In a solo acoustic album you have to carry it all: melody, harmony, funk, soul and heart. Guitarist Mimi Fox’s new album “This Bird Still Flies” takes us to the sun and back, embroidering the journey with masterful intuition. You can hear her flamenco roots coming through the joy-filled cover of “Blue Bossa.” “Textures of Loving” is an excursion across emotion with shadowy bass-y depths, highs from up on the fretboard and the occasional light touch of harmonics, lending a sense of the full range of human pathos. Pulsing with the blues, “Against the Grain” rolls fast like a locomotive. Fox’s retooling of “America the Beautiful” proves that old standards we typically and dismissively shove into a box of nostalgia can become so very pretty and hopeful. In the title track “This Bird Still Flies,” she gives her all in painting with a full palette and also shows a keen sense of invention with chord changes that make beautiful sense.
Love and appreciate the title of your new CD “This Bird Still Flies.” Did you draw inspiration from “Norwegian Wood”?
Actually, has nothing to do with the Beatles song. It is autobiographical. Coming off a very challenging year. It is about resilience.
Why do you feel guitar suits you and allows you to express yourself best?
I love everything about the guitar… I felt this way from the moment I started playing at 10 years old. I love the immediacy of making music as my fingers touch the strings and I love the resonance of the guitar against my body. And then of course there is the sound which to my ears is most majestic.
Talk about acoustic vs. electric in jazz. What guitar do you prefer for which types of compositions?
I love the various qualities/aspects of many different guitars and each one has its unique flavor. My new CD is all acoustic but I have always performed at least one or two pieces (on acoustic guitar) on every album that I have recorded.
My first loves were folk music and classical/flamenco guitar which of course are played on an acoustic. I also love my signature model hollow body electric from Heritage guitars. This is great for straight-ahead jazz and blues which I also love and have devoted the better part of four decades studying/playing. The electric guitar works well when playing with a trio with drums. The acoustic guitar is really nice for solo playing. But I do mix and match sometimes for variety.
Do you write music around an idea, a melody, or a rhythm?
All of my compositions are based on an emotion/person/place/experience that I have had. I funnel all of my jazz/compositional knowledge into the heart of my music. This is not to say that some of my pieces may not be angular or have deeply cerebral aspects.… but for me everything I write also has to have a visceral/emotional impact on me (and hopefully the audience) to be valid.
Who are your guitar heroes?
Classical/flamenco artists Julian Bream and Manitas de Plata as well as jazz guitarists Joe Pass, Bruce Forman and Wes Montgomery.
And your jazz heroes?
They include John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Mary Lou Williams, Betty Carter, Tania Maria and scores of others.
How would you compare your evolution as a musician from your early CDs to today?
I am always pushing myself creatively to find new avenues of expression as a player and composer. The process of self-editing becomes easier and I find myself leaving more space and letting the music flow more readily.
How did you know when this CD was complete in terms of what you wanted to say? How did you decide on the order of the tracks?
The music tells me when it’s done. Seriously…all albums, like live shows (set-lists) have a natural ebb and flow. As a musician/performer, I can feel when there needs to be a ballad or a burner or a blues added to the mix. Over time, it becomes a very natural/organic process.
Who worked on this album with you and what do you most enjoy about what each one offers on it?
This was all solo except for one track so this was mostly me.
Which track was the most challenging? The most fun?
“Twilight in The Mangroves” was the most challenging because I was trying to finish it in time for the recording so I had a hard deadline to meet. It’s one of my newest compositions and I am very happy with how it came out. But it was definitely challenging to finish and I made it just under the wire…
For pure fun, I like one of my other originals, “Get Away Blues.” It’s a deceptive piece that sounds easy but has some unusual turns.
If you could say one thing to give people more insight into and comfort with jazz, what would it be?
I would tell people to keep their hearts/minds open and to not be afraid of being challenged…jazz is an amazing art form…it’s beautiful, complicated, rhapsodic, edgy, and never the same…just like life itself…
How would you like to stretch yourself as a musician?
I would love to learn other instruments such as cello, bassoon, and have more time to play drums (my first instrument). I’d love to have time to delve back into classical guitar and also music from other cultures/countries.
What do you call that squeak when moving quickly up or down the strings?
You call it a squeak. (LOL!)
Complete this sentence, Nietzsche notwithstanding: Without music, life would be___?
A quiet death.
Name one country you have not performed in yet that you would like to.
Name one venue you wish to play in that you have not yet.
I don’t think in terms of venues…more in terms of other artists I would like to play with – Chick Corea, Jeff “Tain” Watts, etc.
Thank YOU for your enthusiasm and love for jazz.
For more information visit www.mimifoxguitar.com.