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TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist

A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month

Because we appreciate the talents and hard work of all of the many artists in our beloved smooth jazz genre, TSJR has made it a standard practice to highlight and honor one artist each month who has established himself or herself as an integral part of the smooth/contemporary jazz “engine.” This month, we honor: 

Raul Midón – Badass and Gifted

“I realized that even if you’re good, the only way you’re going to really succeed is to become a leader. You have to create a universe that caters to you, because if you don’t, you’re going to have a really hard time.” The words of Raul Midón.

Midón and his twin brother, Marco, were born prematurely in a rural hospital in Embudo, New Mexico. The twins became blind as infants after suffering eye damage from the effects of spending too long in an incubator without adequate eye protection.

Their African-American mother- a New York artist who relocated to New Mexico – died when they were four, and they were raised by their Argentine folkloric dancer father and maternal grandmother in a small town tolerant of difference.

Midón grew up playing bongos, listening to his father’s record collection, hearing rhythm in everything. He started learning the guitar at age six {his teacher at the visually impaired school he attended placed his fingers on the chords). An anonymous benefactor sent both boys to the prestigious Santa Fe prep school, where Raul read Conrad, Malcolm X, and Nietzsche. “Literature is the closest a blind person ever comes to seeing because it describes everything in words – sunsets, hues, faces. It helps you feel and sense. I couldn’t write songs if I didn’t read.”

Being a twin helped, too. “But we were very different. Marco was outgoing, and I was the withdrawn one — which is ironic, now that I’m in this business.” (Marco is an engineer with Nasa).

Midón then attended the University of Miami, which he selected for its jazz curriculum. He graduated in 1990.

After breaking into the music business in 1991, Midón spent roughly a decade doing session work — including a stint touring as a backing vocalist for Shakira, his first ever road jaunt — that helped him realize that he was interested in fronting his own project. Of this period, Midón recalls, “When I was first starting out, I was just trying to get gigs — any kind of gigs, even at local bars. Then the challenge would be how to get there; so, I would ask other musicians playing the gig for a ride to the bar. People wanted to charge me extra for making accommodations. There was always this thing of, ‘OK, who’s going to give the blind guy a ride?”

“So, I realized,” Midón continues, “that I needed to be the person who booked the gigs. Then I could determine how everything went down. And part of that gig would be that you get me there. I’d be the one paying and writing the checks.”

He met his wife, Kathleen, in 2000. “She styled me. I never cared what I looked like before. She understood my desire to leave Miami. I couldn’t have moved without her. A blind person alone in New York? It wouldn’t have happened.”

He started playing songwriter showcases in Miami sponsored by Warner/Chappell and landed a solo record deal in 2002. With the signing came $75,000, and that served to fund a move to New York City, where Midón worked with producer and DJ Little Louis Vega, among others.

He wrote and recorded several songs, including “Cerca De Mi” with Vega and his production team under the band name Elements of Life. The band was led by Vega and toured Europe, Japan, and Australia during 2003 and 2004.
In 2005, Midón was signed by Arif Mardin to Manhattan Records.

In Mardin’s long career, Midón was his first signing of an artist. “I rate Raul with all the other geniuses,” said the late R&B legend Mardin. Mardin and his son Joe produced Midón’s album, State of Mind (2005). The album featured a guest performance by one of his idols, Stevie Wonder, after Midón wrote him a letter in Braille, another one with Jason Mraz, and a song written in tribute to Donny Hathaway entitled “Sittin’ in the Middle.”

Midón released the album A World Within a World on September 25, 2007.

Midón says that people might say, “Oh, a blind person can’t record because you can’t see the VU meters, a blind person can’t do this because he can’t read or write music…” All of that stuff can be dealt with if you deal with it philosophically instead of trying to deal with it one problem at a time. You have to think, “How can I deal with this in a way that works long-term?”

In 2008, he built a home studio with the help of Cakewalk and the company Dancing Dots, which designs technology the blind. The studio allowed him to produce music from home without the need of an engineer. His song “Everyone Deserves a Second Chance,” which appeared on Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca’s album Akokan, was recorded at his home. He also recorded two songs for the Generosity Water project at his home studio, which he calls The Basement Studio.

Of his collaboration with CakeWalk, Midón explains “I use CakeWalk for recording and producing music. CakeWalk alone is not accessible, so a company called Dancing Dots wrote a bunch of scripts. Their software, CakeTalking, makes it accessible.”

Midón worked with Grammy Award-winning producer Larry Klein on the album Synthesis (Decca, 2010). He moved to Santa Monica, California, while recording the album, which featured Vinnie Coaliuta, Dean Parks, Jamie Muhoberac, Larry Goldings, Paulinho Da Costa, and Klein on bass. Two years later, a live album and DVD followed.

The album Don’t Hesitate (Mack Avenue/Artistry, 2014) was recorded at his home studio. The album featured appearances by Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, and Richard Bona. He wrote the song “Mi Amigo Cubano” with Bill Withers, and it led to the film Still Bill (2014).

In 2015, Midón joined the 14th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel. He was also a judge for the 12th and 13th Independent Music Awards. Midón sang the song at the credits for Spike Lee’s 2004 LGBT film, She Hate Me, titled “Adam n’ Eve n’ Eve”. His song “Everybody” was featured in the soundtrack of the movie The Peaceful Warrior starring Nick Nolte.

In 2016, Midón was invited to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival. As a consequence, his latest album Badass and Blind, which he describes as “the deep jazz” entry in his catalogue, features several musicians he played with at Monterey including Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. He explained. “There’s quite a few jazz pieces with it, but not songs. That’s what I wanted to do — compose things using that language but have them be songs.”

As a testimony to the strength of spirit that Midón has displayed throughout his career, the last words are going to the remarkable, truly inspirational, musical bad-ass Raul Midón, “You also have to be strong. People will try to take advantage of you. You do have to have an openness and have to be on guard for that. It does happen. Some people see a blind person and see weakness.”

Nothing weak about this artist. Simply and truly one badass, blind, inspirational musical genius! – Steve Giarchardi