Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 7, No. 1, 2008

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Robert J. Lewis
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Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
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Coral Egan
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Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
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Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel

2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101 (featuring David Binney) Montreal Jazz Festival 2006 EMI Classics







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: MIMI FOX

“Why haven’t I heard of her?” I overheard asked just after Mimi Fox’s memorable, under-the-tent, solo guitar concert at 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival. The air was abuzz with that unmistakable energy and excitement the deliciously unexpected always generates.

Montrealers, 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.

From 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.

What 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.

Midway 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.

Her unique 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.

Best said by Joe Pass, a man of few words and immortal passing chords, “She can do it all.”


I spoke with Mimi Fox after her under-the-tent concert.

ARTS & 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?

MIMI 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 family.

A & 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 your instrument?

MIMI 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.

A & 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?

MIMI 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 into composition.

A & O: What do you find more satisfying as a musician, working out a new piece or interpretation or performing it?

MIMI 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.

A & O: Is there anything on the guitar that you wish you could do but can't?

MIMI FOX: I’m a great fan of Lenny Breau and there’s no one who could play harmonics like Lenny.

A & O: Is there any music that you were listening to in your 20s that still resonates today?

MIMI FOX: All of it, depending on the sappiness of my mood. For sure Stevie Wonder, Simon & Garfunkel, and then Coltrane.

A & O: What is your favourite non-jazz music?

MIMI FOX: Improvised music of any sort: klezmer, world music and also classical and symphonic music

A & O: Who is your favourite living jazz vocalist?

MIMI FOX: Nancy King, heart and soul and lots of swing.

Listen to Mimi's remarkable interpretation of " When the Saints Go Marching In."


John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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