Is Jared Hara The Greatest Blind Guitarist To Ever Live?
We are all enamored with the Olympics, the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Oscars and even Nobel Prizes. There is nothing more exciting than to bear witness to the greatest. Of course, the greatest is sometimes subjective. In art, there are no yards gained, no runs batted in and no fastest times to single out the best. Sometimes in life, the greatest is simply measured by the WOW factor. And Jared Hara, the twenty-two year old blind guitarist for his band “Symmetry” can dish it out like no one before him.
Sure, Jose Feliciano, Jeff Healy, Doc Watson and other blind guitarists were enormous influences in the music world. Jared just seems to have taken the art of guitar playing to another level. A level that even few sighted guitarists ever reach. However, like the true competitor he is, he will tell you he is light years away from where he wants to be.
When Jared was eleven in 2001, he learned he was going blind from a rare genetic disease. His passion at that time was ice hockey and his Orlando Florida Solar Bears team won State Championship that year. The year he would have to hang up his skates forever.
After dealing with darkness and depression for a year, Jared decided he needed something to replace the love he had for hockey. While visiting Guitar Center with his parents and trying out all the popular instruments, Jared seemed to gravitate to the electric guitar. He would later admit, “it felt close to holding a hockey stick and I liked the power coming from the amplifier.” He sat there for three hours just strumming and picking notes that made no musical sense. Sometimes a heartfelt salesman would sit down next to him and show him a thing or two. But for the most part, Jared just sat there noodling while his mind was processing whether this strange thing he was holding could actually replace the feelings he once embraced with hockey. With no prior musical experience, love of music or proclivity toward music, Jared emerged from the store with his first guitar.
Lessons ensued and Orlando had plenty of great guitarists and instructors wanting to assist Jared on his musical journey. Bobby Koelble of Death, Mike Walker guitar virtuoso and Jeremy Hagen of Afterglow Radio tag teamed Jared with lessons that had to be tailored to someone who couldn’t see. “Everything was audible and tactile,” says Bobby Koelble. “We had to learn a new way of teaching because Jared couldn’t read charts, see what our fingers were doing or see what his fingers were doing. In retrospect, we probably never thought or would have believed Jared could rise to this level. Hell yea we’re proud.”
When Jared was thirteen, the popular band Shinedown was coming through Orlando to perform a Hurricane Relief Concert. Shinedown was Jared’s favorite band and his parents reached out to them to see if Jared and they could meet before the show. What transpired was not only a meeting with the compassionate band, but they brought Jared onstage with them to play a song in front of six thousand screaming fans. Jared will tell you that this moment with Shinedown changed his life. He knew he had to form his own band someday and get back onstage.
Shortly thereafter, HBO got wind of Jared’s story and decided to air an award winning documentary about him entitled “Blindsided.” It was a brutally honest depiction capturing the turmoil Jared and his family endured after he went blind and how Jared’s indomitable spirit and his new found passion for music brought his family out of the darkness. It aired for two years and is currently being discussed in Hollywood for a made-for TV movie.
Fast forward three years of continued guitar lessons and ten hour daily practices, Jared now sixteen was finally confident to form his band. One would think being blind would pose difficulties in finding other band members, but Jared’s personality and virtuosity was magnetic and inspiring for other musicians.
Sound Cannon was the name chosen for his newly formed band and it was very appropriate as their music and notoriety was like they were shot out of a cannon. Jared’s melodic solo’s and stage performances were infectious and it seemed that Jared and Sound Cannon were destined for greatness. Then sadly, eighteen months after the inception of Sound Cannon, the week they received the honor of second best rock band in Central Florida, the day they were to open for Mudvayne at a huge festival in South Florida, their vocalist passed away.
After two years of trying to pick up the pieces and replace Sound Cannon’s gifted vocalist, Jared decided he wanted to move to Los Angeles, attend the prestigious Musician’s Institute and hopefully rebuild Sound Cannon in Los Angeles.
While waiting for a response from Musician’s Institute on whether they would accept Jared with his disability into their guitar curriculum that placed enormous emphasis on teaching students to read music , Jared entered the Sam Ash Steve Vai National Best In Shred Competition. Winning city, state and regional competitions put Jared in the National Finals in Los Angeles where he would be judged by today’s greatest guitarists. Herman Li, John 5, Andy Timmons and George Lynch were among the judges. As Jared was making plans to attend the competition in December 2010, he received word that Musician’s Institute was indeed impressed with his resume and talent and would accept him into their institution beginning January 2011. Their first blind guitar student. And he would begin in their higher levels as they were aware of Jared’s exceptional training and virtuosity.
Excited yet uncertain, nineteen year old Jared headed to Los Angeles with his family to first compete in the national shred competition before attending Musician’s Institute classes in January. The competition was Jared’s immediate focus as entering Musician’s Institute with a National Title would have provided him with some strength and self esteem to offset the enormous anxiety he felt about the new environment he was entering. An environment where he knew his disability would not be readily embraced. How would his new classmates accept him? Would his instructors who had never taught a blind student be willing and able to make the necessary adjustments for him?
