Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (7): Janis Siegel

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.

Janis Siegel is a 10-time Grammy-winning singer, vocal arranger, producer and founding member of vocal quartet The Manhattan Transfer. In addition to her work with the vocal group, she has a busy solo career and has performed and recorded with musicians including Bobby McFerrin, Fred Hersch, and Jon Hendricks.

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Janis teamed up with fellow vocalist Lauren Kinhan (who stretches her vocal ensemble legs as a member of the New York Voices) to produce and present Vocal Gumbo during the pandemic (link below). The online gathering is a monthly online variety show and salon, a gathering place for singers and musicians, and has hosted Dianne Reeves, Claire Martin, Michael Mayo and many more. Janis lives in New York and has a 28 year-old son named Gabe.

Janis Siegel. Publicity photo

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

Janis Siegel: A child just needs to know it is loved and wanted. Everything else can fall into place.

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)?

JS: It’s really easy to over indulge your child while you’re on the road – they can get used to getting their way because it’s just easier and you’re exhausted, or stressed, or focused on your performance. But it’s important to maintain some rules, discipline and most importantly, consequences.

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

JS: Let Improvisation become your best skill.

Also, it’s important to the family relationship, whether you’re rearing a child with a partner or by yourself, that mom feels fulfilled and happy in her work. I think the child also feels that. I felt it was important for my son to see firsthand what I did artistically and who I did it with. Gabe ended up having a second family with my musical partners – he also saw the world and learned at an early age that there was a big beautiful diverse world with different cultures, language, food and religions.

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

JS: When Gabe was little, I travelled with a fold up playpen which was really great for the hotel or backstage. Also, backstage sinks make a great bathtub. And who could forget the portable breast pumping machines!

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

JS: Always be prepared – snacks, blanket, a favourite toy, water, extra binky, books, diapers, plane amusements.

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

JS: How well babies adapt to any situation as long as mom is with them.

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.)?

JS: If I was not travelling with my son, which was rare when he was little, I made sure I was on the first flight out to get home. 

The Manhattan Transfer’s latest record “FIFTY” will be out on 23 September 2022 on Concord/Craft Records. The group will also be heading out on a special 50th anniversary tour from October.


Manhattan Transfer website
Vocal Gumbo website

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