Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (4): Tomoko Omura

Mothers In Jazz” is a new series, started by vocalist Nicky Schrire, and this is the fourth interview. The initiative 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 insight of the musicians interviewed for this series provides valuable emotional, philosophical and logistical information and support that is easily accessible to all. “Mothers In Jazz” shines a light on the very specific role of being both a mother and a performing jazz musician.

Tomoko Omura is a composer and violinist. She is both a bandleader and an in-demand sideman for musicians like Camila Meza, Dave Stryker, and Fabian Almazan. Her original compositions cleverly blend elements of folk and jazz traditions while paying homage to her Japanese heritage. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, her music has been featured in Strings magazine, and WBGO (links below). Tomoko was born and raised in Shizuoka, Japan but now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, pianist Glenn Zaleski, and their two and a half year-old son, Allan.

Tomoko Omura. Photo by Greta DiGiorgio

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

Tomoko Omura: I didn’t receive any advice. I didn’t have any jazz mom friends at the time who I could ask about motherhood.

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)?

TO: Enjoy the time with your partner before the baby comes as much as possible. If you want to do long tours, do them before the baby because it will be more difficult to do so afterwards (at least for a while).

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

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TO: It’s important to keep the music going for yourself. Not necessarily to keep your career going but more for your own emotional wellbeing.

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

TO: A lightweight stroller that’s easy to manoeuvre, and a diaper bag that can hold everything you need. Be organised, including with your personal items and ID, etc. A super lightweight instrument case is important. I was carrying my violin on my back, my son on my front, and pushing a stroller with a pretty heavy diaper bag attached, plus a big suitcase. So my instrument case had to be as light as possible. Not a gear recommendation, but having an emergency lollipop along with her/her favourite toys saved me many times when in a long wait line for a COVID test at the airport, for example.

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

TO: Don’t overpack the schedule. Have enough downtime together. Spend time with the carer together before leaving a child with her/him. If travelling long hours, take breaks often and walk around and have fun together.

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

Tomoko Omura. Photo by Greta DiGiorgio

TO: I am surprised to look back and understand now that all the concerns that I was having before about emotional obstacles, career, etc. were nothing but distractions. I appreciate the work we do and the time I spend on it. Life got a little more simple, even though it got technically more complicated with logistics.

Also, before my son was born, I was very careful about who I told about my pregnancy. I was afraid of losing opportunities due to my being a mother in the jazz community. But after my son was born, I didn’t worry so much. I’m who I am and I cannot separate myself from being a mother. I accepted the change and believe that gigs that I might have lost by being a mother are not important in my life. 

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

TO: If I’m not comfortable with leaving my child behind for a certain amount of time, I will not take the gig. These gigs are not for me/us for now. It all depends on how long and if I can take my child with me or not, or if someone can take care of my child and how long he will have to be without me. If these needs are met, I’ll take the gig.

Tomoko’s new solo violin album “For Mothers” is out on Pinch Records on 26 August. It’s a collection of original compositions written for solo five-string violin and inspired by the first two years of her experience as a new mother, including a tune inspired by oxytocin

LINKS: Tomoko Omura’s website

2021 interviews : with Morgan Enos for / Artist page at WBGO / Strings Magazine

Landing page for all Nicky Schrire’s Mothers in Jazz interviews

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