Two things quickly led to what seemed a spiraling out of control situation for Jared. He didn’t win the national finals and some of his instructors at Musician’s Institute were either perplexed or unyielding on accommodating him. The competition loss was a huge disappointment for Jared. However, Jared would not make any excuses for the loss and eventually put it in perspective. Out of six hundred entries across the nation, he was one of nine remaining.
As for Musician’s Institute, the first few months were borderline impossible and Jared wasn’t sure about his future there. But his perseverance and belief in himself wasn’t going to allow the structured curriculum for sighted students interfere with his desire to learn from some of the greatest teachers in the United States. Jude Gold, Alex Machacek, Jinshi Ozaki, Carl Verheyen, Greg Harrison, Jamie Findlay and the late Ross Bolton. Eventually, Jared and his instructors began meshing and a mutual respect and understanding was solidified. It took time, but Jared became an inspiration for his classmates and his teachers, rising to the top of many of his classes. Jared had to memorize his courses and all the music he was required to perform making Musician’s Institute an extremely important part of his life. It taught him self reliance. And through desire and effort, he could succeed through his own methodology what sighted guitarists were accomplishing. “While the other students were strengthening their reading skills,” Jared says, “I was strengthening my ability to listen, process, memorize and perform the material.”
Jared scaled through all his courses with a 4.0 average and left MI with much more soul and emotion in his playing. Sure he could shred like a monster, but he matured into a musician who wanted to construct beautiful heartfelt music at any speed. He was now an educated musician and very thankful to MI and all his teachers.
Now it was time for Jared to move on to the second reason for moving to Los Angeles. To rebuild his band Sound Cannon that had been dormant for many years. While Jared and his father began searching for the right musicians, Jared became a hired gun for a pop band based in Los Angeles. Pop wasn’t Jared’s first choice, but the band gave him the artistic freedom to enhance each song with his extraordinary talent. One night at The Key Club in L.A., Jared brought down the house with a solo that few guitarists could ever imagine, let alone play. As the crowd went wild, a man grabbed the arm of the man standing next to him and with unbridled excitement exclaimed, “and that guy is blind.“ The man whose arm was grabbed was a notable music producer who was now in a state of shock. The fact is, if you don’t know Jared is blind, you may never know unless someone tells you. He does such a great job of masking it so it doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable. After the set, Jared was approached by the producer who professed his desire and unwavering commitment to consult Jared on his way to stardom.
It took almost a year, but in late 2011 Jared had finally put an L.A. based Sound Cannon together with musicians he had always envisioned for his band. He now needed to give up his paying pop gig and devote all his time to his new band mates.
It was a fantastic 2012 for Jared and his progressive rock band Sound Cannon. In January, Jared was asked to showcase his talents for the press at the NAMM convention. Then Sound Cannon began playing all the iconic venues in Los Angeles and were mentioned as one of the Best New Rock Bands in Music Connections Magazine. It continues as Jared co-wrote and co-produced for Sound Cannon the song “When Will It End” which won Best Rock Song Of The Year at the 2012 HMMA Awards. Topping off the year, Jared and his band played the New Years Eve Show with Puddle Of Mudd at The Whisky A Go Go. And throughout the year, Jared received endorsements from Hughes Kettner Amps, Dean Markley Strings, Cort Guitars and Voyage Air Guitars not to mention artist prices from Fernandes and Martin Guitars.
In 2013, Jared and Sound Cannon bolted out of the gates recording their debut full length album entitled, “Frozen In Time.” Jared turned to renowned producer James Paul Wisner to produce the dynamic album. Jared had worked with Wisner before in Orlando and Jared knew he was the guy. Some of Wisner’s credits include Dashboard Confessional, Paramore, A New Found Glory, and Underoath. “Frozen In Time” is scheduled for release in the summer of 2013.
While recording their album, the band decided it was an opportune time to change their name. Jared was Sound Cannon for six years and his new band mates wanted a more contemporary name that represented their beginning together. They locked on “Symmety” which means, harmonious, beautifully proportioned, balanced and the key to life. Symmetry makes the world go round. Jared says that someday he may resurrect Sound Cannon as his solo project, but his focus is now entirely on Symmetry.
Over the years, Jared has met Stevie Wonder and blind guitarist Raul Midon. He also received a beautiful note from Jose Feliciano wishing the then thirteen year old Jared good luck on his epic 180 mile, fourteen hour tube journey from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau Bahamas with his two best friends. Jared says, “I wanted to do something that had never been done before and probably will never be done again. It was absolutely crazy tubing through five foot waves and shark infested waters. I guess I wanted to show myself and maybe others that even blind, I could do amazing things.”
Jared’s desire to do things that have never been done before seems to have transferred into his music and his performances. “Someday, I just want to be thought of as a great musician, not a great blind musician,“ says Jared. Understood Jared. However, because we have a need to judge, rate and compare, you may have to one day accept the distinction of being the greatest blind guitarist that has ever lived. Because when we see you play, all we can do is shake our heads and think of one word. WOW!