Mindi Abair: Game Changer

Trish Richardson By

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Was she able to envision her life as big and as cool as the one she is now living? "I always loved the rock band. I didn't grow up thinking I wanted to be Charlie Parker. I didn't even know who Charlie Parker was until I was in college. I grew up watching MTV. I wanted to be Tina Turner. I wanted to be out there dancing and screaming and singing. I wanted to be in the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith or Springsteen. Those were the bands that I really loved to watch. I loved that energy. I loved the visual of it. I told Joe Perry when I joined the band, 'This may sound weird, but I learned how to work a saxophone from watching you work a guitar.' He's like a gunslinger. It's part of him. It rolls around with him. He's kind of like a cowboy with it. I wanted to be that with the saxophone. I didn't want to be Sonny Rollins, I wanted to be Joe Perry with a saxophone."

Another dream in the back of Abair's mind had been to do something on a professional level with her passion for fashion. She found a way to merge the world of music and the world of fashion with her latest venture, Mindi Abair Jewelry.

The dream unexpectedly came to fruition one night after a show in New York when celebrity jewelry designer Carrie Dawes approached Abair about the two creating a jewelry line together.

Dawes liked what Abair was wearing and her personal style, so she asked Abair if the saxophonist would like to start a fashion jewelry line. Typical Abair, she said absolutely. Yet Abair quickly told Dawes, "I don't really know where to start with that, I know music." Fortunately Dawes did. Abair describes the line, "It's fine jewelry, but it's definitely not your mom's fine jewelry." (Unless your mom is incredibly stylish and cool, of course!) Abair continues, "It's really fun stuff—a little edgy, but still really pretty." (Words that could aptly describe the jewelry line's namesake.)

Never far from her mind, Abair thought about her first love, her music, while designing it. According to Abair, "I drew from my sense of style, yet wanted the line to be practical for me as a saxophonist and performer. I like a little rock n' roll in fashion, and I wanted a line of jewelry that rocked. I needed it to work onstage, though, and be practical with how physical I get performing. So the rings are big, but light. And even the knuckle rings move easily. They're all so comfortable. The bracelets are tight to my arm so they don't hang into the sax keys. And the necklaces work around my sax strap and where it hits me. I even have arm bands coming out. I've been testing them on the road!"

Which piece is her favorite, so far? "Probably the hand jewelry piece that I wore to the Grammys. It's stunning to me—all triangles hooked together that climb from a ring all the way to where it attaches up the hand as a bracelet."

Have her fans embraced the idea of Abair as a jewelry designer? "I've actually had a couple of people come to show wearing the jewelry! They had bought it off the website. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's my jewelry. Cool!' I almost jumped out of my skin!"

Growing up, Abair never found the competiveness of sports appealing. "I wasn't a sports girl, I was definitely a music girl. It seemed like catching a ball was much harder than playing a musical instrument." Yet she manages to quench her competitive thirst while onstage. For example during the Summer Horns tour, no one was aware of the onstage competition between Abair and saxophonists Dave Koz and Gerald Albright, when they would back up saxophonist Richard Elliot. She recalls, "There was one point where we all held out a note, very soft. We all held it out to see how long we could hold it out and who would win every night. I would win every night and they would all curse me!"

What is her secret? How is she able to physically play that hard and then have a conversation with the audience? Simple. "No one told me it was hard."

As someone who has literally wrote the book on how to be comfortable while performing ( How To Play Madison Square Garden: A Guide To Stage Performance , Not More Saxophone Music, Inc., 2011) Abair admits to still having occasional stage fright, most recently playing a gig at the Grand Ole' Opry earlier this year. "I was in Nashville and my friend Pete Fisher, who runs the Grand Ole Opry, (27.10) said, 'I think it would be really cool for you to come down and just play a song.' I was like, 'At the Opry ? Well, OK.'

"It was a daunting thing for me. Playing the Grand Ole' Opry is like playing Madison Square Garden, in my mind. It's huge. The history that's there, all of it. It's really unbelievably huge. Just getting there and seeing it. There was a magic there.



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Mindi Abair
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