Band of Brothers

Introducing The Merk Brothers—A Jazz Trio with West Chester Roots

Music is one of many of West Chester and Liberty’s local loves. Our area is known for award-winning band and choir programs and year-round concerts of all styles. It is no wonder that The Merk Brothers, a local jazz trio, emerged from these musical roots. Meet Spencer, Charlie and Alex Merk, three talented brothers who have been making music together for more than 15 years. 

Last summer, The Merk Brothers’ debut album, At Least, was released on Golden Mean Records to rave reviews. The project highlights the writing, improvisational and instrumental skills of each player. Listening to the music by Spencer, age 25, on trombone, Charlie, age 23, on trumpet and flugelhorn and Alex, age 21 on drums, is a lot like overhearing a family conversation. Each tune is an animated heart-to-heart about shared life, space and time in foot-tapping rhythms and memorable melodies. They allow each other a beautiful give and take with each expressing their own voice but telling a shared story. 

“We all contributed three original songs to the album,” says Spencer. “It’s not nine of the same songs, it’s a bunch of different stuff. It’s unique voices, but unified, because we all have a similar musical upbringing.”

The opportunity to play together extends beyond the usual connection in a music ensemble.

“When the three of us get to play together, it feels really natural—like a musical link that feels familiar,” says Alex. 

“We never even had to talk about the vision for the album,” Spencer adds. “We all knew from the beginning what it was going to be.” 

During recording in the winter of 2022, the timing was important, because they knew life transitions were coming. 

“We knew that the time when we were all still living in the same city was coming to a close, so we wanted to get together and collaborate as closely as we could,” Charlie explains. 

When not playing together, Spencer, Charlie and Alex can be found on stage and in the studio with other jazz musicians or leading other ensembles like the Charlie Merk Quartet and We Are the Walrus. Two of their professors and mentors from University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) joined them on the At Least project: Aaron Jacobs on bass and Sergio Pamies on piano. 

“The fact that each of us had the experience of working for years in the city with other musicians made it easier for the three of us to collaborate and work as a team,” says Charlie.

The Merks’ love of music started in their West Chester home. 

“As young children, we were always surrounded by music,” says Spencer. “Our dad is a big music fan, even though he has never played music himself. As kids, whenever we were in the car or around the house, there was always music on.”

Charlie adds, “Our mom was a great flute player through high school and college…she really knew the value of what the arts and band programs can do for students.”

As youngsters, they explored a variety of activities, but settled into the study of music. 

“We all got started with a great piano teacher, Susan Hartman in West Chester,” says Charlie. “Alex was in Kindergarten, I was in 2nd grade and Spencer was in 4th grade. From there, we all took to music, and found our other instruments.”

The Merks attribute their growth of leadership, audition and improvisation skills to their experiences in the band programs at Lakota West High School and the doors that opened to them while at CCM. 

“All three of us were active in the Lakota West band programs,” says Spencer. “It was my entire social group, too. That’s where people like us could really belong.”

As expected, 2024 finds the trio branching out in different directions. While Alex follows in his brothers’ footsteps and finishes an undergraduate degree at CCM, Spencer is working toward a Master of Music in jazz trombone at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Charlie is soon headed to basic training to join the U.S. Air Force in a jazz trumpet position. 

“We have drawn inspiration and encouragement from one another throughout our entire musical journey, relying on one another to rise to the occasion musically as we have grown,” says Alex. “Now, we are enthusiastically pursuing our own ventures. As a less familiar but exciting future looms, we can look fondly upon these years we’ve spent getting started together and know that At Least we have this recording to remember them by.”  

“We have a lot of love for West Chester and attribute much of our success to growing up there,” Spencer says.

Watch for more music to come from The Merk Brothers. Even while apart, Spencer, Charlie and Alex Merk are tuned into life together. 

Hear At Least on Spotify and Apple Music or purchase the album online. Follow West Chester + Liberty Lifestyle on Instagramduring the month of February for a chance to win your own copy. SpencerMerkMusic.com,CharlieMerkMusic.com

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