She continued taking every band and chorus class offered throughout elementary, middle and high school. She became the youngest drum major in the history of her high school marching band, and led the band for her junior and senior years, winning numerous awards as best drum major and best marching band, eventually representing the United States to compete in Vienna, Austria.
As a senior in high school, she auditioned and won the 1st chair alto saxophone for the Florida All-State Jazz Band. “That was a defining moment for me. I was pushed musically by the students in the band as well as the band director. I had the time of my life, and this really gave me the push and the confidence to make the decision to go to college for music.”
Mindi spent her first year of college at University of North Florida, a jazz program started by Rich Matteson (North Texas State University). She then transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Woodwind Performance.
During her years at Berklee, Mindi studied with Joe Viola on saxophone. “Week after week I would go into his office and he would say to me, ‘I want you to start your own band. I want you to record your own music. I know you write a lot and you’ve got your own sound. You should go after that. Don’t try to play like your friends; don’t try to play like Coltrane. Don’t try to be Cannonball Adderley or Maceo or Wayne Shorter.’ Those were my heroes at the time. I think that was a nice lesson to learn early on. Be yourself. I started my own band, writing and recording in the studios whenever they’d have free time on the books, which was usually overnight. My teacher Joe actually let me play a concert with my own band for my Senior Recital. That was a huge turning point for me because I had to put together a whole concert, play my own music, and be the leader. I went for the sound that was in my own head, and tried to create my own world around me with that. As far as my approach on saxophone, my sound was everything. I wanted a big sound, and I wanted to convey feeling and emotion as a player and as a writer. I was never the player who strived to play the fastest, loudest, and highest. I wanted listeners to go on a journey with me and feel something by the end of a song.”
After graduation, Mindi moved to Los Angeles, where she began booking her band into clubs and as Abair has said, “anywhere they would let us play”. “When I moved to Los Angeles, I realized that you didn’t just come out and make it in the music business overnight. People had their first call guys that they hired, and you couldn’t just come in and take over. I learned that you have to make your own. And because no one would hire me, I made my own. I did everything from playing on the street to booking myself as a solo saxophonist to playing in lobbies of hotels or strolling around solo at parties, and even playing with a trio, or a duo, hiring people I wanted to play with. I begged my friend from college at Berklee in Boston, Tommy Coster, Jr., to move to LA because I didn‘t know anyone here who would play with me. I promised him I would get us bookings. He moved to LA from Boston, and I did get us bookings...we did the coffee shop circuit and played basically anywhere they would feed us dinner! After that, he helped me get guys to play with us and between us we formed my first band outside of college. I played all the little rocker clubs in Hollywood, and any jazz club or restaurant that would let us in...everyone was playing for free. We moved up slowly to getting paid maybe $30-$50 a night. We definitely paid our dues. We even played on the route of the LA Marathon (for free) just to play. We didn’t say no to any opportunity to get in front of people and play.”
Mindi had a few odd jobs during this time, answering phones for a workers’ compensation insurance company, waitressing, and marketing for a small record label named Brainchild Records. After a month of working for Brainchild records, the owner asked her if she’d go on the road with one of the bands she was marketing, Kilauea. She jumped at the opportunity, and hit the road.
Her touring possibilities expanded even more when John Tesh came to see her band play at Le Café in Sherman Oaks, CA. After the show he hired her to tour with him as his saxophonist for his “Sax By the Fire” CD. “All I ever wanted to be was a solo artist. I wanted to write and play and sing my own music. I made demo after demo and I’d shop them to any record label that would listen. I played everywhere and anywhere I could. I ‘ve been told ‘no’ so many times by so many people. I was told “We don’t need any more saxophone players, we have too many.” I was told “Are you a saxophonist or a singer? You have to choose, because there’s not a market for you to do both.“
Meanwhile, Mindi created her own path. After leaving John Tesh’s band, she struggled to pay the bills. She decided to forgo the usual “day job” approach play her saxophone acapella on the street in Santa Monica, CA. “I was desperate to play, and it wasn’t easy to break into the L.A. music business as a newcomer. I decided to ‘do what I do’, no matter how unglamorous the situation was. It paid the rent for a while!” It didn’t take long for people to recognize her talent and get her “off the street”. Jazz veteran Bobby Lyle took her card as he walked by one day and hired her to record on his “Power of Touch” CD and tour with him.
