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Mr. GREGOIRE MARET (Harmonica Player): My name is Gregoire Maret. I'm a harmonica player. And this is a composition I wrote, and it's called "My Loved Ones."

(Soundbite of "My Loved Ones")

ED GORDON, host:

Maret is a 30-year-old Swiss musician that has gained a reputation as the latest innovator on his instrument. As a sideman, he's added his sound to some of the biggest names in jazz, pop and R&B. We asked him to explain how a kid from Switzerland developed into the John Coltrane of the harmonica.

(Soundbite of "My Loved Ones")

Mr. MARET: I'm flattered to be seen as somebody who is innovative on this instrument, but what really is important for me is to be looked at as a musician who happens to play the harmonica.

(Soundbite of "My Loved Ones")

Mr. MARET: I was born and raised in Switzerland, Geneva. My father is a musician, a Swiss musician over there. My mother is African-American. She was born and raised in Harlem, New York, then she decided to go to Europe to work, and my parents met and they got married, and she stayed. Then the whole family started.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MARET: Very often people ask me why I started to play the harmonica and how I started, and there's two stories. The first one is I went to a blues concert and I saw these blues harmonica players who just completely blew my mind, and after that, I had to try to play the harmonica. I knew nothing about that instrument, but just the sound of it was just--I can remember the feeling of how it really touched me profoundly. And somebody had one of those key-chain harmonica--a very small harmonica--and gave that to me and was like, `Why don't you play that?' And I was just really intrigued, so that's how it started.

When that happened, I was 16 years old. I started asking around to try to see if it was possible to take lessons with anybody, but nobody knew how to play that instrument, and nobody was giving any lessons. So I just--I was completely self-taught.

(Soundbite of "26-2")

Mr. MARET: There's a couple songs that were key to my growth, and one of them was "26-2," actually, by John Coltrane, that I worked for a very, very long time, every day for hours. I just--I loved that song, and I felt like if I wanted to deal with some hard changes like that, I wanted to be able to play a song that I really liked, and I started working on that piece.

(Soundbite of "26-2")

Mr. MARET: When I first got in New York and when I first started playing, people were laughing at me and they wouldn't take me very seriously. But now, over the years and the fact that I've played with so many big names and well-known people, they respect me. I mean, it's--now there's no more problem really.

(Soundbite of "How Deep is the Ocean?")

Mr. MARET: So this song is the version that we recorded with Jimmy Scott, of "How Deep is the Ocean?"

(Soundbite of "How Deep is the Ocean?")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) How deep is the ocean?

Mr. MARET: That was my first major gig, when I started playing with Jimmy. And it was really incredible, because he knew where I could go and that he could help me go there, so he really opened up all those doors for me, and it was really an amazing experience.

(Soundbite of "How Deep is the Ocean?")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MARET: If I can contribute in a very small way to make sure that people really listen to the music first when they're hearing someone like that and don't judge it, because the--people always have this idea and think that it's a corny instrument. There's--nothing can be done on it. If I can help convince people that it's not true, just like Toots did and Stevie Wonder did, it would be amazing for me. You know what I mean?

GORDON: Harmonica player Gregoire Maret. His first CD is scheduled for release earlier next year. For now, you can catch him on tour with Pat Metheny and his group.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. If you'd like to comment, log on to npr.org and click on `contact us,' or give us a call at (202) 408-3330.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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