Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (5): Tutu Puoane

Mothers In Jazz” is a new series, started by vocalist Nicky Schrire. 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.

Tutu Puoane. Photo © Nunu Ngema

Vocalist Tutu Puoane hails from Pretoria, South Africa. She initially moved to Europe to study at The Royal Conservatory in The Hague. The multiple South African Music Award (SAMA) winner mixes African, European, and American traditions in her music and has collaborated with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Tineke Postma and Marcus Strickland.

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Most recently, she performed with the WDR Big Band directed by John Clayton, and been the featured vocalist with the Metropole Orkest and Vince Mendoza for their Toots Thielemans tribute concert. She lives in Antwerp, Belgium with her husband, pianist Ewout Pierreux, and their two children, aged 14 and 9.

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

Tutu Puoane: I guess the best example I saw and learned from was my own mother. Growing up in apartheid South Africa was interesting to say the least. Fortunately, we had and still have large extended families, where family, friends and neighbours help each other out. I just watched my mother work her behind off. There was no formula to juggling and balancing. She just did whatever needed to be done.

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)?

TP: I wish someone had told me about how incredibly real mom-guilt is and how mentally crippling it can be, especially with the first child. I wish I’d known that taking a little time for myself would have actually helped me be a better mom.

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

TP: Get a booking agent who truly appreciates and fully understands that you’re a mother first. For example, someone who can schedule your tours around school holidays.

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

TP: I definitely recommend a stroller that turns into a car seat. They also tend to be quite small and compact.

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

TP: Honestly, don’t do it! It’s hectic with a capital “H”. It depends on a lot of factors like if you can afford to travel with a nanny. If so, then by all means tour with your child.

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

TP: I don’t think I’ve found anything particularly surprising. What I do realise is that I never run out of ideas for different projects because these kids need to be fed!

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

TP: The biggest boundary I’ve set for myself as a working musician parent, is that my touring outside of Belgium revolves around my children’s school schedules. I do miss out on some opportunities but I’m pretty content with the amount of work I get in Belgium. I also hope and think my touring options will open up as the kids get older.

Tutu’s next performance dates include concerts with Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Metropole Orkest, and “Black Lives – from Generation to Generation”, a collective presenting “Great Black Music as a source of moral truth and potent weaponry against the scourge of racism.” (JOHN STEVENSON’S ALBUM REVIEW)

LINKS: Tutu Puoane’s website.

Landing page for all LJN’s Mothers in Jazz interviews

3 replies »

  1. Lovely Q&A. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Ms. Poane for a piece I wrote about the “Black Lives” anthology, for which her contribution was, in my estimation, the emotional center. She’s a lovely person and a fierce and pure spirit. I love the concept behind this series and looking forward to the next installment.

  2. John, what a lovely comment! And I love that more people are becoming aware of Tutu’s work. She is a lovely person indeed. Thanks for the support and reaction to the series-it means a great deal. Warm wishes, Nicky

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