That led to the start of an impressive career as a sideperson. Mindi joined Jonathan Butler’s band, and on her off time from his tour, really started to hit the LA music scene playing with her own solo band as well as many others. She toured with many people during this period, including Rick Braun, Teena Marie, and even some local clubs with friend Keb’ Mo’. She was featured on saxophone in the Go West video “Tell Me”. And in 1996, Abair hit the road with Adam Sandler as a saxophonist and singer for his summer tour, appeared in his HBO Special, and recorded on his platinum CD “What’s Your Name?”. She played the saxophone solo on the famous football anthem “The Lonesome Kicker”.
In 1999, Mindi joined the Backstreet Boys for their Millennium World Tour, She spent the next year and a half as their saxophonist, keyboardist and percussionist, instantly becoming a role model to millions of young girls across the world. “Being on the road with the Backstreet Boys was such a life experience for me. Every time they changed clothes I got to run around the stage and play an extended sax solo. I really got to open up and explore who I was as a player and perform on a huge level every night.”
One of the opening acts for the Backstreet Boys was Mandy Moore, and as one of the only girls out on the road with a huge traveling tour, Mindi befriended Mandy, so when the time came for her to start her own live band, Mindi put it together for her. She was the musical director, keyboardist, background singer and percussionist for Mandy Moore for many television appearances and shows.
On her off time from touring, Mindi was completing her first complete solo record. She called her best friend from college, Matthew Hager, to cowrite the songs, and it turned out to be a long lasting musical partnership. Between flights and odd cities, Mindi recorded in Matthew’s extra bedroom on a Tascam 8 track. All her friends and band members pitched in and played, and Mindi released it on her website, selling thousands of copies as an indie artist. “I was so influenced by this great pop music I was surrounded with. I’m a saxophone player first and foremost, but it was great to expand my horizons for this recording and write and record lyrics. I really opened up and thought differently about the music I was making. I had played in clubs for years thinking about what I was going to play over the changes in a song….what I was going to say as an instrumentalist. I opened up and grew to thinking that way as a lyricist and singer.”
On a break from the Backstreet Boys tour, Bud Harner, A&R for Verve Records, saw Mindi perform with Jonathan Butler at a New Year’s Eve show. He approached Mindi and gave her his card and said “If you ever want to make a record, give me a call”. Mindi made that call as her tour with the Backstreet Boys and Mandy Moore came to an end. Once again, she called on her friend Matthew Hager, to co-write with her and produce, and ultimately talked Verve Records into taking a chance with her own songs and her original sound.
Her 2003 debut major label release on Verve Records, It Just Happens That Way, debuted in the Top 5 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and remained in the Top 10 for 19 consecutive weeks. The hit single “Lucy’s,” was # 1 on the airplay charts for a record-breaking eight weeks and Abair was hailed for leading a new movement in contemporary music. Abair set sonic trends and broke all the boundaries as she defined the less traditional future of jazz. She infused acoustic guitar and pop/rock sensibilities of the day with saxophone, and created a genre all her own with pop vocals mixed with strong saxophone melodies and soul and rock rhythms. Jazz Week named "It Just Happens That Way” the # 1 most played Contemporary Jazz CD of 2003.
That year, Mindi recorded on saxophone with Lee Ritenour on “A Twist of Motown” and as a vocalist with Jeff Golub on “Soul Sessions”. In December, she joined guitarist Peter White for a Christmas tour of the US, which would turn into a long musical relationship.
