Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland Artist Spotlight: Raul Midón
May 01, 2014
Singer-songwriter Raul Midón was blinded when, as an infant, he was placed in an incubator with no eye protection.
The fact that he has never seen another person play guitar might account for the unorthodox, yet virtuosic way he approaches the instrument. Along with tapping the fretboard with his strumming hand, a la Eddie Van Halen, he uses the guitar’s body as a drum. Add to this his tendency to mimic a bebop trumpet with his mouth and you have a modern take on the one-man band.
However, unlike the guy with the bass drum on his back, this one-man band serves up a blend of jazz, funk, folk, R&B and soul.
He performs as part of Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland June 28.
Midón, 47, was born in New Mexico, and within his family, music was serious business.
“We were the kind of family who would put on a record and sit and listen to it, not have it play in the background and go about our business. It was like an event,” Midón says on his website. “Very early on, I knew I wanted to play music. I’d be riding in a car and I’d listen to the rhythm of the turn signal. I heard music in everything, from a car horn to the crickets.”
He began his professional career essentially providing background music, playing venues like seafood restaurants. This informed his style.
“I took on this warrior approach to playing guitar, like a ‘you have to pay attention to this because you’ve never heard or seen anything like it before’ kind of way,” Midón says on his website.
It worked. People started perking up their ears.
Before long, he was working as a session musician for the likes of Shakira, Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias and Jose Feliciano. After touring with Shakira, he moved to New York City and began carving out a solo career.
Grammy award-winning producer Arif Mardin signed Midón to Manhattan Records, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, and soon the musician was off and running. His first major-label release was State of Mind (2005), an album that chronicles his early struggles as a musician in New York. Stevie Wonder plays a harmonica solo on the track “Expression of Love.”
The album garnered a slew of positive reviews.
Midón has since released three more albums: A World Within A World (Manhattan, 2007), Synthesis (Universal Decca, 2009) and Invisible Chains, Live in New York City (self-released, 2012).
For his next recording, Midón is expanding his responsibilities to include engineer. Special computer software for the blind allows him to engineer sessions in his home studio. The project includes collaborations with Bill Withers and Dianne Reeves, among others.
“I am so excited about this record I am working on now. The freedom I have means that it’s going to be the best I’ve ever made,” he says on his website.
That is saying something for a musician the New York Times called “a one-man band who turns a guitar into an orchestra and his voice into a chorus.”
And he just keeps getting better.
“I don’t believe that blindness makes you a better musician. I think perhaps it focuses you in a very pragmatic way . . . I knew that I had this talent, so blindness focused me on developing that talent. But I don’t think it made me play better. After all, most of the great musicians I know can see.”
Raul Midón, 7:30 p.m. June 28, Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 2067 E. 14th St., Cleveland. For tickets, call 440-987-4444.
Information in this story was taken from Midón's website and Wikipedia.