Walking into and experiencing a Maggie Herron show is like stumbling serendipitously into a tropical jazz oasis: soothing, calming, exciting and eminently enjoyable. The sounds that emanate from her piano, combined with her jazzy, sensual voice, make for a relaxing and satisfying sonic experience. She has what musicians call “major chops”—the facility to play and sing technically demanding passages with what appears to be little effort. Combine this with graceful good looks, a swinging band, and a repertoire that runs the gamut from Brubeck and Gershwin to original compositions, and you have a musical force to be reckoned with.
I would describe her and her music as part Michelle Pfeiffer in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” (sans the attitude), part Diana Krall, and mostly Maggie, doing what she does best.
I recently spoke with the long-time Big Island resident, who resides on the windward side amidst starkly beautiful, black lava and tropical flora, about her life, family and music.
Early Years: A Career Bloomed Early
“I grew up in a large family, the ninth of 12 kids, in Muskegon, Michigan,” Maggie said.
“Every one of us took at least a year of piano lessons. That was my mother’s rule.
My oldest sister, Mary, and brother, Terry, both took it seriously and studied, performed or taught music for years.”
Maggie says she was thoroughly enamored of music from as early as she can remember. “I loved singing and making up songs on the piano. I started with private lessons by the 2nd grade and was the church organist by the 4th grade. In my teenage years, I practiced at least six hours a day. I played in recitals at least twice a year and always with a new repertoire. When I was 13, I won the concerto contest in town and played the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto with the symphony orchestra. I had to play it by memory, which was difficult and challenging, considering how nervous I felt. I never doubted that playing music was my path in life.”
The Middle Years: Family Time and Hawai’i Calling
The middle part of her life was divided between her love and responsibility to her family, says the mother of two kids, along with her constant desire to immerse herself in
“I first came to Hawai‘i in 1976 with my boyfriend. My first gig, five nights a week, was at the Travel Lodge on Banyan Drive in Hilo. After I got pregnant, my boyfriend and I moved back to the Mainland, got married, and my son was born there. We all moved to the Big Island full-time in 1979. The big allure for me,” she says, “was the seemingly impossible concept of living in a place that was warm year-round. I grew up in Michigan. The idea of swimming in the ocean in January was like a miracle to me.”
She played local gigs in Hilo and Kona, and loved the Big Island, she says. “I swam almost every day, played gigs with a lot of different musicians, and later played concerts with Cecilio and with Kapono. I played keyboard for each of them and was a featured vocalist.”
After seven years on the Big Island, Maggie moved to Honolulu, where she performed five nights a week. For 12 years she lived and performed on Lana‘I, where she was the nightly musician at Manele Bay Hotel. Four years ago she moved back to the Big Island, and is happy to be back.
“I was hired at KHBC Radio to do the Jazz Show, initially because Buddy Gordon remembered me from the ‘80s,” she says. “He was sure I’d have a following of music lovers. I currently play two nights a week at Kaleo’s Bar and Grill in Pahoa with Paul Lindbergh, one night a week at the Mauna Kea Hotel, and regularly at the Hilo Burger Joint.”
What’s in the Future for Maggie?
“My aspirations for the future are to record, write and perform as a musician for the rest of my life, with dedicated and talented players—in concerts, local venues, on the mainland, in Europe, and with Hawai‘i always as my home,” Maggie says.
“My new CD, “Maggie Herron, In the Wings,” has me playing the grand piano, and the ensemble is stellar. Paul Lindbergh, my music partner for close to four years, is on sax and flute. The bassist, Dean Taba, and drummer, Noel Okimoto, are a tight rhythm section, both technically adept and creative musically. Trumpet player Eldred Ahlo is an absolute delight to play with, and what a player! Except for “Woodstock,” all the songs and instrumentals are written by me. And I’m chomping at the bit to record the next CD soon. The song ideas keep coming and the sheer joy of music is a force that stands alone.”
You can catch Maggie at her local shows previously mentioned, as well as at The Kona Music Festival on Saturday, April 2, at The Keauhou Beach Outrigger. Other artists appearing that day include The Olliephonics, bigblueO, Colin John Band and The Deanna Bogart Band.