Raul Midon — Making his own rules
If you’ve never heard of Raul Midon…
A) You should have.
B) Go to YouTube and check out his rendition of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”
C) Curse yourself for not knowing about him sooner.
With that done, we can continue to discuss the New Mexico native, who will be in NYC this weekend for a pair of shows at the Iridium, playing a mix of favorites from his back catalog, as well as some tracks from his forthcoming 2017 album, which is aptly titled Badass and Blind.
When it comes to truth in advertising, that pretty much covers it without even hearing a single track, as Midon, blind since birth, is truly badass, whether it’s his guitar playing, singing, composing, or studio work. And then there’s the mouth trumpet, which is featured on “Giant Steps,” and which has to be heard — and seen — to be believed.
“It was just a way of improvising,” he said. “I have always listened to a lot of jazz musicians and I was a big Miles (Davis) fan — still am. And so it was just a way to have another instrument to improvise with. I never thought of it as a gimmick or like, ‘Oh, we’ll get the audience to pay attention.’ That never even crossed my mind. That wasn’t in my way of thinking when I started doing it. It was purely a musical exploration tool for me. And I happen to have a friend that was a trumpet player in school and we would work on stuff together — me with the mouth trumpet and him with his real trumpet.”
But to pull off Coltrane?
“That’s considered by many to be impossible,” he chuckles, secure in the fact that the word “impossible” is one that rarely comes out of his mouth, and it’s always been that way. Whether in the academic world, on stage, or in the studio with a star-studded array of artists that include Stevie Wonder, Jason Mraz, Herbie Hancock and even Snoop Dogg, Midon doesn’t operate with any limits.
“Music has been the way that I express myself and function in society,” he said. “I was aware from a very early age that I had this deficit that I couldn’t see, and I also was aware pretty early that I had a gift and I did think that this is the way that I’m gonna have to be in the world. Otherwise, what am I gonna do? There was an urgency, very early, to my making music, because I did think of it as, If I don’t do this, I’m gonna be like a useless member of society. And that sounds harsh, but that’s the way I thought, and that’s been part of the growing process for me. So I make up for what I can’t do by the fact that I can do this really well.”
And on Badass and Blind, he’s taking things up a notch composition-wise, if that’s even possible.
“I’m always making new music, and the music is fresh,” he said. “When you make your first album at the beginning of your career, you think that it’s the most important thing in the world and that the whole world is going to stop and listen and then you realize that’s not going to happen, so it’s a different thing. I’ve done, for me, some things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, that are finally coming to fruition.
“One of the things that I’ve been interested in for a long time is what’s called linear modal composition,” Midon continues. “And I wanted to do that and incorporate songwriting into that. Most of the time, that has been reserved for really, let’s say less accessible jazz or what’s called post-bop or modern jazz, and not much songwriting has been incorporated into that. In other words, the harmonic vocabulary for songs is the simplest of vocabularies, for the most part. A lot of songs are using C, G and E. And so what I have wanted to do is write some songs in which I use some of this vocabulary, but make it a song and make it a melody so that hopefully you don’t have to be a sophisticated musician to appreciate it. But that’s in there for people who do appreciate it.”
Sounds complex, but Midon always finds a way to make it work, and the proof is in his body of work, one that has been adding his producer’s touch to the mix in recent years.
“One of the reasons why I am so proud of these records that I’m doing now, even though I worked with Arif (Mardin) and did State of Mind and Stevie Wonder was on the record and all that stuff, I’m proud of the fact that these records are not just me writing the music and playing the music, but I’m the producer. And I didn’t do it with a whole bunch of people getting me sandwiches and coffee; I did it by myself. I produced this record, I engineered the record, I put the record together on the computer, myself, with no mouse, and for me, that’s why I’m calling it Badass and Blind.”
Understandable, but for Midon, it’s not just a statement that he can do this. It’s a statement that all artists need to do this in order to take control of their art.
“I want people to understand that this is possible, that this can be done,” he said. “Not only don’t you have to be connected with some big manager or big producer of a record company; you can create and do it yourself. And for me, that’s really important, especially in today’s music business, that is changing in a way that I don’t think we can even comprehend. This is like what happened to weaving when people came up with the loom. What’s happening to the music business right now is cataclysmic and the rules don’t apply anymore. None of them.”
True, but then again, Raul Midon never did care for any rules.