Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (10): Shayna Steele

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.

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Shayna Steele. Photo by Anna Webber

California-born vocalist Shayna Steele has had a thrilling music career to date. From backup singing stints with Moby, Bette Midler and Rihanna, to 8 years spent on Broadway in shows like Hairspray and Rent, her versatility is second only to her immense musicianship. Following her successful 2015 debut album “Rise” (Ropeadope), she was invited to feature on Snarky Puppy’s “Family Dinner, Volume 1”. Shayna has gone back to study, and is currently working on a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Music Studies at Berklee College of Music, while continuing to tour internationally as a solo and guest artist with symphony orchestras and Grammy-award winning trumpeter Chris Botti. Shayna lives in New York with her husband, pianist and musical director David Cook, and their 9 and a half year-old daughter.

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

Shayna Steele: Take the gig, figure it out later! It’s worked so far…

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)?

SS: That it’s ok to ask for what you need such as a fridge in your room to hold pumped milk, or extra rooms in the rider for when I would bring a nanny on the road. I was always afraid no one would want to book me- it was not the case. Venues/promoters/etc. were happy to accommodate my requests for the most part.

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

SS: Take your time. Don’t expect to pick up where you left off. Your body, voice, stamina and hormones have changed you completely. Give yourself the time you need to be your best. Have grace.

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

SS: Don’t go cheap on the stroller system. Buy the extra seat for flights longer than 4 hours! I made the mistake of having her on my lap on the way to LA. Huge mistake.

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

SS: Ask family if they want to travel all expenses to avoid paying that plus a salary when you can. Know that when they get old enough, you won’t need the extra help anymore. My daughter’s favourite place to hang out at my gigs now? The merch table. She’s my best little helper and she’s proud to participate. Look at touring with your child as an opportunity for them to see the world. They will be well-rounded, open minded kids. You can’t get that in a classroom. It is an extreme privilege.

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

SS: Becoming a mom has forced me to really focus on what I really want out of music. You can’t just take any gig at any time without jeopardising your child’s well being. What’s surprised me is that people are much more receptive to the idea that you can pursue your career and still be an awesome parent.

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.)?

SS: My husband is a musician as well so we have very set ground rules. For example: limits on how long I will tour in one sitting (3 weeks at a time is my max), limits on how many nights with a sitter, and hotel ratings especially when travelling with child. I want to feel I’ve brought her to a safe environment that is comfortable. My husband and I have a weekly/monthly meeting about our childcare needs and we plan far, far in advance. At first I thought my career was over and I accepted that. I chose to be a mother. But that’s not the case. It just looks different than when you had no one else to think of. It requires more planning, more sacrifice, but it’s not impossible!

Shayna will be releasing her 4th studio album in Spring ‘23 and will be touring that album in the US in March and May and in Europe later in the year.

LINK: Shayna Steele’s website

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