haven’t I heard of her?” I overheard asked just after
Mimi Fox’s memorable, under-the-tent, solo guitar concert
Montreal Jazz Festival. The
air was abuzz with that unmistakable energy and excitement the
deliciously unexpected always generates.
whose relationship with jazz has been on a 3-decades long appreciation
streak, ought to have been more familiar with a guitarist who
on three separate occasions was voted Downbeat’s
“Rising Star of the Year” (2003-4-5), and was cited
by Guitar Player as a “prodigious talent.”
For the record, Mimi Fox has collaborated with the likes of Charlie
Byrd, Charlie Hunter, Stanley Jordan and Kenny Burrell, and her
breakout 2001 album, Standards, continues to impress
both peers and pundits.
the opening notes that at once revealed a loving touch and superb
control, Mimi Fox left no doubt why she has received the highest
praises from the highest places. Her attention to detail and nuance,
without which the standards become standard fare, lent to her
entire playlist a feeling of adventure and discovery. Each song
was recast as a challenge that was answered only when the performer
found her undivided self in the music.
gives Mimi her edge is the hard working on, working out and going
beyond what is invariable in the structure of whatever music she
chooses to renew. In her transitions, there wasn’t a trace
note of haphazard filling in or defaulting to cliches when temptation
raises its over supply of commonplace riffs. Single note embellishments
and passing chords were meticulously shaped until they bled into
the form and feeling of the original music; and when repeated
from one performance to the next, the writer accords them the
respect granted to composition, which Mimi claims all great improvisation
aims toward. As to that sometimes tenuous relationship between
creativity for its own sake and integrity, Mimi Fox left no doubt
that, label and deadlines notwithstanding, she will not enter
any music into the public domain until it is thoroughly soaked
in her DNA.
through her concert, Mimi introduced a fascinating rendition of
the Beatles “She’s Leaving Home,” which, to
this listeners disappointment, did not appear in her latest double
CD, Perpetually Hip. Allowing the highly original and
affecting vocal harmonies of the original to set the tone, Mimi’s
ear-caressing, intricate guitar work produced a multi-layered
tapestry of feelings and textures, the voicings of which perfectly
captured the song’s signature sadness and resignation. Just
as noteworthy was that despite the music’s very settled
and classic feel, Mimi found ways to remind us that whereas spontaneity
is what she’s all about as a guitarist, she will not allow
her facility for improvisation to compromise the hard days' nights
required of significant interpretation and composition.
manner of mixing and matching her writing and improvisational
skills was submitted to the ultimate test in “When the Saints
Go Marching In,” a song I hoped to never hear again in this
lifetime and the next, until Mimi wrapped her axe around it, turning
it inside out and upside town, waiting for it to emerge from the
womb, grow legs and confidently stride into a new dawn –
and with such novelty and invention the listener didn’t
have a clue as to where that erstwhile painfully familiar song
was going next until it got there – and once there, it was
as if it had to be that way.
said by Joe Pass, a man of few words and immortal passing chords,
“She can do it all.”
with Mimi Fox after her under-the-tent concert.
& OPINION: Why do you think so many especially young people
are attracted to mono tonal music, music that doesn't modulate?
And does this make it even more difficult to appreciate your,
by comparison, no frills, complex music?
FOX: People like what they like and there are always valid reasons
for it. But I give concerts and clinics all over the world and
I never fail to encounter young people who appreciate jazz --
and all kinds of music. Naturally, as people mature, their music
vocabularies develop and with it, their appreciation of more
complex music. That's how it was with me growing up in a musical
O: How does the creative process work in your case? Does it
all flash in your head and from there you only have to transpose
it, or do you work with ideas that have to be developed with
FOX: Certain melodies or ideas come to my head which I then
take to the instrument to better flesh them out and develop
them. So by the time I’m ready to play something in public,
the arrangements are fairly set, serving as the ground for my
improvising. But if something exciting suddenly happens, I’ll
improvise a new arrangement right there and then. In other words
there is never any absolute to an interpretation which can vary
to reflect my daily ups and downs and life experiences. The
songs that I played at 20 will sound and even feel different
when played again as a mature adult. That’s why my recordings
are only records of how I felt at that particular moment in
time. It may or may or may not turn out to be the definitive
version of song.
O: I've always suspected that when improvisation is perfect,
there must be desire to want to repeat what can't be improved
upon, but jazz musicians are reluctant to do that because what's
repeated is no longer improvisation. Your comments? And if true,
doesn't that make composition superior than improvisation, though
not necessarily more satisfying as a player?
FOX: Very interesting point you raise. In my case, when improvisation
hits home, it becomes composition because I recognize it for
what it is and feel compelled to preserve it. In this sense
there’s a tendency to turn my very best improvisations
O: What do you find more satisfying as a musician, working out
a new piece or interpretation or performing it?
FOX: Performance. I’m a jazz musician because I love the
freedom jazz offers that allows those incredible moments of
invention to happen. I’m never happier as a musician than
when giving birth to something new and exciting – and
performance is where that usually happens.
O: Is there anything on the guitar that you wish you could do
FOX: I’m a great fan of Lenny Breau and there’s
no one who could play harmonics like Lenny.
O: Is there any music that you were listening to in your 20s
that still resonates today?
FOX: All of it, depending on the sappiness of my mood. For sure
Stevie Wonder, Simon & Garfunkel, and then Coltrane.
O: What is your favourite non-jazz music?
FOX: Improvised music of any sort: klezmer, world music and
also classical and symphonic music
O: Who is your favourite living jazz vocalist?
FOX: Nancy King, heart and soul and lots of swing.
Listen to Mimi's remarkable interpretation of "
When the Saints Go Marching In."