Meeting Raul

"When I was 33 I found out that I would be a pianist for the rest of my life," he declares sternly. What precipitated such an epiphany? "I flipped a coin," he says, smiling wickedly. Heads meant he would devote all of his energies to pursuing a career in music; tails meant anything else, including going back to college to study engineering, which he had attempted briefly at eighteen. Heads it was. "That's when I really decided to be a musician," he recalls. "Before that time I wasn't sure about anything."

That same year, 1983, Di Blasio acted on his decision and recorded his first album for the EMI-Chile label, followed by two more for the CBS-Chile imprint. The media in Latin America received him and his work warmly, dubbing him "El Pianista de Todos," a phrase that roughly translates to "the People's Pianist" -- apropos of someone who thinks of himself as a regular guy waging a daily battle to keep himself grounded. "What can change your personality is not you, but the people that surround you," he explains. "Sometimes they make you think you're the king of the world, and that's not true. If I'm going to change, then so is the music."

Drawn by the mixture of nationalities in South Florida, Di Blasio relocated to Miami in 1987 (he now lives in Cutler Ridge) and was subsequently signed by BMG Records. His first album for the label, El Piano de America, was released in 1990. Seventy percent of initial sales occurred in Miami, a notoriously tough market even for Latins, because of the area's cultural heterogeneity. Four albums for BMG and many tours (to far-flung places such as the Middle East and Africa) later, Di Blasio enjoyed his first million-seller in 1994 with El Piano de America 2, which featured guest vocals by Julio Iglesias and Juan Gabriel and included music that ranged from Ernesto Lecuona's classic "Malaguena" to Louis Armstrong's trademark "What a Wonderful World." (Recent albums contain a mix of Di Blasio's own compositions and songs penned by others.)

Although classical music had always been his true love, he realized he would eventually go pop: "I had a conversation with myself in the late Eighties. I looked at the market and I saw a need for a pianist like me [one who could play pop with the technique of a classical musician]. But it was all sort of intuitive because I'm not that cold and calculating. I leave that to the record people!"

The video Live! Di Blasio in Concert, recorded at the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts in 1994, provides ample evidence of the warmth and earthiness that Di Blasio emanates on-stage. "People ask me, 'What's your formula?'" he relates. "I'm myself on the stage. I love people. I'm glad to be there, I have fun. The audience is sacred for me. They're my energy."

In support of his seventh album, 1997's Solo, Di Blasio is gearing up for a one-month tour of Asia, with stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. Although he has yet to reach his ultimate goal of being completely satisfied with his work, these days he rarely gets anxious about his career. "Fame is a fantasy," he states. "What is more important for me is respect and making people happy. I want mothers, grandmothers, teenagers, all to enjoy themselves -- to cry, to be moved. Instrumental music has no barriers. It speaks the language that everybody speaks, the language of the heart."

Raul Di Blasio performs at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at the James L. Knight Center, 400 SE 2nd Ave; 372-4634. Tickets cost $36 and $49.

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