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Mindi Abair: Game Changer

Trish Richardson By

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When asked to compare Springsteen and Abair, since Weinberg has played beside them both, how would he compare the two? "I wouldn't necessarily compare them," he responded. "What I get [from both Bruce and Mindi] is that they both take their fun very seriously. And when you dissect that phrase, it's about having fun, but it's not an excuse to be sloppy and party, although it is a party. So she brings that same kind of enthusiasm that I see in Bruce. Completely fearless in front of an audience, which he is, and what I have noticed about her. That's a hard quality to get. If I am speaking about Mindi and Bruce in the same sentence, it's their professionalism, their dedication and that idea that we are going to take our fun very seriously."

What quality of Abair's does Weinberg most admire? "Her work ethic. She works hard and keeps going, in various areas. She just keeps going and that is sort of the key to success in any field. Don't stop. Sometimes individuals in bands or bands as a whole, sometimes they can be their own worst enemy. And Mindi's not. Mindi just keeps going."

The drummer continues, "If you ask her to do a gig with you, she's there for you. When she does her own gig, she is very generous with showing the audience what her band or the people she is playing with can do. She is a great performer on stage. She is beautiful. She sings fantastically. She really does kind of have it all."

Besides playing incredible lead sax, Abair's double threat (although it wouldn't be all that surprising to find out that she has some hidden dance moves as well!) includes soulful vocals, which although she wasn't all that certain about at first, she has incorporated more of in recent years.

Abair says, "I think I was hesitant to add too many vocals to my set early on because I knew people knew me as a saxophonist primarily. I didn't want to shake them up too much. But now I just don't care. You know what? You are going to like this music. It's gonna be cool. Just go along for the ride with me. Buckle up. I swear you are going to have a good time. Because I am! Let's not think too much about this."

Her latest record, Wild Heart , has four vocals on it. "I've been really loving getting those vocals out there. They've been fun songs to sing live. They're up, they're fun. I think they add a lot to the show. They add a lot of depth and the possibility for a journey into the show."

Abair's life seems to be blessed with her ability to snowball one gig into another that-much-more-fun one. Like playing onstage at the Newport Jazz Festival. Or making a supposed one-time appearance on American Idol . One of the judges happened to be vocalist Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, when Abair made her first appearance in a duet with contestant Paul McDonald in 2011. Tyler was quoted as saying to McDonald after his duet with Abair, "Forget you, who's your saxophonist?"

The gig on American Idol turned into Abair making another appearance on the show's finale. Abair recalls that hectic morning and an unexpected turn of events. "It was the last day of American Idol , the last finale for American Idol . I wasn't hired to play. I was home in bed, checking my email and I get this call at ten in the morning from the producer of American Idol . 'Get down here. As soon as possible, get down here. You're on the show.'

I was like, 'OK. Don't you tape in a couple of hours?'

'Yup, get down here.'

I get up, I have no make-up on. I'm putting stuff together. And I get another call, about five minutes later. 'OK. We need you down here, bring all of your horns. All of them.'

I'm like, 'What am I playing?'

'I don't know. Just bring everything and you need to be here now.'

'I'm trying. Believe me. OK. I'm going, I'm going.'"

Trying her best to get to the set on time, Abair gets yet another phone call. "I pick up the phone and it's Steven Tyler. Unmistakable voice. He's like, 'Mindi. Steven Tyler.'

"And I was like, 'Hey?' I was thinking, oh my gosh, is he calling me to get me down there to do the show?

"He's like, 'We've got to do this. It's time.'

'What are we doing?'

'It's time to play, man. We've got to make this happen.'

I'm like, What are you talking about?

He said, 'Come to my trailer. We've got to do this.'

"I have no idea what was going on. I'm just being slapped in the face by American Idol then I get a call from Steven. I'm like what is going on?"

Finally Abair gets to the Idol set and finds out she will be playing on the last show. Afterwards, she gets whisked into Tyler's trailer and according to Abair, "He's right up in my face and he starts singing. Then he turns on the new Aerosmith record and starts playing it for me. I was like, 'This is great! Wow!' Yet she still had no idea what the iconic vocalist wanted from her.

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Aug14Wed
Mindi Abair
City Winery
Atlanta, GA
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Mindi Abair
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