Mimi Fox: A Real Guitar Hero
Mimi Fox was something of a child prodigy, and her fascination for guitar has carried on through her adult life. She began not just playing, but also teaching guitar before she hit her teenage years. Fox is a New York City native, but she has called the Bay Area home for many years. She loves to come back to play here regularly, and now, she is coming to the Iridium and promoting her album Standards, Old and New. Fox shared her experiences with me, and was incredibly happy to have a platform to discuss her art.
Times Square (TS): You started teaching guitar at a very young age?can you tell me about that experience?
Mimi Fox (MF): I was very precocious. I started playing guitar at age nine and guitar at age ten. It's all I did, really. I would go to school, come home, do my homework, and then play guitar until bedtime. I was obsessed! By the time I was eleven, I had learned the Beatles and stuff. People would come to me to learn songs! It was pretty funny, because I was eleven and I had guys who were fifteen and sixteen coming to me to learn.
TS: Who were your musical influences, and how did you become introduced to jazz?
MF: My influences are so wide. I like a broad cross-section of artists and genres. I got introduced to jazz because my parents were very into it. I'm the youngest, and my older brother and sister listened to pop music, but my parents had a lot of jazz recordings. My mom was a songwriter and sang some of the jazz standards. I grew up hearing a large variety of music, which was great. When I was fourteen, I heard John Coltrane's album Giant Steps; tt was so powerful, and that had such a huge impact on me. From there it was a process. I wasn't yet playing jazz guitar. I loved guitar, but I also played drums in the school jazz band. It took me a while to get into jazz guitar because I thought it was really hard (laughs).
TS: You moved from New York City to San Francisco; what prompted that move?
MF: I really wanted to get out of New York. I love New York and I love coming back there, but having grown up there, I was looking for a change of pace. I'm a runner, and being able to run all year versus having frostbitten fingers is great. I was initially interested in classical guitar before I was playing jazz seriously. Then, I was in LA for a few years doing studio work and really didn't enjoy it. I had some friends in San Francisco. I came up here, and it had a wonderful jazz scene in the 80's when I came up here. I love the Bay Area; the weather and people are great. There are a lot of ex-New Yorkers out here, and you can still get a bagel and a New York Times and that's your thing. Again, I love New York and I gig there often. But New York is a tough place to hang your hat. There's a lot going on, especially for a young musician. Not that it isn't tough out here, but you don't have to schlep your amp in the 20-degree weather.
TS: You released Standards, Old and New earlier this year; what was the inspiration for the album?
MF: I've done three different recordings of solo jazz guitar works. I really revere solo jazz guitar; doing a solo guitar record is very challenging. You have to hold all the parts together. In jazz, you're also improvising! It's been a very tumultuous few years for me, personally and professionally. So I tried to pick tunes that moved me through that whole course of my life. It's mostly jazz, but there's also the Beatles and Michael Jackson. People seem to be enjoying it, and it means a lot to me. The litmus test for a song is if it moves me on an emotional level. There are some tunes that are fascinating, but the ones that I picked touch me. I will take heart over perfection any day of the week. When I go to a show, I don't need it to be completely perfect, I need to be moved. I think with any art form, you want to tell a compelling story.
TS: What can fans expect from your upcoming show at The Iridium?
MF: I'm very excited because I've been doing a series of shows with a great friend called Martin Taylor. We met about five years ago at a jazz festival in Wales, and we've always talked about doing projects together, but they never came together. Finally, we've been able to coordinate our two crazy schedules! We're having a blast! We're going to play solo, and then we're going to play some floor-burning duets.
TS: I know you just released the record, but are you also working on any other projects!
MF: I do, actually! I can't talk about them yet because of different grants and such. But I do have several exciting projects that I'm working on, especially several joint projects with other artists. They just have to stay under the table for now.
TS: What does music mean to you?
MF: How much time have ya got? Obviously, as I was saying earlier, I have to play songs that are meaningful. I just feel like from the time I started playing, even before I started and was just listening, music just encapsulated me. I would go to a concert, and it would be a very visceral and emotional experience. Whether I'm listening or playing, it brings out the best in me as a human being. I like to thing that my growth as an artist parallels my development as a human being. I like to think that what I bring to my music is something that can be a force for the world and bring joy to the world. For me, it's a very special thing.