Mimi Fox has called Northern California her home since 1980, but the New York-born guitarist still has a special place in her heart for the Big Apple. "I love the vivacity, intensity and energy. There's a straightforwardness that I really miss, it feels honest and real, it's not artifice and BS. I love that you can buy a New York Times without the guy selling it telling you to have a nice day—sometimes I don't want to have a nice day, I don't want the interaction," she declares, with just the right touch of old-school New Yorker attitude. Mimi is happy to get to town often enough to "absorb a big dose of culture. I soak it up like a sponge."
The guitarist views jazz as "a big umbrella, there are so many types and so many ways to go." She has explored many avenues, from symphonic to solo, leading her own bands and also performing with an eclectic mix of greats that includes Abbey Lincoln, Joey DeFrancesco, Terri Lyne Carrington, Stevie Wonder and fellow guitarists such as Charlie Byrd and Charlie Hunter.
Mimi started playing drums at age 9, and picked up the guitar a year later. "I still play drums, but not at the level I would like. That still informs a lot of my music. Some really great drummers say they like playing with me because of the rhythmic twists in my music," she says. "In jazz, having strong foundational rhythm and understanding of polyrhythms impacts every aspect of music. It gives me great internal time and the confidence to do what I want."
Her latest project, the brand-new release This Bird Still Flies (Origin), consists of a mix of originals, standards and even a couple of Beatles tunes mostly played on solo acoustic guitar. Mimi wrote the title track as a "testament to resilience" after enduring a year that included a difficult breakup and treatment for breast cancer. "I've been a complete health nut my entire life, a runner, a 40-year vegan, nondrinker, nonsmoker, and I still ended up with breast cancer," she muses, recalling the stunning diagnosis. "At the time, I thought Man, how am I going to make it through this?"
Music proved an important tool for healing. "As we go through different things in life, we find a way to get through them and turn it into something good; artists and musicians do that. I'm glad to be a composer. From that horrible low I was able to channel my emotions into music, that's a great gift. That's a human being's ultimate existential choice—to let things crush you or dig to a reservoir of strength."
Fast-forward seven years: "I'm cancer-free, I've been married for five years, my career is great. I feel so lucky," the guitarist declares.
Mimi celebrates the release of This Bird Still Flies at The Iridium March 19-20, with fellow six-string star Andy Timmons. Expect solo turns from each guitarist, as well as duets, and a special focus on material from Mimi's new CD. "There'll be some standards, originals, some guitar geek kind of thing. Between us there is no type of music we don't cover," Mimi notes. "It's always a fun hang with Andy. He's a great all-around musician, and his jazz playing is really hip."