Abair and her session men. That’s La Mesa drummer Najor, far left.
“I’m not the only drummer on the album. There’s four drummers total,” Jake Najor says, one of whom was Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. “I do kind of the heavy rock stuff.” Heavy rock is not a term one would associate with smooth-jazz saxist Mindi Abair, but so be it. Najor laid down some of his best “heavy drumming” on Abair’s latest, Wild Heart. “This record is a lot different. It’s got more of a rock thing going on with it. I think that was intentional,” he says. “I think that it was about being an extension of what she did on those tours with Greg Allman and Aerosmith.”
When home in San Diego, Najor gigs with a local funk band called the Styletones. He’s also played drums for Lord Howler and Chess Wars. Over the past few years, his session-work résumé has grown to include some impressive clients: Karl Denson, Jason Mraz, the Incredible Moses Leroy, A.J. Croce, Kurtis Blow, and more. He checks in with the Reader by phone from a recording studio in Hollywood, where he happens to be working on yet another album. It’s early in the morning; he says he had to leave his La Mesa home at 5:30 a.m. in order to make the studio time.
“I did all my tracks for Mindi in one day,” he says. She was there in the studio, he says, but she didn’t play her sax. “I recorded my parts to her scratch tracks.” As for the whole recording experience? “She was great to work with,” he says. “Really nice.” How did the Mindi gig come about? “I got it through my friend, Todd Simon. He’s a trumpet player. He’s based in L.A.” Najor says there are three producers on the album. “Todd Simon, Itai Shapira, and Adam Berg. They are collectively known as the Decoders — that’s a band. They brought me in on the session.” It turns out Najor and the Decoders go way back. “I’ve done a bunch of records with Todd and Itai, and we have some stuff recorded that’s coming out later.”
Najor says that in the past year his calls for session work in Los Angeles have multiplied to the point that he divvies his time between La Mesa and L.A. Is that where the money is, doing L.A. session work? “Yeah,” he says. “Pretty much.”