Blind guitarist and jazz singer Raul Midon talks personal triumphs and upcoming performances.
By Patrick D. McCoy
The multi-faceted singer and guitarist Raul Midón, 49, chats with Washington Life from his Maryland home about his upcoming performance at Strathmore’s new intimate venue AMP, his brand new album “Don’t Hesitate” and blindness as a personal triumph.
Washington Life: What’s in store for your upcoming performance at Strathmore’s AMP?
Raul Midón: Well, I am always writing new material so I will be trying out some of that. I rarely perform locally so that will be exciting.
WL: Your new album “Don’t Hesitate” could easily be described as a self-portrait of your career. How did you decide which songs to record for this album, which in many ways embodies your journey as an artist?
RM: I think part of it is that I am kind of old school, thinking in terms of albums. I think about a theme and what songs go together on the album, what might give the person who listens to the album a unified sound and the arc of an album, which encompasses things like the dynamic range and tempo.
WL: Early in your career, you performed as a backup musician to many popular performers. Share with us what it is like for you now, having stepped into the spotlight as a solo artist.
RM: It’s very gratifying. I remember we had a joke when we were doing studio sessions that if someone came up with something too cool, they would say that would not get on the record because it was distracting or not commercial enough. So the joke was to save that for the solo album.
WL: What was it that made you initially gravitate towards the guitar?
RM: It was what was in the house. I think if there had been a big grand piano in the house, I probably would have done that. My parents were not musicians per se. My mother was an artist and my father was very musical; he was a dancer so there was a lot of music in our house and it was a very important part of our family.
WL: How has your blindness served as a personal triumph for you?
RM: Blindness has focused me tremendously. When you have a disability, it closes off your options. You can’t say “well, I’ll wait tables until I get a record deal” or “I’ll do construction while I am writing.” You don’t have the ability to do a bunch of stuff, so it focuses the mind and makes you say “I got to make this happen.” I got to use my gift and make it into a profession.
WL: Your trademark seems to be the diversity of musical genres and styles. Has it always been easy for you to branch out into many different directions? How has that impacted your audiences over the years?
RM: I think it has made it tough business wise, because I do not really fit into a genre. Right now I am on the Smooth Jazz charts, which is nice. I really never thought about branching off. It’s just the way that I have always been, taking the music that I like and incorporating it into what I do. Whether it is soul music, Brazilian, rock-n-roll, blues or jazz, it’s all a part of the panoply of music that I like. I have always been eclectic in that way I guess.
WL: Not only do you sing, but your voice duplicates a mean trumpet. How much work is involved in the ability to accompany yourself as if you were a totally separate musician in the room?
RM: A lot; I work on it constantly. I think it will be a sad day when I wake up and, for whatever reason, I can’t get better. I am always trying to get better as a musician. That is something that drives me more than anything else. Sometimes people use terms like genius, and really it is just a ton of work. When you work it out, it looks easy, but that is a result of work. I think there is an undefinable line between a gift and your dedication. There is no doubt that I was gifted, but not anymore than a lot of other people.
WL: As a solo artist, what do you hope the lasting impact of your career will be, and what’s up next as far as major performances and projects?
RM: I just hope that somebody is even listening to my music. There is so much music out there these days. We really are in a golden age for music listeners and a dark age for musicians, because not only is [so much] music free, but you are in competition with every great recording that has ever been made in the world, because it is accessible. I can only hope that something that I have done makes some kind of impression.
Raul Midón will perform two shows Friday, June 5 and 6 at 8 pm at Strathmore’s new venue AMP.
After earning degrees in music from Virginia State University and Shenandoah University, Patrick D. McCoy has contributed arts pieces to CBS Washington and The Afro-American Newspaper, among others. He also writes the magazine’s monthly performing arts column “Perfect Pitch.” McCoy may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.