November 2, 2022

Interpreting an Indiana impressionist through jazz

Pianist Monika Herzig and guitarist Peter Kienle in front of a mural painted inside WFYI headquarters.

Pianist Monika Herzig and guitarist Peter Kienle in front of a mural painted inside WFYI headquarters.

Pianist Monika Herzig and guitarist Peter Kienle have been playing jazz music in Indiana for over 30 years. Herzig and Kienle are married, and reside together in Bloomington.

Their latest musical collaboration was inspired by WTIU’s “Singing Winds: The Life and Works of T.C. Steele”, a documentary on the life of the famous Hoosier impressionist painter. 

WFYI’s Kyle Long spoke with Herzig and Kienle after their recent performance for Small Studio Sessions. 

Kyle Long, WFYI: Monika and Peter, thank you for being here, and thank you for the performance today. 

Peter Kienle: Thanks for having us. 

Long: Monika, as you mentioned, you and Peter have been playing together for nearly 40 years, and you’ve been married for 30 years. Is that kind of personal relationship an asset or liability when you get together to play music? 

Monika Herzig: I would say it's an asset, and I would say -- especially during the pandemic -- it was a super-asset, because everybody was stranded. At least it was the two of us, and we could sit in our living room and make some music together. What do you think, Peter? Is it an asset? 

Kienle: Absolutely -- when you go home after a gig and drive in your own car by yourself, you shout at the empty seat next to you. When you're together, you discuss, you go through every detail of every gig, and it's great. It's great that we can do this together.

Long: You both came from Germany to Indiana. Do you want to share anything about how that happened? How did you wind up in Indiana? 

Herzig: So we got together in the mid-1980s. I was studying, and during my last year I got this opportunity for a one-year exchange program. I looked at Peter and said, “Hey, this could be our chance.” I mean, we both were playing jazz, and we wanted to be jazz musicians. We knew this is the land where jazz is, and we could really learn about it, and immerse ourselves. So we bought a pair of one way tickets and said, “Let's see.”

Long: One thing I appreciate about the music you create is that you’re exploring our local culture here in Indiana. A great example of that is your most recent project, which interprets the paintings of T.C. Steele, a famous Hoosier impressionist painter. Tell us about this project. 

Herzig: This is part of our work with the Indianapolis/Cologne sister city exchange. We've been presenting concerts with them for the last 10 years, all with different concepts and historical backdrops. This year, I was inspired by the new T.C. Steele documentary “Singing Winds: The Life and Works of T.C. Steele”.  So I put out a task to the band members saying, “Take any T.C. Steele painting, and create an inspirational framework.”

Long: There’s one final thing I wanted to ask about, and Monika, I think this has become a huge part of your legacy. You've been a huge advocate for women in jazz music. You've done this in many ways. You have a series of albums called “Sheroes”. You host a Jazz Girls Day event every year. Tell me about your work advocating for women in jazz, and the importance of this work. 

Herzig: So, there are several things. One of the most important is to have role models, to see somebody like you, and we do that through our jazz group Sheroes. The Jazz Girls Day is about getting together in safe, comfortable environments without having to show off. 

There's no good reason why there’s such a gender imbalance in jazz. It's really sad that in jazz, the imbalance is the worst of all musical genres.

Long: Peter and Monika, thank you again for the performance today, and for talking with us. 

Herzig: Thank you.

Scroll through Small Studio Sessions page for every session, with both audio and video versions. You can also catch these performances on WFYI's Small Studio Signal Boost weekly program, airing on WFYI 90.1 Saturdays at 9 p.m.

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