Interview and Live Performance from San Francisco Jazz Center
Sn Francisco – Raul Midón’s new album, Invisible Chains Live from NYC, is one of those rare live performance CDs that has a genuine quality of intimacy. This kind of live CD doesn’t often doesn’t capture such a complexity of musicianship. With Midón there is an economy of fuss that creates a comfortable one-0n-one experience. This album is not unlike the recent interview him several hours before performing at the San Francisco Jazz Center. Spending an afternoon and evening with Raul Midón is a day in a musical world that is unforgettable.
In Midón’s bio he calls himself “an aging Humanist”. This phrase was where I thought I would start the interview since a Humanist is one who emphasizes the value of human beings individually and collectively and prefers individual thought and evidence. His surprised response to such a question was, “Nowadays I’m more of an “angry Humanist”. To meet Midón is to understand why he would say this. He is gentle, kind, genuine and relaxed guy who is a delight to spend time with. This is represented in his song writing — and he considers himself a songwriter first and foremost. He songs show an “open heart and open mind”; the current human condition is upsetting to him. He says he’s never been happier and his songs reinforce this sort of contentment without taking a passive point of view. This was the perfect place to segue into his love of Literature. This was another question that he wasn’t expecting but it didn’t take him long to answer the question,
Melissa Berry: What is your favorite book?
Raul Midón: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It shows what can happen when we lose perspective. Another one is Lord of the Flies. Again showing how human beings can lose perspective when in a situation of isolation either by choice or circumstances.
MB: And reading is a favorite pastime for you?
RM: It is how my imagination can takeover completely and I can go somewhere else. You know, you’re never alone as a blind person but reading allows that. Just my imagination and me.
Later than same day…
Raul is certainly not alone with just his imagination now. The San Francisco Jazz Center (SFJazz Center) has a sold out theatre for Raul’s performance. He may consider himself first and foremost a songwriter, but his musicianship is famous. His multi-dimension skill includes using the guitar for many things besides just a guitar and also included is his vocal trumpet. Just him and his embrasure that don’t require a horn. This incredible skill creates every musical possibility of a trumpet including triple tonguing but there’s no trumpet. But, it’s this relationship between his body and guitar almost defies description
During his performance his hands move faster than a hummingbird’s wings oftimes becoming the same sort of blur — you know they are there, but the speed is so mesmerizing that the visual takes you somewhere else. with In fact, when being introduced, we shook hands I was drawn to look down at our hands together. HIs hands are so beautiful. They have magnetism all their own with their beautiful smooth skin and peaceful quality.
And then there are the songs themselves. The songs are of Raul as the man with a view of himself in this world, and the man in love.
Raul is a genuine storyteller. Sometimes of just a moment or the feelings created by a moment. Sometimes a reminiscence of a situation, sometimes the feelings of the moment, sometimes of something we don’t even know but he makes us want to. It’s all about interpretation. And he is a master.
“Don’t Take It That Way” is a series of moments that end with the statement “Don’t take it that way.” So easy for that other person to say. The story has so many points of view and so many situations. Just when a “don’t take it that way” starts to sound cliché Raul goes off on a scat improv; Raul scatting with himself and the guitar and providing the rhythm at the same time while harmonizing. It finished with an urgent question of being repeated, “How I’m supposed to take it? How’m I supposed to take it, how’m I supposed to take it, Yeah, how am I supposed to…” That was it.
“If You’re Gonna Leave”, with heartfelt lyrics, goes into a seductive bossa nova and breathy request to come back before it’s too late resulting in a seductive and hypnotic finish.
He doesn’t save his interpretations just for his own music. He told of recording session with Herbie Hancock while working on Hancock’s album “The Imagine Project”. He was asked to sing a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”. He saw it as a very heartbreaking phone call of unrequited love. They were thinking of a something more in keeping with Wonder’s original. Raul gives it his own interpretation, which is what is on the album and gives the song a whole new meaning. There is a YouTube of Stevie Wonder watching and he is just beaming with Raul’s performance.
Raul Midón is a delightful and honest singer/songwriter with a musicality like no other. And, to spend an afternoon and evening with him is to see a magical music world with a man who can’t see at all except with his imagination and his music. Thanks to Raul, I left with 20/20 vision.