May 22, 2011


Monika Herzig, born June 12, 1964 is a lot of things. A jazz pianist, whose second album for Owl Studios, a DVD and CD combo called Come with Me, was released this April. A pedagogue, teaching music industry courses for undergrads at IU-Bloomington and a jazz history class for continuing studies students at IUPUI. A church organist, employed by Ellettsville First United Methodist for 16 years.

A community organizer, who has founded support and outreach groups for Bloomington jazz musicians (Jazz from Bloomington) and women in music (ISIS). A composer, whose analytical work often involves unusual chord changes and harmonic twists, perhaps because of her background (classically-trained outside of the American jazz tradition) or simply the way her brain is wired (a math major on the undergraduate level, she identifies herself as more analytical than big-picture oriented).

But wait, there's more: A theorist, who thinks the structure of a jazz combo offers insights on how to organize any small group of creative thinkers, in business as well as the arts. A soon-to-be published author, whose collection of essays on David Baker will become the first book on the jazz pedagogue and musician.

And, on a non-professional level: A mother, whose two children, ages 9 and 11, have managed to find their way to an album cover or two. And a German-American, who became an American citizen three years ago, 23 years after she and her husband, the jazz guitarist Peter Kienle, bought a one-way ticket from Germany to Northern Alabama.

And it goes on and on. Herzig has one of those CVs that make you wonder just what you've been doing all these years, and how people like her can resist the lure of, say, home entertainment systems and beer.

But she's not a singer, and you're just going to have to deal with it.

"Every time I set up somewhere, I can bet on it that someone will come up and say, 'Are you going to sing tonight?' Herzig explains on a Saturday night at Rick's Café Boatyard, the Westside restaurant where she's played with her trio every Saturday night for a decade. "I don't sing, and I think because of that I've grown more averse to it."

To be clear, Herzig isn't against vocals. She just doesn't need them for much of her work. Here's how she puts it in the liner notes to Come With Me, explaining the inspiration behind the song "The Pianists Say," which she says was crafted as an answer to all those who ask her to sing: "While I do enjoy vocals and the power of words very much, I do believe that instrumental music can communicate deeply, far beyond words, touching the depths of our emotions."

The goddess Isis

Maybe that question — aren't you going to sing for us tonight, Monika? — can annoy in another way: It assumes that any female in front of a band ought to be a singer. That's a stereotype that Herzig hopes to turn on its head through her work with ISIS of Indiana, the support organization for female musicians she co-founded with vocalist Heather Ramsey.

ISIS, whose June 2 Divas of Jazz concert at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club will exclusively showcase female musicians, was hatched during the December 2009 release show for Peace on Earth, Herzig's first album for Owl Studios. Ramsey approached Herzig that night. "We got to talking, and I realized, here's another entrepreneurial spirit," Herzig explains. "She'll come up with all these big ideas, and I go, 'Heather, I think that's possible, but that might be a little too far-reaching.' So we have a good balance."

And the biggest goal of the organization is to reach a balance, to address a gender bias that Herzig thinks can be attributed to a lack of prominent female role models in jazz. She points to studies which show that, while nearly equal numbers of males and females are involved in high school music programs, college jazz studies programs see a dramatic drop-off in female involvement. "There's something that happens when the question comes up, 'Should I do this as a profession?'" Herzig says.

Most girls answer "no," but Herzig is hoping they'll reconsider. This summer, ISIS, in collaboration with the Civic Theatre, will host a summer camp for girls called Girls Create Music, a sort of analogue to Girls Rock! Indy that will have components addressing songwriting, self-image and basic instrument instruction, and will close with a performance by the campers.

Not that Herzig is only in this to convert girls: She reaches out to groups of all ages and, er, sexes, from adults looking to catch up on the history of Indiana jazz to impressionable grade schoolers.

In 2005, Herzig founded the organization Jazz in the Schools to teach about jazz in Central Indiana schools. Her programs focus on key Indiana jazz musicians: songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, guitarist Wes Montgomery, her colleague David Baker — and a few female instrumentalists who might well serve as historical role models for girls playing jazz: ragtime pianist May Aufderheide, who may not have the name recognition of a Scott Joplin, but whose songs are still among the genre's most widely played; and the Hampton Sisters, all of whom were instrumentalists and singers.

And for the past seven years, Herzig has taught a jazz studies course, "An Introduction to Jazz History and the Indianapolis Jazz Scene," through the IUPUI continuing studies department. Borne out of a somewhat self-interested pitch by Chatterbox owner David Andrichik, who suggested to Herzig that a class whose sessions ended with performances at his club would be a great idea, Herzig's course combines classroom and experiential learning, beginning with a lecture at IUPUI's Senior Center and, indeed, closing with a performance featuring a local jazz musician at the Chatterbox.

