The Media School

Local pianist Monika Herzig has dedicated her career to inspiring women

November 12th, 2020 by

When Monika Herzig moved to America in 1988, she faced the reality of how women are treated in the jazz world. Having lived in Alabama with her boyfriend Peter Kienle, a jazz guitarist, she realized how different their worlds were.

“I do believe that there was a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have,” she says in a Zoom call. “At the beginning, he got tons of calls! And I was the — hang on-er.”

Herzig is an accomplished jazz pianist, a senior lecturer at IU and the face of “SHEroes,” an international jazz supergroup made up of some of the world’s leading female jazz artists. She hopes to help other young women succeed in the male-dominated industry.

“It’s a story of: if you want it, you gotta do it,” she says. “Nobody’s gonna hand it to you. It’s you who wants it, so you’ve gotta be the driver of the bus.”

Herzig grew up in Albstadt, Germany. A small town near Stuttgart, it’s a 45-minute drive from the University of Tübingen. The 56-year-old grew up during the Cold War in a divided country.

She went over the border only once, to get to Berlin. While West Germans could only enter West Berlin, a fee could get them to East Berlin. Across the border, Soviet-controlled East Berlin sold goods and supplies for a fraction of the cost in the West.

Photograph courtesy of Monika Herzig

Herzig organizes community jazz events such as jam sessions. Recently due to the pandemic, she has been streaming performances from her driveway with fellow musicians Peter Kienle, Neal Heidler, Dan Deckard and Janiece Jaffe.

“The music publishing stuff was really cheap, so I just stocked up on Bach editions and Mozart editions,” she says.

Herzig grew up playing piano and chose to pursue jazz because it gave her an opportunity to belong to a group.

“Piano’s a lonely instrument,” she says. “I wanted to play in the band, not be a lonely instrument.”

Herzig left Germany for an exchange program with the University of Alabama. She arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1988 with a one-way ticket and no intentions of leaving.

“We thought, this is our opportunity,” she says. “Hey, we can be jazz musicians, let’s do it!”

After getting her master’s from Alabama, Herzig came to Bloomington to pursue a doctorate in music education at IU.

Herzig documented Baker’s success in a book, “David Baker – A Legacy in Music,” which was published in 2011 by Indiana University Press. While working on this book, she also organized jam sessions and gigs for musicians across Bloomington.

Janiece Jaffe, Herzig’s longtime musical colleague and friend, is still awed by her determination.

“She works harder than any other musician I know, male or female,” Jaffe says.

“It’s a story of: if you want it, you gotta do it. Nobody’s gonna hand it to you. It’s you who wants it, so you’ve gotta be the driver of the bus.” – Monika Herzig, jazz pianist and senior lecturer at IU

One of Herzig’s newer projects is Jazz Girls Day, which she developed with her band. The day is spent as workshop for young musicians to develop their skills and ends in a concert where the girls play with Herzig’s band.

The workshop takes place somewhere different every year. This past spring it was in Bloomington and ended with a concert at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. After the concert, Herzig’s band began touring to promote its third album “Eternal Dance”, but the tour was cut short by the coronavirus lockdowns.

“Everybody’s calendars went blank, and all the income went away.” she says.

With fewer jobs available, Herzig fears the virus has set jazz women back even further.

“A lot of women were forced into moving back into traditional roles, and staying home and not getting jobs,” she says. “Now we have to push back out.”