Sometimes even Mindi Abair can’t quite comprehend that she’s 21 years into a successful career as a musician and recording artist. And that she’s still going strong.
Mindi Abair is a St. Petersburg native, a 1987 graduate of Northside Christian School. She’s also the world’s best-known woman saxophone player, whose horn travels with her from melodic contemporary jazz to pop and rock ‘n’ roll to down ‘n’ dirty, gutbucket blues.
She returns to the ol’ hometown Saturday, for a socially-distanced show at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater. Guitarist Bernie Williams – the one-time Yankees baseball great – opens.
Tickets are available here.
The show – featuring Abair and a four-piece, all-Florida band – is a celebration of the just-released The Best of Mindi Abair, a curated compilation of those first two-plus decades.
“I never thought about doing that,” Abair tells the Catalyst. “But once the pandemic hit, boy you have time to sit and go through your sock drawer. Find out what’s been in your closet.”
Assembling her “greatest hits,” she says, was cathartic.
“I started delving in, and I was looking for stuff that maybe people had never heard – or radio edits, that’s the way that people really fell in love with some songs, like ‘Lucy’s,’ my first single. There’s something about listening to the songs the way that you originally hear them.
“I had fun with that. And I had time to sit and write liner notes, and tell my story through the songs. Each song weaves the journey of where I’ve been, and how I’ve lived my life, and the decisions I’ve made.
“This record takes the journey and shows the arc of my career: It started off with a vocal record that was very pop/rock, and it went contemporary jazz, and then it went blues/rock – and I’m back to contemporary jazz with a brand-new song, ‘April.’”
“April,” as it turns out, was recorded about a year ago for a yet-to-be-issued solo album – without her regular band, the Boneshakers.
The album – which features guest appearances from the likes of Steve Perry and Kenny Wayne Shepherd – was freshly in the can when the pandemic settled in.
“We all finished the record and came home,” Abair says. “And I watched my entire year go away, every gig we had on the books was canceled. And we had an amazing year scheduled. We were going everywhere, it was so exciting. We were playing the Hollywood Bowl. We were going overseas to Spain and Italy – and it all went away.”
A restless sort, she was not content to stay idle and isolated for long. “So I decided look, I’m a musician, I play, so I’m going to go out on my porch and I’m going to play.”
The result: 43 episodes (and counting) of Wine + Music Sessions From the Porch, recorded live on the front porch of the California home Abair shares with her husband, wine expert Eric Guerra.
“At first it was just me,” she explains. “It was me sitting at the piano, or me playing a capella saxophone, and drinking. Then it was safe enough to kind of have someone come over. I’d have one other person come to the porch – Dave Koz came over, Bill Champlin, Jim Peterik did a couple of songs, Peter White who I’ve toured with for Christmas for a long time; Casey Abrams – we met doing American Idol – he brought his upright bass. He was awesome.”
Abair and Guerra, the author of When Great Wine Is Not Enough – A Wine Sales & Marketing Guide For Wineries, Négotiants & Wine Brand Owners, began the Reserve Tastings Wine Company, combining small-lot, luxury wines with music and original label artwork.
In August, she played her first show in six months, part of the Ruth Eckerd Hall lobby-concert series, with cabaret tables, and a mask-wearing audience, spaced far apart.
“It’s been fun to kind of pivot, and make music, and do what you can, you know?” says Abair. “But boy, I just miss seeing people eye-to-eye. I miss that energy, that palpable energy and conversation you have with an audience as you play. So I’m looking forward to getting back into real life.”
Bernie Williams is a longtime pal, and, Abair promises, he’ll sit in with her during Saturday’s performance. “He’ll come and sit in with us when we’re near New York. We keep track of each other, and if we’re near the same place we’ll usually come play.
“It’s fun to see people eyes light up – they don’t expect him to be a guitar player. They expect him to be a baseball player who plays a little guitar. It’s fun to see people freak out.”
Come April 9 she’ll be back in Southern California, playing a full virtual concert with her band from an L.A. studio.
This Clearwater show is part of a short “ramp-up” Florida series before the big event.
“It makes sense in absolutely every way,” Abair gushes. “Any excuse to come home is great. But to come home to Florida after having my wings clipped for so long, staying in one place, to come home and release my record to friends and family – that’s amazing.”