Raul Midon speaks (Sunday Throwback Post)

(originally posted March 11 2008)

Due to the fact that the Mosaic Festival is well underway, and it is Raul Midon’s birthday today, I thought I’d repost this blog from almost exactly 2 years ago, after seeing him live here in Singapore, as he ran a workshop and discussed songwriting, musicianship and genre specific music. Here’s four gleanings that I got from the discussion that night 2 years ago:

Beyond a gimmick

Raul Midon – apart from being a great guitarist, and a phenomenal “vocal improvisationalist”, also does this amazing thing where he imitates the sound of a trumpet (similar to how Take 6 get down) with his voice. The thing about it is that he does whole Miles Davis tunes with his trumpet solo. (He did Monk’s “Round Midnight” at the workshop – with just his mouth trumpet and his guitar). So when he was asked, what makes it different from, say, a beat boxer (making percussive sounds with your mouth – often used in hip hop. Google Doug E Fresh, Rahzel or Biz Markie), he said that beat boxers do some amazing things with their capabilities, but Midon’s approach towards his mouth trumpet as an instrument that needed to be mastered – beyond a gimmick. A subtle challenge I took pretty seriously…

Be yourself

Mr Midon is a blind slap guitarist with a voice somewhere between Donny Hathaway and Eric Benet. His music is best appreciated live (how would you hear the mouth trumpet and think “that’s a mouth trumpet” and not “that’s a trumpet”), and his songs are very upbeat and optimistic, though some media would say naive. Chances are unless you’ve been into the underground jazz/soul circuit, you may not have heard of him, he is not a multiplatinum MTV featured artist – and thus enters the dilemma. Like Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues – do you play to the crowd like Wesley or make the music you like to make like Denzel? Raul Midon is an artist that chooses the latter, and can go home and rest at night knowing that he can play songs he likes.
Imagine if Jesus after he fed a crowd of over 5000 men from a small amount of fish and bread said, “we can make some cash off of this! Let’s keep doing it to draw the crowd?” I don’t think so…

Nothing beats discipline

When asked how did  he master classical, jazz, funk and flamenco guitar, Mr Midon said a lot of practice. He even synically said something to the effect, that if musicians aren’t “feeling” like doing the rudimental things i.e. scales and arpeggios, they’re doomed for mediocrity. Ouch… nuff said…

Start classical as a foundation

Raul Midon suggested from his experience mastering classical structures and style – “because classical music doesn’t put up with mistakes”, and growing from there towards “the intellectual style of jazz” with a foundation.
I felt like that was the same with anything in life, to learn from those who have gone before and mastered and using that as a foundation. Tradition is tradition for a reason – though not always correct it would be foolish not to at least give forerunning traditionalists the “props” they deserve. We can all learn from the past – it’s the difference between Herbie Hancock and Herbie: Fully Loaded.

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