Peace on Earth  by Monika Herzig – reviewed by Chris Mann

In 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 more.

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 solo!!

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 your house.

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