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Over the past decade, Swiss musician Gregoire Maret has redefined the role of the harmonica in modern jazz. After cutting his teeth as a sideman for some the biggest names in jazz, he's now taken center stage as a bandleader.
Here, Maret talks with NPR's Neal Conan about recording his self-titled debut album, building a following for the jazz harmonica and making the transition from sideman to headliner.
On how he got his start
"My father is a musician. Not professional, but he was in a circle of people who are playing a lot of music. So one of his friends actually gave me my first instrument. And I just started listening to his records and trying to pick up whatever I could and play and copy it."
On whether harmonica players get as much respect as other musicians
"Well, there's a little bit of a cliche. The idea that surrounds this instrument is a little bit strange, I guess, because very few people know how to play it. So when you think of harmonica, you always think of somebody who cannot play it.
"And I will not name anybody, but there's also a lot of pop musicians that have been, you know, mainstream who can really play this instrument. So, I mean, it sounds okay in their music, but it's not — it doesn't really do any justice to the instrument, really, as a full instrument. So once ... people realize, listening to me or other people who can play this instrument, that this full instrument has huge range, basically, and very exciting."
On his style as a bandleader
"I love the input of everybody in the band. I'm not here telling everybody what to do. I'll bring usually the music, and then we'll work on that music and make it grow. That's my take on being a leader, more than just telling everybody what to do on every level."