Monika Herzig...And All That Jazz

Accomplished pianist Monika Herzig, lecturer in SPEA’s Arts Management program, has forged a successful, multifaceted career.

Monika Herzig

Growing up in the small town of Albstadt, among the rolling hills of southern Germany, Herzig says she felt connected to Bloomington almost immediately.

“I remember the first time my husband and I drove into Bloomington,” recalls Monika Herzig. “We drove up from Nashville, and it was hilly and we said, “Wow, this looks just like home.’”

Image of Monika Herzig

You might expect one of the country’s few well-known female jazz musicians to live and thrive in a big city, ripe with opportunities to perform, network, and establish a name. Accomplished pianist Monika Herzig, lecturer in SPEA’s Arts Management program, defies that expectation, having forged a successful, multifaceted career from Bloomington for more than 20 years.

Music in the making

Long before her arrival in Bloomington, young Monika Herzig was so fascinated with the piano she persuaded her parents to buy one. In high school she became interested in jazz and began playing in a band with her boyfriend-now-husband, guitarist Peter Kienle. The band was called “BeebleBrox,” borrowed from the name of main character Zaphod Beeblebrox in the comic science-fiction series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a favorite of Kienle’s. BeebleBrox gained notoriety touring in Germany, while Herzig pursued a bachelor’s degree at the pedagogical institute in Weingarten. A scholarship for a one-year exchange program at the University of Alabama was Herzig’s passage to the United States, and she and Kienle packed their bags.

“It was our opportunity to go to the land of jazz…something we’d always dreamed about,” says Herzig. “So we sold everything and left with one-way tickets.”

The couple nurtured their performing careers in Alabama for three years, and in 1991 Herzig applied for doctoral studies and an assistantship at the Indiana University School of Music. After their move to Bloomington, BeebleBrox, with Herzig and Kienle leading the way, continued to attract attention.

The band recorded its first studio CD in 1993 and toured internationally for much of the 1990s, opening for headliners, including Sting, Yes, the Dixie Dregs, Tower of Power, and Bette Midler. BeebleBrox released five more CDs during the 1990s, and Herzig received a prestigious DownBeat magazine award in 1994 for her composition “Let’s Fool One.” She earned her doctorate in music education and jazz studies from the IU Jacobs School of Music in 1997.

In 2000 Herzig created the “Monika Herzig Acoustic Project” and after three releases on ACME records, she signed with the Indianapolis-based label Owl Studios. The most recent releases “Peace on Earth” and “Come With Me” landed on the Top 50 Radio Jazz Charts. The group has toured throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and Japan. Supported by a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, Herzig is set to release a solo piano DVD with additional instructional materials later this year.

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Mentor and “connector”

For more than two decades, Herzig has established credibility not only as a jazz performer, but as a mentor and leader in the jazz community. After grappling for years in a competitive industry, Herzig admits she’s learned a lot. Eager to help up-and-coming musicians navigate their journeys, Herzig looks for ways to share knowledge and provide opportunities. One of her first attempts was Jazz from Bloomington (JfB), a nonprofit jazz society incorporated in 2000 to promote and preserve jazz music as an art form in south central Indiana.

“I was always hearing complaints [from performers] about there being no place to play and nothing to do here,” says Herzig of JfB’s inception. “So, I said we’ll just have to make it happen and make a place to play. We’ve had wonderful concerts and have really made Bloomington a touring destination for jazz artists.”

As JfB co-founder, Herzig has worked collaboratively with others in the Bloomington jazz community to organize more than 40 concerts with internationally known jazz musicians. The events offered one-of-a-kind opportunities for local musicians to gain exposure as opening acts for marquee performers. The “Jazz in the Schools” initiative, supported by grants and private sponsors, offers free educational programs to area elementary schools.

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Herzig’s mentorship of young artists exists in a variety of forms, including more formally as instructor of courses related to the music industry. The idea for the classes stemmed from the hard knocks Herzig and Kienle experienced while establishing themselves in the industry. Two lessons Herzig remembers well involved their ill-informed hiring of their first “manager” and learning the hard way about the importance of signed agreements with performers hired for recording sessions. The music industry courses, Herzig explains, were conceived to help others avoid similar pitfalls.

“We’ve had all of these detours along the way and had to figure out how to get there,” Herzig says. “I envisioned the music industry classes could help people get there more directly.”

Now a part of SPEA’s Arts Management program, the music industry courses explore the business from all angles and are designed for students with interest in any aspect of the field, including would-be agents, managers, and record label executives. The courses are tremendously popular, attracting students from across campus.

