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Mothers In Jazz (1): Rebecca Martin

Mothers In Jazz” is a new series, started by vocalist Nicky Schrire. The series aims to create an online resource for working jazz musicians with children, those contemplating parenthood, and jazz industry figures who work with and hire musicians who are parents. The insights of the musicians interviewed for this series provide emotional, philosophical and logistical information and support that is easily accessible to all. It is hoped “Mothers In Jazz” will shine a light on the very specific role of being both a mother and a performing jazz musician.

The first artist to be interviewed in the series is Maine-born, singer/composer Rebecca Martin, now based in Kingston, NY. Interview by Nicky Schrire:

Rebecca Martin. Photo credit: Todd Chalfant

Over the past 25 years, Rebecca Martin has become a nationally known, critically acclaimed singer and songwriter, educator and community organiser. She began her career in the early 90s as part of the groundbreaking duo “Once Blue” with Grammy award-winning songwriter Jesse Harris (Norah Jones). She went on to collaborate with the legendary Paul Motian, where she was the first singer in history to make a recording with the drummer; the singers and songwriters Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens with their trio project “Tillery”; and Argentinian composer Guillermo Klein.

A native of Maine, Martin moved to New York City and lived there for a decade before she migrated north to establish a home in Kingston, New York. In addition to her musical life, she is a lauded community activist. She is the Director of Community Partnerships at riverkeeper.org (*), and co-founded KingstonCitizens.org (*) to understand the inner workings of her new hometown’s local government and to create a platform for citizen engagement. She lives there with her husband, jazz bassist Larry Grenadier, and their 16 year-old son.

INTERVIEW

LondonJazz News: What is the best advice you received about balancing/juggling motherhood and career? 

Rebecca Martin: If you want to start a family, be ready to make sure that your child comes first. Whether it’s you or your partner who is responsible for their primary care, keep in mind that they have only one shot at their childhood and are completely dependent on the decisions that you make.

LJN: What information or advice do you wish you’d received but didn’t (and had to learn through trial and error or on-the-go)?

RM: There is so much emphasis on being pregnant and on childbirth and no emphasis on what happens after our babies arrive. Enlisting a doula or family member who you are comfortable with for the first couple of months to get situated is a good idea.

LJN: Your top tip(s) for other mothers in jazz?

RM: My top tip is for all moms. With the resources that you have and to your best ability, follow the baby’s rhythm with sleep and feeding. It leads to a happier baby and mom. 

Rebecca Martin and Larry Grenadier. Photo credit: Tony Cenicola

LJN: Baby/child gear tips for travel/touring?

RM: Bring a sitter!

LJN: Best general travel/tour-with-child advice?

RM: Bringing kids on the road can make you irritable or more flexible and present. Choose the latter! It’ll make you a better musician. 

LJN: What has surprised you about becoming a parent and remaining engaged with your professional activities and ambitions?

RM: Back then, when record labels still had meaning, I experienced blatant sexism. I was dropped by my record label because I became pregnant. Their words!

LJN: What boundaries have you set for yourself as a mother in jazz?

RM: As our son’s primary caretaker, the boundaries that I set made it difficult to do things the way I had done them before he was born. That’s the reality of all creative moms and dads who stay at home. The good news is that the music work that I did take on resulted in better venues and better pay. Touring has never been easy and very few do it regularly anyway. I found other creative outlets in between that led to more adventurous music opportunities and advocacy work to protect the environment and community. What’s more, we now have a great kid who feels loved, is confident and is ready to take on the world. 

Rebecca’s latest album After Midnight was released in January 2022 and sees her join forces with Portugal’s Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos for a stunning collection of original songs and beloved standards. The album also features bass great and longtime collaborator Larry Grenadier, with lush arrangements by the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos and pianist Guillermo Klein.

LINKS: Rebecca Martin’s website

(*) Kingston Citizen

(**) River Keeper

Nicky Schrire’s website

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