booked me on a big rock station! So all these irate rock 'n' roll hackers call up saying, "whaddaya you know, you jazz schmuck?" I was tired, it was the end of a long tour, I didn't check. I'm a jazz musician; I just assumed the publicist was sending me to a jazz station. So I called the publicist afterwards and said, "Vinny, how could you do this to me?" He said he didn't know, the person who called him sounded really nice... anyway it turned out that the woman who interviewed me, this was her thing, being a troublemaker and trying to sort of snare people and get them to incriminate themselves. Now how did we get into this silly story?

AAJ: We were talking about the relationship between artists and journalists.

MF: Right. Maybe I've been lucky, but I've found most journalists to be intelligent and articulate. I never hold against a journalist what an editor does. I think that sometimes you say some things that you wish got into an article and then they don't because of space or editorial constraints, but I'd certainly never hold that against a journalist. However, sometimes things can happen because of the way things are edited that can make a story slant one way...

AAJ: And sometimes a minor point or a passing comment gets elevated to the theme of the whole piece.

MF: Right. So I've learned to be who I am but use some restraint, because things can get distorted. As a jazz musician, you do have to be aware of these things when you're giving interviews... There are probably some people out there who shouldn't be in positions of reviewing jazz. Jazz is an art form, and it should be reviewed by people who are art critics, who understand the music and know the history. It's one thing for someone to say "I prefer this material over that," but it's another to say "this isn't good music," especially if they don't know what they're talking about. I've had good experiences, I haven't gotten panned, but maybe if I become successful enough someone's gonna slam me someday!

AAJ: Who on the scene today excites you as a musician?

MF: Let's see... guitarist-wise, there are a number of people who are still really jazzing me up, and one of them is Jim Hall, who's become a friend of mine. He contacted me after he heard one of my CDs and sent me the most loving note; it was like I was receiving something from a long-lost uncle. We've been friends ever since. He's a brilliant musician — he's really an architect when he plays, so incredibly musical and structurally developed. I also love Kenny Burrell. He's someone I played with recently down in LA for a Heritage Guitar night, because I'm an endorsee and so is Kenny. He's a great guy. I love Russell Malone, who's become a good friend of mine. A not as well-known player who deserves more accolades than he gets is John Stowell. A very unassuming person, with a very unusual style. He's from Portland, Oregon, but he does make it down here periodically. I love some of the stuff that Jimmy Bruno and Joe Beck have done. They have some wonderful guitar duet stuff that's totally smokin'.

When you go into other instruments it's a whole new field... Joe Lovano; Christian McBride plays his buns off.

AAJ: It sounds like you do a lot of listening.

MF: I do. Part of my job description as a jazz musician is to listen as much as I can.

AAJ: You've worked in a wide range of settings. Is there anything you really want to try that you just haven't had the opportunity to do yet?

MF: I've been pretty lucky. I've gotten to do a lot of things. A few years ago, I performed some of my acoustic guitar pieces with a chamber orchestra. I have had contact with a fellow from Seattle, to possibly do some of my original scores with a full symphony orchestra. If that happened, it would just be a deeper level. Getting to arrange and perform in that capacity would be wonderful.

Also, there are some composers I would love to collaborate with: Mary Watkins, a wonderful Bay Area composer — we've actually talked about collaborating and composing a sort of jazz guitar symphony together, so it would be more orchestral, but written for jazz guitar, not something that I would have to adapt. We've sort of rolled that around, and again dealing with orchestras, and funding, and other various issues have hung it up, but that would be something I'd love to do.

And I think there are some other players on the scene I'd love to play with. Jeff "Tain" Watts and Christian McBride would be a "dream team" rhythm section for me. There's a lot of players I'd like to work with, but those guys are pretty high on my list.

AAJ: Were the orchestral pieces written with a large ensemble in mind?

MF: I've adapted some of the acoustic guitar pieces I've written which blend jazz and classical influences. They were written as solo guitar pieces, but they're highly adaptable for orchestra. I wrote out all the parts when I worked with the chamber orchestra, which was basically strings and percussion; a fairly small orchestral setting. For a larger scale, I'd like to collaborate with someone. Mary Watkins and I talked about doing something with a socio-political bent, since she's African-American and I'm Jewish, blending our varied histories as peoples and being a real force for healing. There's been some damage between those two communities over the years, and we think there's an opportunity to do some healing on a musical level. So that was another idea, to be broad in scope both artistically and socially.

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