Her 2004 follow-up disc Come As You Are — which dug into deeper emotional and stylistic territory while spawning two more hit singles “Come As You Are” and “Make A Wish”— kept the momentum jetting skyward. Her song “I Can Remember” was featured in Aaron Spelling’s hit “Summerland”, and her song “Every Time” was featured in the Robin Williams/Mandy Moore movie “License to Wed”. Her video was featured on Panasonic’s jumbotron in Times Square, and she and her music were featured in a Women in Jazz concert for the Grammy Foundation. Mindi hit the road once again, this time opening for Josh Groban on his sold-out summer tour . “I was a fan the moment I saw a tape of one of her concerts. Her ability to connect with the crowd and appeal to jazz fans as well as those who aren’t as familiar with her, makes her such an exciting artist, and I was thrilled to have her as a guest on my tour”. –Josh Groban
She recorded saxophone for two tracks on Keb’ Mo’s “Peace Back By Popular Demand” and was featured as a solo artist on “Forever For Always For Luther”, nominated for a Grammy later that year. She contributed two tracks on saxophone to Peter White’s record “Glow”. She was also featured on the Drew Carey Show, HGTV Ground Rules and Emeril Live.
That fall, Mindi recorded and released two Christmas songs, and her recording of her original Christmas “I Can’t Wait for Christmas” (featuring Mindi on both vocals and saxophone) was included on the Bath and Body Works and Pier One Christmas CDs selling almost 1 million copies, and making the song a perennial pop holiday favorite.
In April 2005, Mindi was married to Jason Steele in Sanibel Island, Florida. After that, Abair joined pop icons Duran Duran for a handful of dates on their comeback to America tour; John Taylor from the band co-wrote and played on the title track to It Just Happens That Way, sang with Abair on her cover of “Save Tonight”, and would continue to write and record with her, making an appearance on her “Life Less Ordinary” CD as well. In 2006, her third Verve Records release “Life Less Ordinary” debuted # 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and remained in the top 20 for 45 weeks. Her songs “True Blue” and “Bloom” hit # 1 on R&R.
“I sincerely believe that we are all the sum of our musical experiences, and every person I played with along the way affects the music I make now,” she says. “I didn’t know that this would happen when I started out, but suddenly I had this really cool, diverse resume and it made total sense. I grew up listening to so many different kinds of music. It should reflect on who I am now as a writer and player. It’s a very honest portrayal of who I am and what I’ve lived up to this point. Abair says, “The title comes from my feeling that a record should be a snapshot of where you are in your life at a specific time. This year was nothing less than extraordinary, and I think the music reflects that.” Abair’s own words from the CD liner notes convey this sentiment perfectly. “Life continues for me less ordinary, from unexpected hurricanes, to the similar unexpected power of love, to the passing of idols and friends to the new beginnings of families, from feeling on top of the world to feeling far away from it, to growing and learning and having fun through it all there is nothing ordinary about any of it. This music represents my journey over the last year, in a life less ordinary.” In April 2007, Mindi began hosting “Chill With Mindi Abair”, an internationally syndicated radio show featuring chill music from across the globe. And after 5 successful years of touring with guitarist Peter White and trumpeter Rick Braun for Christmas, she recorded a Christmas CD “A Peter White Christmas” featuring Rick Braun and Mindi Abair. Two of her original Christmas songs were included, which she sings and plays saxophone on, “The Best Part of Christmas” and “I Can’t Wait for Christmas”.
In 2008, Mindi signed to Concord Records and released her first 50/50 saxophone/vocal album “Stars”. Abair’s lively and aggressive, full-scale immersion in the pop/rock singer/songwriter world on Stars is not a departure, but rather a natural extension of the high profile success she’s had with many of her previous vocal songs. This record continued where the others left off, and broke all the usual genre barriers, with her vocal single “Stars” charting # 29 Adult Contemporary R&R simultaneously with her instrumental single “Smile” hitting top ten on the R&R jazz airplay charts.