Herzig met one of her collaborators, the former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf, while he was enrolled in her IUPUI course. The two went on to perform in a spoken word setting, eventually releasing a record, Imagine: Indiana in Music and Words. A poem Krapf wrote about the class — and, in particular, about Herzig's impact on her students ­— touches on another broad theme in her life: that of the outsider attending to an indigenous culture with more respect than many who grew up in it. Here are the salient lines from Krapf's "What Have You Gone and Done?": "You came to Indiana / from Swabia via Alabama / and brought us home to an Indiana Avenue / no longer visible to the eye" (from Bloodroot, copyright IU Press).

Case in point: When Herzig learned that, despite reports to the contrary, no one was working on a biography or study of the life and work of David Baker, she decided to take on the project herself. Not that she had ever written a book before, or that she had funding at the ready. She put together a proposal for IU Press, which was interested but didn't have the resources for a significant advance. An NEA grant eventually came through, and David Baker: A Legacy in Music is due this November. The book is a collection of essays addressing different aspects of Baker's work and life, including his classical and jazz compositions, pedagogical methods, work with the Smithsonian and NEA and early career as a musician. Herzig wrote some of the essays, and is credited as the primary author, but she wanted to involve other authors from the beginning, including IU professor and Owl Studios labelmate Brent Wallarab.

From the Alps to Brown County

Jazz wasn't unknown in Herzig's hometown of Horb, Germany, a small burg high in the Swabian Alps once known for its textile factories. But it wasn't exactly popular either. There was one group in the area, Beeblebrox, headed up by Peter Keinle. And, as Herzig puts it, "they tried to play this hardcore fusion and nobody got it."

Still, she was determined to play with someone, and she had a pretty good keyboard — one of the first Yamaha DX-7s. Classically-trained but not as well-versed in jazz, she approached the group in 1986 while an undergraduate. Herzig: "The thing is they said, 'You can practice with us, but when we play, we need someone who can really play.'"

Kienle and his cohorts needn't have warned her. They may have allowed Herzig into practices to get access to her keyboard, but she proved her chops and never missed a concert. The band name survived Herzig and Kienle's move to the States in 1988, with versions of BeebleBrox taking shape in both Alabama, where Herzig attended grad school, and in Bloomington, where they moved in 1991 so that Herzig could pursue her doctorate.

Herzig studied alongside now-household names in the local jazz community during her time at IU, most of whom are now her labelmates at Owl Studios: saxophonist Rob Dixon, trombonist Rich Dole, trumpeter/educator Mark Buselli and his collaborator Brent Wallarab. She had significant performance opportunities early in her studies, including a 1991 trip to Monte Carlo with the IU big band sponsored by Johnnie Walker, which saw IU students playing alongside jazz greats such as Freddie Hubbard, Betty Carter and Dave Brubeck. "It worked really great," Herzig says of the experience, "but then IU realized, 'Oh, we have an alcohol company sponsoring.'"

She earned her doctorate in music education (with specialty in jazz studies) in 1997, at which time she considered job offers that would have taken her out of the state, including an organist gig at a large Catholic church on Long Island. But Bloomington felt like home. In fact, it looked like home from the beginning. She remembers driving from Alabama to Indiana in 1991 and noticing the similarities between the hilly landscape of south central Indiana and that of her birthplace. She grew up near a ski slope — and, at one time, Ski World wasn't too far from her Bloomington home.

"I really liked it," she says of her first impressions of the city. "The whole culture in Bloomington is so much different from everywhere else because you have people from all over the world...It's a mini-oasis."

Herzig and Kienle started a family around the time of her graduation: "We're going to be old grandmas and grandpas," she jokes. And by 2002, Herzig had found a steady job at IU as a lecturer, helping to create music industry classes for a newly-created arts administration program. Her students have gone on to jobs with Bloomington outfits, including indie label Secretly Canadian and promotions company Rock Paper Scissors, as well as corporations such as Atlantic Records.

No shame in her game

When Herzig approaches a new album project, she has one central question in mind: "How can I do something special and different?" On her first Owl Studios album, Peace on Earth, she answered that question by working up a selection of Christmas songs, including John & Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)."

For her latest project, she happened upon the idea of coupling a CD with a DVD. After all, a DVD equals "extra value," which is important in a jazz world in which some of the most successful artists rarely sell more than ten thousand copies of an album.

Owl went for it, despite the extra expense. As Herzig puts it, studio head J. Allan Hall "is just there to support, and if he thinks it's a good idea, he'll go for it." Or Herzig may just be really convincing: in the documentary about her featured on the DVD, Hall calls Herzig "a hustler, in the best sense of the word," a characterization that Herzig laughs off when I bring it up during our talk at Rick's Cafe Boatyard.

