Home > Music, Restaurants > An Evening with Mindi Abair

An Evening with Mindi Abair

February 15, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


If it weren’t for the photo above, you might well wonder, “Who is Mindi Abair?” But the photo gives away that whatever else she is, she’s a saxophonist. And so she is. You might also wonder why we spent an evening with her. Well, not just the three of us — Mindi, Gail, and me. We shared Mindi and her band with a few hundred others last night at her Valentine’s Day performance at Seattle’s Jazz Alley.

Here’s how we ended up there.

Back in November, we went to a luncheon and auction for the local organization Parent Trust for Washington Children. In the silent auction, we were the winning bidder’s of a one-night stay at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. A few weeks ago we decided to break with our unfortunate tradition of failing to use items we buy at auctions. With Valentine’s Day approaching, I gave the Olympic a call and booked a room for that night.

Actually, it was more complicated, since the local operator dumped me into the national Fairmont booking system, and the national reservationist couldn’t handle special bookings of this sort. Nor could she return us to local reservations, which evidently had closed. She took down my information and a couple of days later I began a lengthy email correspondence with a local reservationist, the conclusion of which was that we had upgraded from our executive king room to a deluxe executive suite for a modest additional charge.

Part of the logic of staying at the Olympic was that we would have our Valentine’s dinner in the hotel, at the Georgian Room. I requested a 7:00 reservation, but learned that they had a special Valentine’s Day meal, with bookings handled not by the restaurant but by another department. A few days later, I got a call from the assistant manager of catering, or something like that, explaining that they couldn’t seat us at 7:00. Their first opening would be at 8:30. I said we’d take it, but I would get back to her after talking to Gail in case we decided to cancel.

The meal was a four-course fixed price menu, with dancing and a band. And the menu, which one could examine on-line, didn’t seem all that exciting to us. If we were going to pay a lot of money for dinner at the Georgian, we decided we’d rather do it on a regular evening with access to the full menu. So we cancelled. And we looked at what else was going on. Maybe we’d have an early dinner somewhere else and then go to the symphony, just a block away. They had their own Valentine special, an evening of Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and Romance.

That’s when Gail suggested we look at Jazz Alley. We’ve only been there once, over a decade ago to hear a friend of ours who had just released a CD of her own songs and was performing for one evening. Coincidentally, I had been thinking for weeks about going to Jazz Alley, because I wanted to hear Jane Monheit, who will be there this week. But I realized a couple of weeks ago that we would be out of town precisely when she’s here. Going a week earlier seemed like a good consolation, and it would allow us to combine dinner with the evening entertainment.

This led me to their website, and to Mindi Abair. Who? I did a little research, learning from her website that she’s “already a groundbreaking star in the contemporary jazz world.” In fact, “Abair has had three #1 hit singles on the Radio & Records charts, her last CD debuted #1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, and her debut album stayed in the Top 10 for 19 consecutive weeks and was named the #1 most played Contemporary Jazz CD of 2003 by Jazz Week. She also hosts a popular weekly syndicated radio show called ‘Chill with Mindi Abair’ that is broadcast in 40 markets in the U.S. and abroad. Each week, she features cutting edge music by artists such as Zero 7, Air, Thievery Corporation, and remixes of classic jazz artists such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. A hugely popular solo concert and festival attraction over the past seven years throughout the U.S., Abair recently performed for fans in Japan, Istanbul and Romania.”

We couldn’t go wrong with that. I called Jazz Alley and we reserved our seats for dinner at 6:00 and the opening show at 7:30. In parallel, Gail wrote to her old high school friend Lois and her husband suggesting they join us. When they agreed, I booked two more seats and they were able to move us from a distant two-top to a closer four-top. Oh, I should quote more from the website: “Perhaps John Taylor, famed Duran Duran bassist, says it best about her stunning melodies and thought provoking lyrics: ‘Mindi is unique. Listen to her new album Stars, a genre-busting, breathtaking combination of contemporary jazz and Top 40 torch songs. It will be love at first listen.'” Wow!

Last night was the night. Thanks to new road construction on I-5 and the closure of three lanes southbound, we had a difficult journey to the Olympic, but we got there, just past 4:30. At the front desk, they had no record of our upgrade to the suite, despite my extended email exchanges with the reservationist. Fortunately, I had taken the trouble to print out the last two parts of the correspondence, and soon we were in our Deluxe Executive Suite on the 8th floor with views straight west into an office building and a narrow view to the northwest over Elliott Bay. After an hour, we headed down and walked the 7 blocks or so up to Jazz Alley.

