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Maggie Herron warms jazz up in ‘Good Thing’

Maggie Herron “Good Thing” album [September 9, 2014]

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I have spent the past 20 years performing predominantly in beautiful, peaceful and remote Hawaiian venues. During those years I was married, I trained for triathlons, had extensive food gardens, performed several hours nightly and lived a quiet lifestyle. There’s something more I’d like to accomplish now. … There is an infinite amount of music I want to play, write, perform and share before I die. I have matured and the time feels right. I am driven. I am a fanatic. Music is my raison d’etre. You can bet that’s a ‘good thing.’

Maggie Herron is a Big Island vocalist who recently made the move to the “big city” of Honolulu on Oahu. With the move came her follow-up to the critically acclaimed jazz debut, “In The Wings.”
Rae Huo

Jazz isn’t easy to embrace. It can be hard and cold, terribly cerebral, and living in the boondocks of harmonic counter-measures. It’s why the majority of music lovers go for the crowd-friendly beats of pop and R&B. Big Island jazz vocalist/pianist Maggie Herron is ready to turn the beat around. In her new release, Good Thing, due out September 9, she gives her standards and her original compositions a great big, warm hug.

That voice, deep and velvety, rich and uplifting, pulls out the sweetest melodies in eight greatly sourced covers and five she wrote on her own, two with daughter Dawn, the lyricist. You will waltz with your own daughter through the kitchen to Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” you will clutch at your chest remembering long-lost loved ones (“The Very Thought Of You”), you will quietly weep as Herron’s radiant kindness washes over you in classics like Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.”

You will feel every note.

Herron’s not alone. She was blessed with an A-list of stars on this recording, thanks to the fortuitous connection she made with producer/bassist Brian Bromberg through a musician friend in Honolulu. “Two years ago I had recently moved to Honolulu and was having coffee with a fellow musician and we were discussing my plans to record a CD,” Maggie explained. “He asked who I would choose as the bassist if I could have anyone. I said, ‘Brian Bromberg.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Oh, he’s a good friend. Would you like his phone number?’ That was a yes. Brian and I had a long phone conversation later, after I had sent him a few songs of mine to listen to. He proposed being the producer for the Good Thing CD. That was another yes. I was thrilled!”

After that, Bromberg and Herron acquired a dream list of session musicians and stars in their own right: trumpeters Rick Braun, who sings with her on “Le Printemps est Arrive,” and Eldred Ahlo, guitarist Ramon Stagnaro, tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, saxophonist Paul Lindbergh, keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer, acoustic bassist Dean Taba, percussionists Alex Acuna, Dave Tull, and Noel Okimoto, and saxophonist Doug Webb.

These musicians were able to tap into Herron’s gift of melody and her innate warmth on every song. They magnified the strength of her vocal embrace in small and bodacious gestures throughout the fusion of jazz and blues. In many ways, the music enabled the vocals to really speak when words weren’t enough, setting the mood just right. The entire crew worked eight hours a day for one week to pull off a very intimate, jazz album.

“I had specific ideas and charts for each song, and written arrangements for four of the songs,” Herron explained. “Brian was always even-tempered and easy to work with. There was an immediate mutual respect between us and we listened to each other. Tom McCauley, the engineer, had a sixth sense throughout. I could barely make a comment before he finished my thoughts.”

There isn’t a weak link in Herron’s 13-track songbook, or the players. She gives each song a great deal of thought and care, choosing based on comfort level and style. Most of the songs groove at her own leisurely pace, on her own terms.

She takes her time, spreading the love out on “Baby Baby All The Time,” “Body And Soul,” “You Call It Madness I Call It Love,” and “The Very Thought Of You.” Bassist Brian Bromberg, trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonists Bob Sheppard and Doug Webb happily lose themselves in the vocal entanglement. Each in their own solos provide the soundtrack to Herron’s poignant narrative, freeing her up to really go there.

Her emotional potency as a vocalist sneaks up on you, especially in “Moon River,” and “Woodstock.” With the first note, Herron — on vocals and piano — takes your breath away and tugs on your heart. She sings this standard with her whole heart, lingering lovingly around every melodic bend. Award-winning producer Bromberg fills out those lovely spaces in equally heart-felt shadings.

Is it Joni Mitchell or Herron singing “Woodstock?” Initially, it’s hard to tell. They both share the same deep, throaty voice, and quirky, clipped phrasing straight from a poetry reading. But as the vocals begin to soar, holding tight to certain warm notes and clutching the meaning behind them, “We are stardust, billion year old carbon,” Herron shines through. She and her musicians transform Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970’s rock anthem into a swanky Blue Note special. Dig Bromberg on Piccolo and acoustic bass, and Herron showing her piano form, while hitting those impossibly high notes, accentuating the swank factor.

The vocalist and pianist flexed her songwriting muscles on this new record, as well. “Cake” reflects her blues influence. “Good Thing,” her classical leaning. “Things Could Be Better” is a bouncy pop breeze (Burt Bacharach meets Jobim) wrapped around contradictory, on the verge of despairing lyrics. “I took my cat to the vet today. He’ll fix her up and she’ll be okay. And when I got home, I read your letter. I’m not too bad, but things could be better. My friends keep calling and asking me out. Try to distract me, but don’t know how. And everyone says, ‘We’ve got perfect weather…’”

“Le Printemps est Arrive,” a sweet French duet with Braun, was written by Herron and her daughter Dawn. The Brazilian romp is expertly echoed by guitarist Stagnaro, trumpeter Braun, and acoustic bassist Bromberg.

Maggie Herron made a lot of changes in her life since the 2011 release of In The Wings. She re-released that record with some refinements. She moved from the Big Island to Oahu. And the 20-year veteran said she’s ready for more musically than the quiet reflection of intimate, remote Hawaiian venues. “I have spent the past 20 years performing predominantly in beautiful, peaceful and remote Hawaiian venues. During those years I was married, I trained for triathlons, had extensive food gardens, performed several hours nightly and lived a quiet lifestyle. There’s something more I’d like to accomplish now,” she said. “My exercise program is modest, I buy organic groceries from the farmers, and spend hours daily practicing piano, writing and working on songs. There is an infinite amount of music I want to play, write, perform and share before I die. I have matured and the time feels right. I am driven. I am a fanatic. Music is my raison d’etre. You can bet that’s a ‘good thing.’”

This second album is a good start.