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"A prodigious talent who has not only mastered the traditional forms but has managed to reinvigorate them." - Guitar Player Magazine
As a virtuosic improviser who’s collaborated with many of jazz’s greatest figures, Mimi Fox has earned her spot in the jazz guitar pantheon. But the jazz tradition is only one of the powerful currents feeding her music. With her 11th album as a leader or co-leader, This Bird Still Flies, Fox delivers a seamless but far-ranging album that’s breathtaking it its beauty, emotional immediacy and stylistic reach. Slated for release on Origin Records on Feb. 15, 2019, the all acoustic recording captures a commanding artist in full - transforming folk tunes, jazz standards, original compositions and popular songs into exquisitely crafted improvisational vehicles.
Over the years she’s performed and recorded with an intergenerational who’s who of jazz guitar stars, including Charlie Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Mundell Lowe, Charlie Hunter and Stanley Jordan. A six-time winner of Down Beat Magazine’s International Critics Poll, the Bay Area guitarist is recognized by colleagues and writers as one of the most eloquent six-string improvisers on the scene. While she’s best known for wielding her namesake Heritage Guitar Mimi Fox Signature model arch-top, spinning solos that unfurl with surprise twists like expertly tailored short stories, Fox is equally spellbinding on six and 12-string acoustic guitars.
Recently signed by Taylor Guitars as an endorsing “partner,” she’s increasingly returned to her acoustic roots. As with all great musicians, Fox’s creative output is inextricably linked to her life off stage, and This Bird Still Flies is a dispatch from the other side of rough waters. A successful fight against breast cancer coupled with a devastating breakup left her determined to pursue her musical vision with renewed focus and intensity.
“It’s like a rebirth,” she says. “I’m in the best place of my life and I wanted my music to reflect that. One of the things that I promised myself is to not put any limits on my music. There’s so much music that I love and I refuse to be pigeonholed. I’m very proud to be a jazz musician, and yet it’s not all of who I am. Though no matter what I play, I’m an improviser.”
The album opens with the rollicking, low-down “Get Away Blues,” an original piece that serves as a warm embrace for long-time Fox fans and newcomers alike. She’s just as inventive on standards like Kenny Dorham’s classic “Blue Bossa,” which opens with a long impromptu passage that wends through a variety of textures and moods before eventually revealing the familiar melody. Her full, resonant tone, biting attack, and supple phrasing demonstrate exactly why Joe Pass declared that Fox “plays with tremendous fire. She can do pretty much anything she wants on the guitar.”
She displays her folky pastoral streak on the lovely soundscape “Twilight In the Mangroves,” a piece written for her friend Brad Wendkos, founder of the online guitar instruction company TrueFire, after an idyllic evening boating in the waters off Tampa. “Textures of Loving” is another dedication, though it’s a piece she’s revisiting from her first album, 1985’s Against the Grain. Written for her maternal grandparents, who came to America from Russia as young teenagers at the turn of the century, the minor key piece evokes the sorrows of the Old World and the new lives they built here.
Fox has made no secret of her love of the Beatles or the formative influence that the Fab Four played in stoking her passion for the guitar as a kid. Building off the San Francisco String Trio’s critically hailed 2017 project May I Introduce To You (Ridgeway Music), a track-by-track reimagining of Sgt. Pepper’s, she includes a ravishing interpretation of “Blackbird” and a deeply funky version of “Day Tripper” on baritone guitar.
“Lennon and McCartney wrote such strong melodies, and ‘Day Tripper’ has that unforgettable riff,” she says. “I love the challenge of taking something so familiar, and honoring it and putting your stamp on it. I really think in a songwriting class you could teach ‘Blackbird’ next to ‘Skylark.’”
Fox brings similar imagination to the American Songbook standards “You Don't Know What Love Is” and “There Is No Greater Love,” creating a mini-song cycle by plunging into the depths with the former and ascending to rhapsodic heights with the latter. The album’s title track, a statement of resilience, defiance and celebration in the face of adversity, is also the project’s most surprising, as Fox joins forces with Andy Timmons, a guitarist far better known for shredding with the glam metal band Danger Danger than for his unplugged performances. A former label mate of Fox’s from her days on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations, he acquits himself with grace, fire and sensitivity on her shapely and thoughtful piece. Fox closes the album with an elegiac version of “America the Beautiful,” a rendition that feels like a balm in troubled times.
While This Bird Still Flies is Fox’s first all-acoustic project, she’s made a point of featuring her work on steel string guitar from the beginning, starting with several unplugged tracks on her first album, Against the Grain. “I feel like when I play acoustic, there’s an immediacy to it,” she says. “I love my jazz box, and I have a voice on that, but the acoustic guitar was my first instrument, through my teenage years playing Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, and Crosby, Still and Nash. Then I got into classical guitar, which I still love and play when I get the chance. It’s another side of my musical personality. I love the shading. I love the wood reverberating against my body. This album reflects more than half a century playing this instrument, and in a way it feels like coming home.”
