ROCK HALL — The Mainstay will welcome jazz harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens and his quartet at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19.
Meurkens was born Aug. 6, 1957, in Hamburg, Germany. As a boy, his parents had jazz and Brazilian records in their collection.
“I heard the music, and that was the start of it,” he said.
He began with piano lessons and played drums in the basement with friends. At 16, he got serious, devoting himself to the vibraphone, because “the vibes seemed to be the best marriage between the piano and drums,” he said.
But it was hearing Toots Thielemans play the harmonica that totally changed his musical life. He was so moved by Toots that he bought his own chromatic harmonic, the next day. Entirely self-taught on this difficult-to-master instrument, Meurkens has made it his primary focus.
“Playing jazz harmonica is very difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to connect all the notes smoothly. But it’s a wonderfully expressive instrument, as well. And like the saxophone, you can work with the tone and develop your own sound.”
In addition to the jazz masters, Brazilian music was influential. To immerse himself in the music, Meurkens moved to Brazil in 1982 at the invitation of Maurício Einhorn, the Brazilian harmonica player and composer of several classics of bossa nova. Meurkens lived in Rio and began a regular Monday gig at the popular Bar 21.
Meurkens’ six Concord recordings introduced him to the global audience and established him as the first major new voice on the harmonica since Toots Thielemans. Playing with veterans Charlie Byrd and Herbie Mann also proved inspirational.
“The older cats,” he said, “they are truly survivors. They have developed the attitude necessary to survive. As musicians, whatever their problems, whatever is happening on the road, the old guys are troopers, they just let the hours pass and do their jobs.” “They’re also great communicators. Both Charlie Byrd and Herbie Mann reach out to an audience and make them a part of the experience. That’s been a great lesson for me.”
Meurkens’ new project, Amazon River, is the culmination of his love of Brazilian music.
Tickets are $30 online or $35 by phone reservation or at the door. Information and advance ticket sales are available on the Mainstay’s website at www.mainstay rockhall.org.