BETHESDA — Raul Midón, midway through his concert Thursday night at Bethesda Blues and Jazz, showed off his ability to play bongos, guitar, and sing at the same time. The crowd erupted in applause, and people grabbed their phones to record the feat. Raul, however, didn’t see the flashing of cameras, or the cheering faces of his audience, because he is blind.
Midón has been blind since birth. However, despite this he picked up music at a young age, playing drums at age four, guitar at age six.
“It gives me a different perspective,” Midón said when asked about his blindness, “People look at a crowd and think it’s this type of crowd or that type of crowd, but I just feel it.”
Midón has not let his blindness slow him down. Since the release of his major label debut “State of Mind” in 2005, he has released five albums. He is constantly touring and is even playing his first gig in Moscow on July 1.
Midón’s concert at Blues and Jazz was part of a tour celebrating the March release of his latest album “Badass and Blind.” Bassist Romeir Mendez and drummer Billy Williams backed the singer-songwriter. The show heavily featured tracks from the album including the hip-hop influenced title track featuring a rap verse performed by Midón.
Another standout song from the album, “Wings of Mind,” featured harmony similar to the modal jazz of Miles Davis, and a driving walking bassline.
The show featured many displays of instrumental virtuosity for the 202-person crowd to enjoy. Each song gave the trio a chance to improvise. On several songs, Mendez and Williams took solos. Midón would solo on guitar, scat, and contort his mouth to sound like a trumpet.
During the two-hour set, Midón performed several unreleased songs, including two instrumental pieces for solo guitar.
To close the show, Midón played the title song from his 2005 album “State of Mind.” That album, which featured collaborations with Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz, established Midón as an artist and even led to an appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
“It is interesting to me how hype meets performance, at that time I was very new to the scene and nobody had ever seen me before, so that performance had a huge impact on my career,” said Midón in a previous interview.
“Someone like me doesn’t get on TV that often and that can work to your advantage.”
Midón, who originally had his home base in New York, moved to Maryland several years ago. His home in Laurel features a professional recording studio, custom-made for his use. The studio features specialized recording equipment intended for use by the blind.
Midón says he views the studio as a large motivating factor for his creative process. Since he always has access to recording gear, he feels obligated to put out material on a regular basis.
“If I only wrote when inspiration hit I would have three songs, in my career,” Midón said.
According to Midón, he will often go to a quiet place, with no cell phone and just write. He often uses sentence starters, like “I think” or “I remember” to get the creative juices flowing.
“I think the best thing about having moved is that I built the studio.” Midón said, “it lets me record and be creative with no constraints.”