The Sound and the Fury

August 28, 2019

Maggie Herron: All That Jazz


ONE OF THE PLACES I MOST like to visit in Waikiki is the hotel Halekulani, which translates to “House Befitting Heaven.” There’s nothing better than cocktail seating at House Without a Key, a restaurant with an outside patio, a glorious view of Diamond Head, and live music and hula every night. It’s the ultimate tropical setting.

But there’s another venue with live entertainment at the hotel. Lewers Lounge is located in what was once the original lobby, and with its dark seats, candles, and subdued lighting, aims to create a vintage cocktail lounge experience (my favorite cocktail is the Lost Passion: “a sophisticated blend of tequila, Cointreau and fresh juices, topped with Champagne”). There’s jazz seven nights a week. You won’t hear “I Want to Go Back to My Little Grass Shack” or “Sophisticated Hula” here. Instead, it’s a mix of standards and show tunes: “The Very Thought of You” and “The Music of the Night.”

One evening, about six years ago, I was sipping my Lost Passion and listing to a jazz trio headed up by a striking woman who was singing and playing the piano. She had the kind of deeper, huskier voice that made me think she’d sound good singing a song like the sultry “Whatever Lola Wants” from the musical Damn Yankees. And then her next song turned out to be — “Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees. I laughed at my foresight. After she finished, she asked me, “Why did you laugh?” I told her.

And that’s how I met Maggie Herron.

Like a number of people, Maggie came to Hawaii on a visit, fell in love with it, and ended up staying. She landed gigs on Oahu, the Big Island (that’s the main island of Hawaii), and even the small island of Lanai (population: 3000), where she had a 13-year residency. “It was totally my speed,” she told me of her island life. “I could run, bike, swim. I could have a big garden, and I could play music several hours a day, so that was a great lifestyle for me.”


Though she played contemporary rock and pop in the lounges, Maggie trained as a classical musician (I must ask her if she can play the overture to Bizet’s Carmen on my next visit). And over the years, she became increasingly interested in jazz. “I was so intrigued by it, because I didn’t really grow up hearing jazz in my house,” she says. “We heard Sinatra, and Dean Martin, and Peggy Lee, and that kind of thing, but not real jazz. Then I started hearing John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, and Bill Evans, and I was just so intrigued by it. And I was so envious of people that grew up having listened to it, and actually going to jazz school and learning jazz. So I just started listening and trying to understand the chordal structures, and the inversions, and the concept of soloing. So anything jazz, I’m completely self-taught.”

Maggie’s sets at Lewers Lounge are mostly covers, with a few originals mixed in. But her albums are a different story. Her first CD, In The Wings (2011; an improved, remixed version was released in 2014) is mostly originals, the sole exception being a breezy arrangement of the standard “It Could Happen to You.” Maggie has the kind of voice reviewers invariably describe as “smoky” (and don’t take my word for it; just enter the terms “Maggie Herron” and “smoky” in your search engine). It’s something that brings an additional character to a slinky number like “I’m the Answer to Your Problems.” There’s an additional touch of sophistication with two songs in French (“J’attends” and “Dans le Vide de la Nuit”). I also like the supple sax lines throughout (played variously by Paul Lindbergh, Doug Webb, and Bob Sheppard).


Good Thing (2015) has a diverse mix of material; it’s is likely one of the few — only? — albums to feature covers of both Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and the standard “Moon River.” On the former number, Maggie’s deeper voice (in comparison to Mitchell’s) gives the song a bittersweet quality in its nostalgic look back; the latter song is wonderfully languid. It’s the first album to feature songs Maggie co-wrote with her daughter, Dawn. “I do write lyrics, but I really encourage my daughter to be the lyricist,” Maggie says. “Because I think she’s an exceptional lyricist.” And what do you know, there’s “The Very Thought of You,” along with other standards like “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Body and Soul.” This was Maggie’s first album to win the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Jazz Album of the Year — the Hawaiian Grammy.

Between the Music and the Moon (2017) was another Na Hoku Hanohano award winner (as well as being an album comprised entirely of originals), co-produced by Grammy award winning LA musician and arranger Bill Cunliffe. This is an album about the pleasures and perils of desire, as is obvious with songs like “Seduction,” and the modern twist given to the story of Little Red Riding Hood in “Wolf.” I love the Latin swing of “Ritmo Latino” and the cool romanticism of “Notre Amour.” And the robust, swaggering horn section of the opening track (“Wolf”) is nicely matched by the spare instrumentation of the closing song, the bluesy, sassy “I Lie Just a Little,” with Maggie singing to the sole accompaniment of Dean Taba’s bass.


Are you surprised that A Ton of Trouble (2018) was another Na Hoku Hanohano award winner? You shouldn’t be. It has her contemplative take of the Beatles’ “In My Life,” which, she says, “has always been a favorite of mine; I just simply love it.” It’s striking because again, there’s no piano; just Maggie’s voice, Dean Taba’s bass, and a delicate guitar from Larry Koonse. The album’s executive producer, Michael Beasley, suggested Maggie cover Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.” Good call; it has a dark, late-night cabaret feeling that’s beguiling. There some snappy and snazzy stuff on this album, like the title track and the cheeky “Perfect Specimen.” But I’m partial to “The Dove & The Bourbon,” a moving song about mortality (co-written with her son-in-law, Len Gambla).

Which brings up to Maggie’s latest album, the just released Renditions. It’s a good representation of what’s like to see at Lewers Lounge. “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” “Just One of Those Things.” “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You.” And another nod to the Beatles with “I Will.” It’s a back to basics album; no flashy horn arrangements, just some piano and bass, maybe a bit of drums or sax, the occasional guitar and flute. While her other albums have spotlighted her songwriting skills, Renditions is simply an album of songs she loves to play. It’s a record to chill out to, with the lights low and your favorite beverage at hand.


Maggie’s avoided the grind of being a touring musician by finding the right place to live, and then using her formidable talents to carve out a place for herself so that she didn’t need to leave. Four nights a week (Wednesday through Saturday) she’s at Lewers Lounge, a gig she describes as “really perfect for me,” and the rest of the week she can enjoy the splendors of Hawaii (she plays the occasional gig elsewhere as well). I’d say she’s done very well for herself.,


  1. Suzanne Herron

    I am mesmerized by Ms. GILLIAN GAARY’s most ravishing and passionate review of Maggie. Kudos to you Maggie. You deserved the flatter because of your talent and hard work.

  2. Thanks for finally writing about >Maggie Herron: All That Jazz |

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