Peace on Earth by Monika Herzig
– reviewed by Chris Mann
1987, the pedagogical institute in Weingarten, Germany awarded
a scholarship for a one-year exchange program at the
University of Alabama to one of their students, jazz pianist
Monika Herzig. Together with her partner and guitarist Peter
Kienle, she arrived in the States on a one-way ticket, with
one suitcase of belongings and one guitar in August 1988.
Since then she has completed her Doctorate in Music Education
and Jazz Studies at Indiana University, where she is now a
faculty member. As a touring jazz artist, she has performed at
many prestigious jazz clubs and festivals, such as the Indy
Jazz Fest, Cleveland’s Nighttown, Louisville’s Jazz Factory,
the W.C.Handy Festival, Jazz in July in Bloomington and
Cincinnati, Columbus’ Jazz & Rib Fest, to name just a few.
Groups under her leadership have toured Germany, opened for
acts such as Tower of Power, Sting, the Dixie Dregs, Yes, and
Her Christmas celebration CD is the latest in a series of
highly regarded recordings she has made under her own name.
A rock-blues shuffle version of ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’
opens this seasonal set and fortunately it gives Monika some
space to stretch out on the piano. This will wake you up – I
guarantee. ‘Let There Be Peace On Earth’ is more what I was
hoping for, and it’s a jazz trio piece that I suspect is
closer to what Monika is all about.
At this time of year ‘The Coventry Carol’ is one of the pieces
I like to hear most. I’ve never heard it like this – a jazz
trio at speed and augmented by five horns, including a tuba!
It’s grown on me and I know I’ll be playing this version in
future years. One of Monika’s original compositions ‘Children
Sleep Softly’ is a vocal with a dreamy violin played in the
lower registers and it really is like a lullaby, played in a
soothing ¾ time signature.
The gospel number ‘This Little Light Of Mine’ receives a
lovely treatment with Tom Clark’s righteous tenor sax work,
underpinned again by a jazz trio doing only what the song
needs – no showboating. Fans of John Lennon will be delighted
to hear a new version of ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’. The song
is instrumental for most of its 7minutes but gets very
sentimental when the chorus of children chimes in at the end.
Ah, it’s Christmas folks!
‘Give Peace Every Chance’ is the second original composition
here. Carolyn Dutton’s plaintive violin takes the melody and
the song unfolds slowly, delivering some beautiful piano
soloing along the way. I like this song a lot and I feel I’m
going to get to like it even more… Monika’s playful side is to
the fore on her ‘Ballad for a Snowman’, which is the sort a
vocal jazz tune I can imagine Cleo Laine singing – it’s got
that off-the-beat feel and you expect a scat at any second.
Marlin McKay – nice trumpet solo! Nate Sutton – nice trombone
We all know ‘O Christmas Tree’ and although Monika takes it
down some unfamiliar avenues melodically, it’s still the same
song we know and brings the same cosy mulled wine glow. For
the ultimate in heart-warming listening, the classic
‘Christmas Time is Here’ is hard to beat and when it’s
rendered by one woman and one piano, it’s probably impossible
to beat. Ahh.
A sultry middle-Eastern feel comes to ‘Silent Night’ and,
after a moment’s thought, that is completely appropriate. The
brushes patter across the cymbals while the violin and piano
alternate solos. The melody is recognisable somewhere in there
but this is a mood piece – and I’m loving it. Tom Clark picks
up the soprano sax to lead the third original composition ‘Ode
to a New Year’. This is another very atmospheric piece and
Kenny Phelps’ drum work is quietly superb, shifting tempos,
rising and falling. Why don’t we know this trio better? They
really have it going on. The closer ‘The Schneebrunzer/Santa
Claus is Coming to Town’ is for the (very) young people in
If you read the CD sleeve while you play this album you’ll
feel that you’ve been invited to a family Christmas party.
This is a very personal take on Christmas music and it rewards
repeated plays – that isn’t something you can say about much
of what you will hear over the holiday period. Monika Herzig
is a new name for me. I urge fans of jazz in a more
traditional vein to find out more at
Owl Studios – OWL00134 Producer – Monika Herzig