Herzig created another course, Inside Community Arts Organizations, after joining SPEA as a full-time faculty member in 2007. The course curriculum is fueled by her experience working with groups like Jazz from Bloomington and the Indy Jazz Foundation. To provide students with valuable, firsthand insight, Herzig supplements the course work with guest speakers – colleagues she knows from her work as a performer – and visits to a variety of community organizations.

“One of the main things I’m able to do is be a good connector because I know who’s doing what and who needs what,” says Herzig. “Part of that comes from being a performer – it encourages you to approach people and communicate with people; it’s easy for me, and I love that.”

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From time to time, Herzig will run into a former student working in an arts or non-profit organization. Some are pursuing careers in the performing arts, while others are serving in management or leadership positions in museums and galleries. A few, she said, have even started their own enterprises.

“I’m now seeing former students in different professions, being successful and following their dreams,” Herzig says. “I think that’s the most rewarding part of teaching.”

Supporting a new generation

Outside the college classroom, Herzig finds reward working to increase the number of professional female jazz musicians. Women in jazz, Herzig says, face a variety of obstacles from gender bias and social barriers to simply surviving in the genre’s traditional “old boy’s club.” Nationwide, the number of female jazz instrumentalists hovers in the single digits. And while women jazz vocalists are a bit more established, all encounter similar issues. Herzig says the interest is there, especially considering the number of young girls participating in middle school jazz bands. The number remains steady in high school, but drops off considerably at the college level. Finding female musicians teaching jazz in postsecondary music departments is rare.

Promoting an interest in music among girls and young women is one of the reasons Herzig and Carmel, Indiana-based vocalist Heather Ramsey Clark, CEO of the Midwest School of Voice, formed Isis of Indiana in 2010. The organization’s mission is “to promote the wealth of female involvement in music creation…and mentor future generations of women musicians.” In addition to a concert series, ISIS of Indiana sponsors a one-week summer music camp for girls ages 9–16 called Girls Create Music, which this year will take place at The Center for Performing Arts in Carmel.

“If we don’t help and provide some role models for these young women, nothing’s going to change,” says Herzig, who also serves on the board of the Jazz Education Network, a prominent international jazz organization dedicated to supporting the jazz community through education and increased awareness.

Honoring a mentor

Soon after arriving in Bloomington, Herzig studied with renowned jazz musician David Baker, distinguished professor of music and chair of the department of jazz studies at IU Jacobs School of Music. Kienle became Baker’s copyist and publisher, and over the years Baker became not only a mentor, but also a good friend who spent many hours in the couple’s home working on musical scores. Herzig’s 2011 book, David Baker – A Legacy in Music, was an attempt to further recognize a jazz legend who inspired a generation of performers, including Herzig and Kienle.

The idea for the book actually developed through Herzig’s collaboration with Norbert Krapf, former Indiana Poet Laureate. The two worked together on a jazz poetry project, including one poem about the Hampton sisters, read by Baker as a tribute to the legendary musical family. Krapf, fascinated by the stories Baker shared, planted the seed for the retrospective.

“It was actually Norbert who encouraged me to ask David if anyone had ever written down any of his stories,” recalls Herzig. “Almost sure someone had, I asked David, and he said ‘You know Monika, everybody thinks somebody’s doing it, but actually nobody is.’”

For the next five years, Herzig worked on the book, conducting interviews, applying for grants to support the project, and editing material provided by seven contributors, including a foreword by music industry legend Quincy Jones.

“I realized early on that David Baker was prolific in so many areas it would be impossible for me to do him justice trying to cover all the ground myself,” says Herzig. “I pulled a team of experts together who were close to him, and everyone was very excited about it.”

And the beat goes on

It’s likely the future holds more of the same for Herzig, who continues her community activism, teaching at SPEA, performing with Kienle in the “Monika Herzig Trio” every Saturday evening in Indianapolis, and touring internationally. There are also two daughters, ages 11 and 13, to raise.

On the research side, Herzig is partnering with Baker once again on a book exploring the topic of “jazz jam sessions” – gatherings where musicians learn from one another and mentor outside the industry’s commercial restraints. A two-to-three-year project, the book will explore how the jam session has evolved throughout the history of jazz, social structures, and transfer opportunities of this creative group unit.

For now at least, it’s all happening in Bloomington, and Herzig seems just fine with that. Shortly after finishing her doctorate, she was offered a position as a church organist in New York. As performers, the thought of being closer to a larger music market was tempting, but in the end, the couple decided not to move.

“We were never big-city people,” says Herzig. “Bloomington is a cultural oasis; with such a large university we have all the culture we can imagine right here.”