German born and bred pianist/composer Monika Herzig has a flare for putting an eclectic twist on traditional jazz idioms, and she makes no exceptions on her interpretation of classic holiday tunes for her forthcoming CD, Peace On Earth. Fraught with decorative furls and spontaneous chutes, Herzig’s album injects boasters to familiar holiday sing-along numbers like "The Coventry Carol" and "Silent Night’ producing bursts of freestyle energy rimming the main themes. Her improvisations act as boughs of mistletoe which cuff the tunes with squiggly frills that increase the music’s mobility and breadth.
She expresses about her style, "My main attraction to jazz is coming up with new, original approaches to playing familiar music. My collection of jazzy holiday arrangements has grown quite large over the years and the timing seemed right. Coming from a different country, I’m quite aware of the variety of traditions that celebrate the holidays. My goal was to be as inclusive as possible. The concept of peace and togetherness seems to be the unifying concept among all those traditions."
She tells that the selection chosen for the recording was meant to spread good tidings citing, "Since the concept was an inclusive one, I included songs from several different traditions [such as] traditional German songs with ‘Silent Night‘, ‘O Tannenbaum‘, an old English carol ‘The Coventry Carol‘, gospel songs [like] ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain‘, ‘This Little Light of Mine‘, [and] of course the title song ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth‘, popular and new songs [such as] ‘Happy Xmas‘, some humor [with] ‘Santa Claus is Coming/Schneebrunzer‘, and also brand-new traditions with my originals."
Herzig’s original tunes on the album include: "Children Sleep Softly," "Ballad For A Snowman," "Give Peace Every Chance," and "Ode To A New Year." For the track "Ballad For A Snowman," she furnishes, "The song obviously has some quirky Monk inspiration and is my first attempt on writing lyrics. Even my friend, the current poet laureate of Indiana, gave his approval so I’m attempting to add a new standard to the holiday repertoire. Obviously without the lyrics, it would be hard to recognize the holiday relations. Wendy (Reed) was gracious enough to work very hard on learning this song, since the Bebop lines are quite difficult to master. She did a fabulous job matching the horn lines."
The musicians that played on the recording were in tune with Herzig’s style. " I knew all of these musicians from playing together many times and I’m always striving to get the best possible, so they motivate me to go beyond my limits."
On the song "Go Tell It On The Mountain," she and her husband Peter Kienie, who plays the guitar on the recording, perform a vibrant series of improvisations. She describes, "This was the last song to be recorded on the last recording day. Just as we wanted to get started, the studio owner realized that he had double-booked the evening and another band was coming in ready to set up. We looked at each other and said, ‘We can do this in 10 minutes one, two, go." She adds, "I’m married to Peter, so we have coordinated our improvs since close to 20 years now!"
Herzig also produced the album which positioned her to view the whole picture and not just her part in it. She informs, "I did all the arrangements, rehearsed the band, decided on recording details, personnel, instrumentation it can be a daunting task. The musicians I work with are fabulous though and most supportive and helped make this a collaborative effort. In addition to playing piano, I have to keep my ears on the whole sound and constantly make decisions on arrangements and improving the sonic results. As a producer, I also have to make sure to give enough space to all the musicians, keep the overall concept in mind and make everyone feel comfortable playing and expressing themselves."
As both the producer and solo artist for the record, she made the decision to go another way from conventional standards for the song "Christmas Time Is Here" by making this a totally piano-driven track. "This is my favorite song to play every H\\holiday season," she admits. "I look forward to it every year. Several years ago, I did a solo piano version of this at a special event and one of the listeners started crying because she thought it was so beautiful. Vince Guaraldi had a great way of creating catchy melodies and adding beautiful harmonies. One of the reasons I chose to learn the piano was the opportunity to be a whole band by myself. I can play melodies, harmonies, rhythms, all at the same time."
She became enamored of the piano at a young age and recalls, "I begged my parents to buy a piano very early on, but they made me prove that I’m serious by taking lessons on the melodica. It’s a small instrument with two octaves that you blow into. Finally at the age of 10, I had them convinced. The piano is the Queen of all instruments that can play as many notes as there are fingers at the same time combining all the musical elements. I also have a church organ degree, an even more powerful instrument as the feet add another dimension."
She muses, " I love the great pianists, especially Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, and most of all Chick Corea with whom I share a birthday. Over the years, I have learned to pull out some of the unnecessary notes and focus on the ones that make most melodic sense."
Aside from her musical influences, Herzig also discovered how to spruce up her style through her teachings as a music educator. "As a teacher it’s important to conceptualize the elements of the music to be able to communicate to the students. I have a very analytical mind and taking things apart has helped me put it back together more effectively."
Her training and teaching fostered a desire in her to play live. She reveals that she has played these holiday tunes live, "Many times from concert halls to church services to clubs. Challenges can be different personnel and sometimes the more intimate tunes can get lost in a noisy environment."
She lists, "Here are the upcoming release concerts scheduled so far:
Friday, November 20, New Combo, Fukuoka, 8pm http://www.f2.dion.ne.jp/~combo/
Saturday, November 21, House Concert hosted by Allan Sutherland, Kumamoto
Sunday, November 22, Lileth, Kagoshima http://music.geocities.jp/lileth_jazz/top_ja.html
Monday, November 23, Wine Tasting Solo Piano, 2pm, Kyoto
Tuesday, November 24, MacArthurs Garage, Atsugi, 8pm
Wednesday, November 25th visit jam session at ko-ko in Shibuya
Friday, November 27, Diglight, Tokyo, 8pm http://www.diglight.co.jp/
Friday, December 11, CD Release concert and fundraiser Monika Herzig and Friends,
John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium, corner of 4th and Walnut, Bloomington
Saturday, December 12, Jazz Avenue Christmas Special at Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus hosted by Robert Hay-Smith with special guests Monika Herzig, Carolyn Dutton, Trumpet Fore, and many other performers http://uucolumbusin.org/
Tuesday, December 15, CD Release concert with Monika Herzig and Friends featuring Sandy Susikind, Blue Wisp, Cinicnnati http://www.thebluewisp.com/
When asked what impression she would like her music to make on audiences, she remarks, "Most of all enjoyment, setting a peaceful mood, taking the mind off daily stress and conflict I’m not into note Olympics but making beautiful music."
Monika Herzig is truly an artist who marches to the beats of her own rhythmic pattern. Her holiday CD, Peace On Earth puts zing in the ruffles of familiar traditional tunes and rings in the approaching season with Herzig style. Her work expands the breadth of classic idioms and takes tracks in spontaneous directions which remove the predictability of conventional themes and tweaks their traditional stock.