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Virtuoso instrumentalist and composer Hendrik Meurkens was born August 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 remembers. He began with piano lessons, and played drums in the basement with friends. But at sixteen, he got serious, devoting himself to the vibraphone, because, “the vibes seemed to be the best marriage between the piano and drums.” 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 harmonica, 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," Meurkens notes. "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 also influential, and had been since it first heard it as a teenager. To immerse himself in the music, he 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. In Brazilian music, he found a beauty and simplicity that touched a profound chord. “I’ve always been attracted to music that focuses on melody and harmonic beauty. That could be Bach, of course, but for me, the perfect music is Brazilian because of its sympathetic emotional context.”
Hendrik Meurkens’ six Concord recordings successfully 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 explains, “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.”
Hendrik Meurkens has continued to share his singular musical virtuosity. He toured Europe with an all-star Quartet that included Jimmy Cobb, Ray Drummond and Dado Moroni, recorded as a soloist with Astud Gilberto and on a session for Olivia Newton-John. He’s also played everywhere from the Cork International Jazz Festival in Ireland to the first International Jazz and Harmonica Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota. and the World Harmonica Festival in Germany.
His new project, Amazon River, is the culmination of his love of Brazilian music. This his first true concept recording, wherein Meurkens focuses on all aspects of the Brazilian sound supported by both small group and strings. Meurkens says that “Amazon River is the ultimate statement about me and my music. It presents the whole picture, from Brazilian influenced Jazz to traditional music."