The Newark Star-Ledger
Friday, May 14, 2004

Playing solo excites Fox-y guitarist

BY ZAN STEWART
Star-Ledger Staff

Mimi FoxAn invigorating artist who engages listeners with her personal sound, her feel for the best notes and her rhythmic snap, guitarist Mimi Fox is starting to get more of the attention she deserves.

Her latest CD, "She's the Woman," on rocker Steve Vai's Favored Nations Cool label, is a solid effort that finds Fox delivering the goods on an array of standards and originals with a crack band.

Her previous CD, 2001's "Standards" (Origin), places her in a demanding-yet-deeply-rewarding setting: performing unaccompanied. Here she varies between electric and acoustic instruments, delving into such favorites as Miles Davis' "All Blues" and John Coltrane's "Naima."

"Playing solo is the ultimate freedom," says Fox, in a phone interview from her home in Vallejo, Calif. "I can go anywhere I want. If I want to shift keys, tempos, I don't have to worry about others following me. I'm the whole rhythm section myself."

Fox, a native of Flushing, Queens, who moved to New Rochelle with her family when she was 8, makes a return visit to her metro area climes when she plays Wednesday at Trumpets in Montclair. There she'll work mostly solo, though a friend or two might drop by and sit in. Fox acknowledges the solo slot is not easy.

"It's a big challenge to keep it all together and keep the audience with you while you do it, but I like that challenge," she says.

Fox, 47, garnered experience in the solo arena appearing with such singers as Bobby McFerrin, Linda Tillery and Rhiannon in the early '80s in the Bay Area -- where she settled after moving to Los Angeles from the East in 1979 and taking recording studio calls.

"I often worked with them in duos, and I'd open solo a lot," she says. "(Then behind them) I'd make the guitar be the orchestra. I learned a lot."

Some of the rhythmic punch that enlivens Fox's solo, and ensemble, wares comes from the fact that her first instrument was the drums. She started out banging on pots and pans, later got a drum kit, and played drums in junior high and high school jazz bands. "I still play," she says. "Now it's my second instrument."

Fox picked up the guitar at age 10, inspired by seeing Michael Nesmith of the'60s era rock group The Monkees, on that band's TV show.

"Soon after that, all I did was play," she says. "I just fell in love with it." Later came such jazz influences as Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery.

After high school and some time on the road with Top 40 bands, Fox headed to L.A., then to San Francisco, where she started to emerge about a decade ago as a solo artist after many years as a sideman. "She's the Woman" is her sixth CD, and her artistry has taken her around the United States, and to Europe, Asia and Australia.

"Jazz is my passion," Fox says. "You get to express yourself in the moment, which is a very exciting experience that no other music quite gives you."

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