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Hendrik Meurkens
Hendrik Meurkens

Hendrik Meurkens, the renowned jazz harmonica and vibraphone virtuoso, is all set to take the stage at Zinc on Tuesday, September 5, accompanied by his accomplished band members: Misha Tsiganov on piano, Gili Lopez on bass, and Portinho on drums. With a remarkable career spanning decades, Hendrik has fearlessly explored the worlds of jazz, Brazilian, and world music. Hailing from Hamburg, Germany, he found his passion for the harmonica and jazz at a young age, eventually moving to New York City to immerse himself in the vibrant jazz scene. He has become one of the most respected and sought-after musicians in the industry.

At the core of Hendrik’s musical artistry lies a deep connection to the jazz harmonica, an instrument he has elevated to new heights, captivating audiences worldwide. But his exceptional talents don’t stop there; Hendrik is also an accomplished vibraphonist, displaying extraordinary prowess on this instrument as well.

His proficiency on both harmonica and vibraphone has earned him critical acclaim and numerous awards, solidifying his place as a true virtuoso in the world of jazz and world music.

We recently had the privilege of talking to Hendrik Meurkens on the eve of his Zinc performance to discuss his illustrious career, his passion for Brazilian music, and the enchanting blend of jazz and harmonica that has become his signature style.

Charles Carlini: Hendrik, your journey as a jazz harmonica player and vibraphonist is truly unique. Can you share with us how you first discovered these instruments, and what drew you to explore jazz as your primary genre of expression?

Hendrik Meurkens: The initial influence came from the vibes. My introduction was through a Benny Goodman recording featuring Lionel Hampton, and I became captivated. Subsequently, figures like Milt Jackson entered the scene, yet it was Hampton who set things in motion. His rhythmic momentum resembled an unstoppable freight train, leaving a lasting impact.

When it comes to the harmonica, it was none other than Toots! Quite unexpectedly, he was the singular individual who truly infused that instrument with a sense of swing. Even now, no one even approaches his level. He unquestionably holds the title of KING!!!

CC: Your love for Brazilian music is evident in your extensive discography. What sparked your interest in this genre, and how has it influenced your musical identity and artistic approach?

HM: I heard some bossa nova albums featuring Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, and there was no turning back. This took place in Hamburg during the mid-1970s, a period when education largely centered around LPs and the hopeful prospect of attending live shows. As a result, I embarked on a journey of continuous discovery, amassing one LP after another—marking the inception of a remarkable odyssey.

CC: As a multi-instrumentalist, you excel not only in harmonica but also in vibraphone. How do you approach these two instruments differently in your performances and recordings, and what challenges and joys do each instrument bring to your musical journey?

HM: Their qualities differ markedly, and they thrive in almost contrasting settings. The harmonica assumes the role of a balladeer, whereas the vibes deliver a dynamic and visually captivating show. Although the harmonica can work well on its own, the vibes truly flourish at opportune moments. Effective set planning plays a crucial role, and somebody has to schlep that vibraphone in.

CC: Your collaboration with outstanding musicians from around the world has resulted in a plethora of stunning albums. Is there a particular collaboration or project that stands out as a defining moment in your career, and what made it so special?

HM: It’s a challenge to pinpoint one. Each holds its own appeal. The collaboration on the Amazon River album with Dori Caymmi and Oscar Castro Neves is notably unique. And, naturally, my trio of albums with Jimmy Cobb stands out as well.

CC: Your upcoming performance at Zinc is highly anticipated. Can you give us a glimpse into what the audience can expect from this show? How do you curate the setlist, and how important is the interaction with the audience in shaping the musical experience?

HM: We’re fortunate to have the incredible Portinho on drums, who is truly a marvel of nature. His sense of swing is unparalleled, and whenever he’s part of the team, I shape the music around his style. I select the appropriate tunes, often opting for samba jazz classics, and Portinho takes the lead, driving the rhythm. This performance is also a tribute to Marcos Valle, and I’ll certainly include some tracks from João Donato, honoring his recent passing. It promises to be a night of samba jazz, with the man himself on the drums!

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Thank you, Hendrik, for sharing your musical insights and experiences with us. Your proficiency on both harmonica and vibraphone, along with your passion for Brazilian music, have enriched the jazz world, and we eagerly look forward to experiencing your incredible performance at Zinc. Best of luck with all your future endeavors!

For more information about Hendrik Meurkens, visit his website at https://hendrikmeurkens.com/. And make sure to save the date for his Zinc performance on Tuesday, September 5, where he will undoubtedly enchant the audience with his remarkable artistry! Click here to secure your tickets and be part of an unforgettable night of jazz and harmonica magic!

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