Mindi Abair, a two-time Grammy-nominated saxophonist, is returning to the desert to play in another Desert Lexus Jazz on Saturday, May 7, 2016. She took some time to speak with the Indian Wells Tennis Garden about her experiences in Indian Wells, what inspired her to pick up a saxophone, and performing with Bruce Springsteen. Tickets for the upcoming show are still available.
Could you talk about your past experiences at Desert Lexus Jazz and what Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers will bring to the 2016 edition?
I’ve done Desert Lexus Jazz for so many years. The last time I was there was with Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot for “Summer Horns” and that was a big tribute to horn bands like Tower of Power, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Before that I came with David Pack, lead singer of Ambrosia, and my good friend Jeff Golub, who unfortunately passed away recently. I just love coming to the desert. It’s a place where people want to party, and this year I’m with The Boneshakers. The Boneshakers is a mix of blues, rock and just high energy. It’s a blast, and it should be an amazing show.
You alluded to your work with Dave Koz and Friends for Summer Horns, which was nominated for a Grammy. Following Summer Horns was your Grammy nominated solo album Wild Heart. Could you talk about those experiences and having back-to-back Grammy nominated records?
As a musician, you sit in a practice room for years and try to be as good as you can and put together inspiring records. But to get a Grammy nomination is above and beyond what I could ever expect. I always try to push myself to write better songs, but to get the nomination with my friends Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot – we were a team. It was so much fun to go to the Grammy’s – we felt like Reservoir Dogs! We lost, but we lost to Herb Alpert so how can you complain? So next year when I put out Wild Heart, and it was nominated for best Contemporary Instrumental Record, I was over the moon. My first nomination came with my friends, but this record was all songs that I wrote and produced and put together. It was really fun to soak that in, something that I did on my own. It was quite a high for me.
You’ve toured with Aerosmith, shared the same stage with Bruce Springsteen and countless other amazing musicians. Do you have a favorite performance or moment from your career?
Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald, who is putting on this show, introduced me to Max Weinberg, who played drums in Springsteen’s band for 40 years. And I’m just such a huge fan. I know every note to every Clarence Clemons solo. Most sax players want to be Coltrane but I wanted to be Clemons. So Fitz called after Clarence died, and he asked if I wanted to come play saxophone with Max Weinberg. I came down and it was awkward, magical and the beginning of a great friendship with Max Weinberg. One of the most incredible moments of my career was playing with Bruce Springsteen and Max at the Beacon Theater in New York. It was amazing, and I couldn’t ask for more.
When did you start playing the saxophone, and when did you know that you wanted to make a career playing music?
All of it happened pretty naturally. My mom doesn’t do music, but my Dad played saxophone, keyboards and bass, and his mother was an opera singer. I grew up on the road with my Dad’s band, and I was just always around music. So when I got into school and had band class, I picked up the sax because my Dad played and looked like he had so much fun. So I’ve taken it way too far [laughter]. I’ve just always had fun, and it seemed like what I wanted to do.
Brian Culbertson, who will also perform as Desert Lexus Jazz, has released over a dozen albums and is currently working on another titled “Funk!” Could you talk about Brian and what he brings to Desert Lexus Jazz?
I’ve known Brian forever. We’ve done countless festivals together. He’s extremely talented, produces his own music and writes a lot. He’s just an amazing guy. He always puts on the big show. You will get a lot of blues, rock and soul from my band, and then Brian will bring you into the funk from his band. His band is really fun, and I don’t think you can ask for a more energetic evening.