Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (6): Nicole Johänntgen

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.

Nicole Johänntgen is an alto and soprano saxophonist originally from the Saarland in Germany. She has performed with musicians including Eric Harland, Nils Landgren, and vocalist Cæcilie Norby, and has released 17 albums to date. She runs two organisations that focus on supporting female musicians-the music business workshop SOFIA and JazzWomen Network, a website database for female jazz musicians (links below). She lives in Switzerland with her 2 year old child.

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Nicole Johänntgen. Photo credit Daniel Bernet

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

Nicole Johänntgen: I wish I’d received advice about taking your time and pacing yourself. Also, the degree to which you do not know what kind of baby you will have. You don’t know the needs of your child until the baby is here and then it can change on a daily basis. And physically, it also depends on how you gave birth. The body exerts maximum effort and I think I would say now that you should take 6 months off to recover. Then you have no stress. I was playing again after 14 weeks. Some play again a few weeks after that, some can only play again after months because the body needs more time.

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

NJ: I would remind others that you have time, even with a child. Personally, I still want to be on stage and creative for the next 40 years at least, so it’s important to take it nice and slow. It’s also very important to recharge your batteries. It’s good to know in your head that you don’t have to do everything NOW. Sometimes a lot comes your way all at once so breaks are super important.

Before the child is born, establish if someone close to you wants to help you. For example, if you want to sleep during the day and the baby does not, then perhaps your friend can help you. Find two to three people who will support you in the early years. It’s good for you and you’ll need it once you start playing gigs again. 

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

NJ: I was very pleased with the Babybjörn baby carrier. It was super good to travel with. A great travel buggy for tall persons is the MacLaren Techno XT.

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

NJ: Count on everything taking longer. Space out your train travel because to change the tracks takes longer with a buggy. Though when the baby is on you, that goes faster. 

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

NJ: In the first year I was able to do a lot and now my child sleeps less during the day, but in the evenings he sleeps through the night (when he is not growing teeth!). It’s always surprising how one day and the next can be so different. That’s the adventure of having a child. And I love it. It’s exhausting but also wonderful!

LJN: What boundaries have you set for yourself as a mother in jazz (could be related to travel/touring, riders, personal parameters, child care decisions, etc.)?

NJ: Yes, all women who are jazz musicians come to this point-housekeeping with one’s own energy. It’s an important topic. That’s the time theme again. Here’s the schedule I’ve set for myself for the next two years: three concerts and then a break for a few days. Ideally, there would be a maximum of three concerts in a week followed by a week’s break, and then three more concerts, and so on. This year I can’t do that but I’m drawing the line in 2023. I’ll take January and February off, so that my body can recover and I can compose again.

Nicole’s second solo album Solo II was released in June 2022 on Selmabird Records (Bandcamp link). It was recorded on the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland at an altitude of over 2000m.

LINKS: Nicole Johänntgen’s website

 SOFIA (Support Of Female Improvising Artists) website

JazzWomen Network

‘Mothers in Jazz’ landing page for all pieces in this series

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