Maggie Herron’s “Wolf” puts a jazz twist on an old fairytale

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The song, “Wolf” by Maggie Herron, is found on the performer’s third album, “Between Music and the Moon.” “Wolf” takes the story of Little Red Riding Hood and amps it up to give it meaning for adult jazz fans.

About Maggie Herron

Maggie Herron is a Muskegon, Michigan-born jazz vocalist and pianist. Herron’s base is in Honolulu, a long way from her Midwestern home. The performer grew up the ninth of 12 children. By the age of 18, according to her website, Herron was busy making her way in the world, or at least across the United States.

Before leaving Michigan, however, Herron had begun developing her musical talent. She trained in classical musical and was a skilled piano and organ player while still a child. By age 10, Herron served as the organist for her church.

Herron’s life story reads like gripping, realistic fiction. The performer’s website explains that she “hitchhiked” to Washington state. There, tucked in a rustic cabin, complete with an upright piano, she honed her pop and folk skills. Meeting older musicians around Seattle was her introduction to jazz. After a while, Herron headed to Hawaii.

The island paradise might not seem the most logical place to receive an education in jazz, but that wasn’t the case for Herron. Once she was established as a performer, her website states, Herron worked as the opening act for Dave Brubeck, the Jazz Crusaders and Phoebe Snow. Decades later, Herron is still working and recording in Hawaii. She performs several nights a week in Honolulu.

Maggie Herron: “Between the Music and the Moon”

“Between the Music and the Moon,” contains 12 original songs. In addition to Herron on piano and vocals, Dean Taba is on bass, and Abe Langrimas is on drums. The soundscape includes auxiliary work on arrangements and piano by Bill Cunliffe, and guitar by Grant Geissman, saxophone and flute by Bob Sheppard and percussion by Alex Acuna. The effort on “Between the Music and the Moon” won Herron a “Best Jazz Album of the Year” Na Hoku Hanohano Award for 2017. The award is the Hawaiian version of a Grammy.

“Wolf” by Maggie Herron

The song opens in a classic jazz flare of horns. The lyrics tell a simple story about a girl named “Red” who is approached by a wolf on her way to Grandma’s house. Except, Wolf is a potential suitor. Red has to decide quick if his intentions are good or not, and the story ends in a cliffhanger.

Herron’s clever songwriting posits the wolf as a “handsome hound,” and his pursuit of ladies such as Red “is not his first time around.” The very adult treatment of the fairytale adds interest.

The song is all jazz, no fusion. The notes are big, brassy and bright. They take their cues from Herron once the vocals start. Herron’s alto is perfectly rich and smoky. It never gets weighed down or lacks air. Horns cry and punctuate Herron’s words, which pulls audiences into the storyline. The upright bass reminds listeners of the potential menace. The drums thump and shimmer, but this is classic jazz, so they never go off-kilter. The saxophone solo sounds right midway the song. “Wolf” is perfect jazz for dancing. The song’s mix of dynamics gets listeners’ attention, and the horn-rich soundscape and intriguing tale holds audiences rapt. “Wolf” is a great song that survives the scrutiny of several spins.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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