But she is tireless, and one wonders just where she finds her passion. Herzig: "It's all about the energy of creating a new project that came out of your mind, and molding it and making it a reality...That excitement is where my energy comes from, I think. It's obviously not the money."

She's at no loss for ideas for the future, although she's presently occupied with her work on the David Baker book and with ISIS of Indiana, which will present its signature event, the Femmes Blu festival, September 30 at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club. She has an idea for a solo piano CD that includes multimedia components, including an interactive score and video clips. And she'd like to tour more, despite the difficulty in finding gigs in the absence of an actual jazz circuit.

Looking back, Herzig doesn't think it so unusual that a German-born musician has ended up a steward for the Indiana jazz tradition. She points to her time as an instrumental arranger and director for the IU Soul Revue, an ensemble affiliated with the university's African American Arts Institute. "We were presenting the black tradition and nobody said anything," she says of her place in the ensemble, which she notes also included a Japanese guitarist at the time. "I wrote the arrangements, I did my job, it was in style and it worked."

And she's invested in the state — and the country, noting that she can get legitimately upset over, for instance, the slashing of funding for public radio, now that she's become an American citizen. "We've been here now 20 years, and getting integrated and teaching a class, you realize what a great tradition this state has," Herzig says. "I guess I'm an adopted Hoosier, passing the word on...Even musicians who live here sometimes feel like they have to justify something or feel inferior. And when you look back, it was the crossroads: everybody came through, we had all these clubs, all the great bands played here and a lot of great musicians were from here."

To visit Monika Herzig's website CLICK HERE

May 07, 2011

The First Lady of Song

Dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums.

Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella.)

She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common - they all loved her.

Humble but happy beginnings

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Va. on April 25, 1917. Her father, William, and mother, Temperance (Tempie), parted ways shortly after her birth. Together, Tempie and Ella went to Yonkers, N.Y, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. Ella's half-sister, Frances, was born in 1923 and soon she began referring to Joe as her stepfather.

To support the family, Joe dug ditches and was a part-time chauffeur, while Tempie worked at a laundromat and did some catering. Occasionally, Ella took on small jobs to contribute money as well. Perhaps naïve to the circumstances, Ella worked as a runner for local gamblers, picking up their bets and dropping off money.

Their apartment was in a mixed neighborhood, where Ella made friends easily. She considered herself more of a tomboy, and often joined in the neighborhood games of baseball. Sports aside, she enjoyed dancing and singing with her friends, and some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.

A rough patch

In 1932, Tempie died from serious that injuries she received in a car accident. Ella took the loss very hard. After staying with Joe for a short time, Tempie's sister Virginia took Ella home. Shortly afterward Joe suffered a heart attack and died, and her little sister Frances joined them.

Unable to adjust to the new circumstances, Ella became increasingly unhappy and entered into a difficult period of her life. Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. Living there was even more unbearable, as she suffered beatings at the hands of her caretakers.

Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. The 15-year-old found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression, and strove to endure.

Never one to complain, Ella later reflected on her most difficult years with an appreciation for how they helped her to mature. She used the memories from these times to help gather emotions for performances, and felt she was more grateful for her success because she knew what it was like to struggle in life.

"What's she going to do?"

In 1934 Ella's name was pulled in a weekly drawing at the Apollo and she won the opportunity to compete in Amateur Night. Ella went to the theater that night planning to dance, but when the frenzied Edwards Sisters closed the main show, Ella changed her mind. "They were the dancingest sisters around," Ella said, and she felt her act would not compare.

Once on stage, faced with boos and murmurs of "What's she going to do?" from the rowdy crowd, a scared and disheveled Ella made the last minute decision to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael's "Judy," a song she knew well because Connee Boswell's rendition of it was among Tempie's favorites. Ella quickly quieted the audience, and by the song's end they were demanding an encore. She obliged and sang the flip side of the Boswell Sister's record, "The Object of My Affections."

Off stage, and away from people she knew well, Ella was shy and reserved. She was self-conscious about her appearance, and for a while even doubted the extent of her abilities. On stage, however, Ella was surprised to find she had no fear. She felt at home in the spotlight.

"Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience," Ella said. "I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life."

In the band that night was saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter. Impressed with her natural talent, he began introducing Ella to people who could help launch her career. In the process he and Ella became lifelong friends, often working together.

Fueled by enthusiastic supporters, Ella began entering - and winning - every talent show she could find. In January 1935 she won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. It was there that Ella first met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. Although her voice impressed him, Chick had already hired male singer Charlie Linton for the band. He offered Ella the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.

"If the kids like her," Chick said, "she stays."

Despite the tough crowd, Ella was a major success, and Chick hired her to travel with the band for $12.50 a week.

Jazzing things up

In mid 1936, Ella made her first recording. "Love and Kisses" was released under the Decca label, with moderate success. By this time she was performing with Chick's band at the prestigious Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, often referred to as "The World's Most Famous Ballroom."

