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Spotlights [Issue # 20 ]
Mimi Fox: Perpetually Hip

By Scott Yanow

A top jazz guitarist based in San Francisco, Mimi Fox recently came out with a two-CD set, Perpetually Hip, on the Favored Nations label. One disc features her fluent, creative guitar in a quartet with pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Harvie S., and drummer Billy Hart, while the second CD is a set of unaccompanied guitar solos, some of which recall the brilliant virtuosity of Joe Pass, one of Ms. Fox’s early inspirations.

“I have long felt that I have two different sides to my musical personality,” says the guitarist, “a solo voice and a group voice. Steve Vai, the president and CEO of Favored Nations, has been very supportive of my playing. A double-CD seemed like the logical move at this point.  Perpetually Hip came together pretty fast. One of my friends was kind enough to set me up with a home studio where I could record my stuff whenever I wanted. I recorded my solo guitar at home at my leisure but nearly every performance ended up being the first or second take anyway. The first or second attempts usually have most of the magic rather than trying to make something ‘perfect’ that ends up sounding lifeless. For the quartet numbers, I had wanted to record with Harvie S., who I work with as a duo fairly often even though we live on different coasts. I’ve admired Billy Hart’s drumming over the years and Harvie recommended Xavier Davis. I flew to New York, we went in the studio and nailed the music quickly.”

The quartet performances mix together originals (including the catchy “Perpetually Hip” which is dedicated to the much-beloved publicist, Merilee Trost) and standards such as a cooking “The Song Is You,” a samba version of “Alone Together,” and a sensitive interpretation of “So Many Stars.” Six standards are explored on the solo half of the twofer including “Caravan,” “Alone Together,” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.” “It is ironic that ‘The Saints’ is on the set because I actually recorded it before Hurricane Katrina happened. It became sadly poignant that this CD came out after Katrina, so I’m giving a portion of my sales to different recovery efforts in New Orleans, which seems like the right thing to do.”

Long one of the top guitarists living in Northern California, Mimi Fox was born and raised in New York, starting off as a drummer.  “My dad had all of these old Dixieland records and I used to play along, also playing drums in school bands. My mother sang professionally until I was 12 or 13, so I used to hear the great American songbook as a kid. I started on the guitar when I was ten, listening to the pop and folk stuff of the era. By a fluke I got ahold of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps recording when I was 14, which blew my mind.  A few years later, I saw McCoy Tyner play in concert. Those were transforming experiences. I always felt that jazz was something special, but it was not until I moved to San Francisco in 1979 and started studying jazz guitar with Bruce Forman that I became really serious about it.”

She developed quickly and since that time has recorded regularly as a leader, including for Monarch (Turtle Logic and Kicks), Origin (Standards and as a sideperson with saxophonist Don Lanphere and singer Greta Matassa) and Favored Nations (She’s The Woman). She has also worked in a variety of settings including with the singers of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra (where she functioned as an orchestra behind their voices), sharing guitar nights with the late Charlie Byrd, working with organist Joey DeFrancesco and playing duets with Harvie S.
Although Mimi Fox has performed all over the world, she loves living in San Francisco. “The weather in San Francisco is very amenable to hiking, biking, and being outdoors. I also am the chair of the guitar department at the jazz school at Berkeley. I enjoy teaching and care about my students. I do go back to New York often for gigs and am also teaching at NYU this summer.”

For the future, the guitarist is particularly interested in developing her compositional skills. “I have been writing large ensemble works recently including a sweeping piece about my great experiences in Japan back in 2000. I am getting more creative harmonically and rhythmically and it’s fun. Of course I want to also keep on developing as a solo artist in addition to my composing.”

With the release of Perpetually Hip, Mimi Fox has recorded one of her best all-round sets, a perfect introduction for listeners who should be very much aware of her distinctive, swinging, and creative guitar playing.

Perpetually Hip
Favored Nations Cool

Perpetually Hip Mimi Fox Perpetually Hip

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