Abair’s ultimate goal on Stars is to bring light to the darkness, an unapologetic, optimistic sense of hope and idealism. Case in point: the lilting folk/pop tune “Change” reminds us that change is the one thing we can count on, and also the con- cept that can bring us all together. On the powerful first single and title track, she looks to the “Stars” as a connective thread between lovers who are far apart in physical distance. The Elton John influenced and piano-driven “On and On” reflects wistfully on the innocence of her small town youth (in St. Petersburg, Florida) and the way music has become an integral spiritual part of so many people’s lives. Abair’s heartfelt “I Wonder” could very well be her generation’s twist on John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a song that finds her contemplating a world in which people actually do love one another, offer hope to each other and treat others as they wished to be treated. “Here For You” is an uplifting, autobiographical old school soul/blues ballad that chronicles her incredible years long friendship with her longtime collaborator/producer Matthew Hager.
Saxophonist/Singer/Songwriter Mindi Abair has not only set sonic trends, but has broken all the boundaries as she continues to define the less traditional future of jazz. Her own brand of soul and pop meets jazz adds a refreshingly unique voice to an exciting new generation of crossover artists who are, like her, powerful instrumentalists as well as thought-provoking singer/songwriters. This performer’s unique hybrid sound ...a mix of cool vulnerability and utter conviction …have brought her to the top of her game.
Her 2010 Concord Records release “Mindi Abair in Hi Fi Stereo” is a collection of songs inspired from listening to her friends’ old vinyl collections. “We’d sit around for hours and just flip through music. My friend Wayne Rodrigues had walls of records. He had it all. Before we’d write every day, we’d pull out records and just listen and get inspired. We listened to old Ramsey Lewis and Bob James, Watts 103rd Street Band, Archie Bell and the Drells, Junior Walker, King Curtis… I could go on and on. These records inspired me to write a record that had that vibe to it. I wanted it to be real and unaffected. I wanted it to be fun and feel good. And I wanted the listener to feel as if he or she was right there in the room with us as we were recording. It was a fun record to make. Writing the songs was great…We’d know we ‘had it’ when we’d be dancing around to our song by the end of the day. So when we got down to recording it, it was all about the whole band being in the room and contributing to the big picture. We were all in it together, and we used all of our strengths to make the most of each song.
Mindi is a spokesperson for PRVCY Jeans, a company that gives 10% of it’s proceeds to fight breast cancer. www.prvcypremium.com/ Mindi’s first single from her 2010 release “Mindi Abair in Hi Fi Stereo” is also the first single from the PRVCY “United We Cure” CD, featuring artists like Lalah Hathaway, Rahsaan Patterson, Hill St. Soul, Brian Culbertson and Wayman Tisdale.
Mindi is very involved with the Grammy Foundation and GRAMMY in the schools www.grammyintheschools.com/ and is an Artist Ambassador for the Campbell’s Soup Labels for Education program, visiting schools and sharing her knowledge and experience with the kids in music programs around America.
“Mindi Abair is # 1 for her original sound, perfect melodies, grooves and overall sense of fun." - Jazziz magazine
"Captivating...a distinctive sound and memorable melodies. Let’s put it this way….Abair’s one Apple commercial away from superstardom.”- Jazz Times
“I was a fan the moment I saw a tape of one of her concerts. Her ability to connect with the crowd and appeal to jazz fans as well as those who aren’t as familiar with her, makes her such an exciting artist, and I was thrilled to have her as a guest on my tour”. –Josh Groban
“Mindi is unique. Listen to her new album ‘Stars’, a genre-busting, breathtaking combination of contemporary jazz and Top 40 torch songs. It will be love at first listen.” - John Taylor (Duran Duran)
Mindi Abair’s saxophone speaks to all of our souls. Do yourself a favor and check out Mindi Abair’s music. You’ll be happy you did. – Keb’ Mo’
“There‘s a time and place for everything...this is Mindi‘s time and place!” - Michael Tozzi (PD WJJZ/Philadelphia)
“Striking the right chord with skill and style”, LA Times
She has become an important figure … not only because of her talent but because of the youthful energy and artistic innovation. – Pat Prescott (Morning Show Host KTWV The Wave Los Angeles)