Shortly afterward, Ella began singing a rendition of the song, "(If You Can't Sing It) You Have to Swing It." During this time, the era of big swing bands was shifting, and the focus was turning more toward bebop. Ella played with the new style, often using her voice to take on the role of another horn in the band. "You Have to Swing It" was one of the first times she began experimenting with scat singing, and her improvisation and vocalization thrilled fans. Throughout her career, Ella would master scat singing, turning it into a form of art.

In 1938, at the age of 21, Ella recorded a playful version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." The album sold 1 million copies, hit number one, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Suddenly, Ella Fitzgerald was famous.

Coming into her own

On June 16, 1939, Ella mourned the loss of her mentor Chick Webb. In his absence the band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band," and she took on the overwhelming task of bandleader.

Perhaps in search of stability and protection, Ella married Benny Kornegay, a local dockworker who had been pursuing her. Upon learning that Kornegay had a criminal history, Ella realized that the relationship was a mistake and had the marriage annulled.

While on tour with Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1946, Ella fell in love with bassist Ray Brown. The two were married and eventually adopted a son, whom they named Ray, Jr.

At the time, Ray was working for producer and manager Norman Granz on the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tour. Norman saw that Ella had what it took to be an international star, and he convinced Ella to sign with him. It was the beginning of a lifelong business relationship and friendship.

Under Norman's management, Ella joined the Philharmonic tour, worked with Louis Armstrong on several albums and began producing her infamous songbook series. From 1956-1964, she recorded covers of other musicians' albums, including those by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. The series was wildly popular, both with Ella's fans and the artists she covered.

"I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them," Ira Gershwin once remarked.

Ella also began appearing on television variety shows. She quickly became a favorite and frequent guest on numerous programs, including "The Bing Crosby Show," "The Dinah Shore Show," "The Frank Sinatra Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show," "The Nat King Cole Show," "The Andy Willams Show" and "The Dean Martin Show."

Due to a busy touring schedule, Ella and Ray were often away from home, straining the bond with their son. Ultimately, Ray Jr. and Ella reconnected and mended their relationship.

"All I can say is that she gave to me as much as she could," Ray, Jr. later said, "and she loved me as much as she could."

Unfortunately, busy work schedules also hurt Ray and Ella's marriage. The two divorced in 1952, but remained good friends for the rest of their lives.

Overcoming discrimination

On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella's manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they traveled to the Deep South.

Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman's principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella's dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone.

"They took us down," Ella later recalled, "and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph."

Norman wasn't the only one willing to stand up for Ella. She received support from numerous celebrity fans, including a zealous Marilyn Monroe.

"I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt," Ella later said. "It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the '50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn's superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."

Worldwide recognition

Ella continued to work as hard as she had early on in her career, despite the ill effects on her health. She toured all over the world, sometimes performing two shows a day in cities hundreds of miles apart. In 1974, Ella spent a legendary two weeks performing in New York with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Still going strong five years later, she was inducted into the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame, and received Kennedy Center Honors for her continuing contributions to the arts.

Outside of the arts, Ella had a deep concern for child welfare. Though this aspect of her life was rarely publicized, she frequently made generous donations to organizations for disadvantaged youths, and the continuation of these contributions was part of the driving force that prevented her from slowing down. Additionally, when Frances died, Ella felt she had the additional responsibilities of taking care of her sister's family.

In 1987, United States President Ronald Reagan awarded Ella the National Medal of Arts. It was one of her most prized moments. France followed suit several years later, presenting her with their Commander of Arts and Letters award, while Yale, Dartmouth and several other universities bestowed Ella with honorary doctorates.

End of an era

In September of 1986, Ella underwent quintuple coronary bypass surgery. Doctors also replaced a valve in her heart and diagnosed her with diabetes, which they blamed for her failing eyesight. The press carried rumors that she would never be able to sing again, but Ella proved them wrong. Despite protests by family and friends, including Norman, Ella returned to the stage and pushed on with an exhaustive schedule.

By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York's renowned Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she performed there.

As the effects from her diabetes worsened, 76-year-old Ella experienced severe circulatory problems and was forced to have both of her legs amputated below the knees. She never fully recovered from the surgery, and afterward, was rarely able to perform. During this time, Ella enjoyed sitting outside in her backyard, and spending time with Ray, Jr. and her granddaughter Alice.

"I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice laugh," she said.

On June 15, 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died in her Beverly Hills home. Hours later, signs of remembrance began to appear all over the world. A wreath of white flowers stood next to her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a marquee outside the Hollywood Bowl theater read, "Ella, we will miss you."

After a private memorial service, traffic on the freeway was stopped to let her funeral procession pass through. She was laid to rest in the "Sanctuary of the Bells" section of the Sunset Mission Mausoleum at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.