For Fox, home is wherever the creative action is deepest. In recent years she’s performed and recorded with some of jazz’s most commanding players, including Grammy-nominated saxophonists Branford Marsalis and David Sanchez, vocalists Abbey Lincoln, Diana Krall and Janis Siegel, Hammond B3 organ masters Barbara Dennerlein and Joey DeFrancesco, and powerhouse drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Stepping outside of pure jazz contexts, she’s shared stages with legends such as John Sebastian, Peter Yarrow, and Stevie Wonder, and performed widely at festivals including the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Newport Folk Festival, the Kennedy Center, the NAMM Show, all-star guitar events and the Vanguard Records produced La Guitara project, which was conceived by singer/songwriter Patty Larkin.
As a leader, the New York native introduced herself to the international jazz scene in the 1990s with a pair of albums on Monarch Records, 1995’s Turtle Logic and 1999’s Kicks, a high-energy project pairing her with collaborators such as Hammond B3 monster Joey DeFrancesco and Yellowjackets pianist and drummer Russell Ferrante and Will Kennedy, respectively. AllAboutJazz.com awarded the album a superlative four star rating, writing “This is a strongly melodic collection, and one that swings out stylishly...Mimi Fox is a major talent.”
Signing with Steve Vai’s Favored Nations Cool label, Fox delivered 2004’s She’s the Woman, an album that showcased her considerable skills as a both a player and composer. As JazzTimes magazine noted, Fox is “an inveterate swinger with a penchant for ambitious reharmonization and rhythmic invention on jazz standards.” She followed up with 2006’s Perpetually Hip, a double CD that stands as Fox’s masterwork. The first disc captures Fox stretching out with a stellar quartet featuring legendary drummer Billy Hart, bassist Harvie S and pianist Xavier Davis. On the second, Fox offers a solo tour de force, reinventing a program of standards with such fluency and command that she earned an array of superlative notices.
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Andrew Gilbert wrote, “Together, the two discs stand as a definitive Fox statement. The first disc showcases her simmering interplay with a quartet featuring drum maestro Billy Hart, while the second captures her breathtaking solo style as she stretches out on a program of standards, displaying an approach that’s as harmonically resourceful as it is lyrically inventive.”
Her 2010 Favored Nations DVD, Live at the Palladium, features Fox in front of a sold-out audience and has all the magic and excitement of a live performance. Pop Culture Classics said that she “demonstrates her vibrant virtuosity in this concert and turns each selection into a distinctive gem.” Just Jazz Guitar said, “this is simply jazz guitar playing at its best. Her Ideas are creative, heartfelt, and sophisticated.”
She’d already established her credentials as a worthy successor to Joe Pass with her astonishing 2001 solo album Standards on Origin Records. In a Cadence review, Jim Josselyn hailed her achievement. "To say Mimi Fox's touch, sound, sensitivity and understanding of the guitar as a solo vehicle of expression is masterful would be an understatement. This is simply some of the best guitar music I've heard."
Fox’s last album, 2013’s Standards, Old & New (Origin Records), also received universal praise. Grammy-nominated writer Jim Ferguson described the project’s, “consummate mastery,” noting that “each piece is a gem,” while Guitar Player Magazine wrote that “beyond her passion and virtuosity, Fox plays with a profundity that only comes from a lifetime of devotion to one’s art.”
As a composer, Fox has written scores for theater, film and dance projects, while receiving grants from prestigious funders such as the California Arts Council and Meet the Composer. She has performed her original works as a guest soloist with symphonies and chamber orchestras, and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows including BET on Jazz and Marian McPartland’s award-winning NPR program Piano Jazz.
As a devoted educator, Fox has published six popular interactive instructional courses for TrueFire and two successful educational books for Mel Bay Publications. She’s presented clinics and master classes worldwide, and has been an adjunct faculty member of New York University. She also founded the guitar program at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley.
While she possesses an abundance of chops, she never mistakes velocity or volubility for expressiveness. Animated by the deepest jazz wisdom, Fox knows that technique is only meaningful when harnessed for a larger purpose. With This Bird Still Flies, Fox offers her most personal and captivating session yet.
Listen to sample tracks.
ALBUM WITH SAN FRANCISCO STRING TRIO
Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers
REVIEW FROM JAZZ WEEKLY
"In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ ground breaking Sgt Pepper album, Mads Tolling/vi, Mimi Fox/g and Jeff Denson/b string together the material from that records and add new ideas and tones.
There’s fun with and without frets as the team swings nostalgia on “When I’m Sixty-Four” and Tolling is Grappelli-rich with a wide vibrato. The team delivers pizzicato delights on “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and gets exotic with “Within You Without You.” Denson adds some nice vocals on the Bartok inspired “Fixing A Hole” and the string chirping “ Getting Better” while “A Day In The Life” is haughtingly intimate. A complement to the landmark rock session."