The place was already filling up at 6:00. Both the 7:30 and 9:30 shows were sellouts and people were being turned away at the door. We were ushered to our booth, with Mike and Lois arriving about ten minutes later. Dinner went quickly, especially because of a lengthy debate between Mike and me about steroids, baseball, and the Hall of Fame. He and I both had the steak, which came with mashed potatoes and broccoli. Gail had the chili verde and Lois had the salmon. Gail and I also started with a white bean soup and we all shared a plate of hummus. For the record: hummus, excellent; steak, good; soup, okay (Gail says good); vegetables, okay; mashed potatoes, worst I’ve had in years. The potatoes were flavorless and thin. They seemed to be made from a mix, with no flavorings added. Very disappointing. But otherwise it was a decent enough meal. And we were busily involved in conversation. I just wasn’t prepared to accept the notion that lying about taking steroids is something we should be worried about, either as a disqualification from the Hall of Fame or as in any way relevant to our enjoyment of a baseball player’s skills. Finally, I shifted the conversation to a suggestion that Congress should show more interest in lies that get us into a war than lies about steroids.

And suddenly it was time for Mindi. The band was on the stage, Mindi was off to the side in darkness, but shimmering nonetheless, as she waited for the completion of an announcement about the need for us to clear out promptly for the 9:30 show. The lights turned on, she came out, and the show began. I chose the image above because among the images I found online, it’s closest to how she appeared last night. Sparkling silvery dress, sparkling silvery saxophone, silvery or platinumy blonde hair. Four fellow band members — guitar, electric bass, keyboards, drums. And they were loud. Very loud. She sang only occasionally, and even then only a few words. Mostly she played, or took a breath while the others in the band had their solos.

How was it? Well, here’s the thing. I don’t quite get this whole smooth jazz genre. It mostly sounded like an instrumental rock band featuring an electric sax. A very talented band, I should add. But the songs began to run together, a certain dullness descending. Partway through, the guitarist switched to an acoustic guitar, adding some variety, before switching back to his electric guitar. The keyboardist took on a larger role in some of the later songs. But mostly the songs were built around Abair’s sax, and each song would have a line she would play over and over again, with varying degrees of intensity, but without great melodic or rhythmic interest.

I don’t mean for this to be a negative review. It was endlessly fascinating to watch the band, to see how they played off each other, to wonder how much was genuine and how much was play acting. Like when the guitarist smiled at the keyboardist, who smiled back, and then they both looked at the drummer, who smiled, as if there was some interesting inside joke going on, when really I suspect that in every performance they act out that little bit at that very moment. Just as Mindi tells every audience how great they are, and how much she loves coming to the city of the night. She made it pretty clear that in what is her third annual visit to Seattle, she loves us. And audience members dutifully assured her that we love her back.

The show ended around 8:50. She named each band member again, giving us a chance to applaud them individually, then the five of them lined up in a row and bowed together. The lights came up, but the bassist grabbed the mike to give us a chance to center our attention on Mindi, telling us that she’s the hardest working person in the business — we should see her carrying five bags through the airport. More applause, and it was over. She graciously took up a perch to the side of the coat check counter, where she signed CDs for an enormous line of listeners. We headed up the stairs, out the door, and back towards the Olympic (us) and the car (our friends). We said our goodbyes at the corner of 4th and Olive, then made our way to the Olympic.

That was our evening with Mindi Abair.

Oh, by the way, breakfast in the Georgian Room this morning was perfect. The package we purchased at the auction included $50 towards breakfast, so we weren’t going to pass that up. Everything was just right — eggs, hashed browns, bacon. Their juice special was an apple-strawberry mix. I foolishly went for the orange juice, but Gail took the special and it was great.

After breakfast, we took our traditional walk over to the Belvedere Kensington Room, the westernmost in a series of small meeting rooms facing south onto Seneca Street on the mezzanine. Usually, when we go by there, it’s not in use, the lights are out, the shades cover the interior windows, so we can’t see much. But this morning, a post-wedding breakfast was taking place, with about four round tables filled with guests. I haven’t explained yet — we were married in the Belvedere Kensington Room. Not the most likely of spaces to be married in, but we were, and so was a couple last night. Hey, I just realized — Valentine’s Day. I get it. They got married on Valentine’s Day! Anyway, breakfast was being served to the guests, and two waiters were in attendance outside. We must have looked a little nosy, because one asked if he could help us. I explained that we were married in the room 23 1/2 years ago. This led to a lengthy conversation with the other waiter, Roman. He has worked at the Olympic for 19 years. The one who asked if he could help us has worked there about 24 years. Roman wondered what changes we’ve seen in the hotel. He works events at the Four Seasons too. Amazingly, the Four Seasons had gone two weeks with not a single banquet event. None. Things are really slow. People get married, but companies are doing without meetings. Roman came from Poland 19 years ago, spent a few months in California, didn’t like the weather, came up here. He needed a job. Someone suggested the hotel. He figured okay, for the winter, but 19 years later he’s still there. What he likes is, he doesn’t take the job home with him. When he worked in the credit department at a bank back in Europe, he would always bring papers home. He’d spend the weekends working. Here, when he leaves the hotel, he’s done.

That was just a part of our conversation. I’d still be talking to him, but he was at work after all, and we had to check out. We went up to the room, packed up our stuff, settled the account, and drove home. We’ll have to get back some time soon for a Georgian Room dinner.

Categories: Music, Restaurants
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