Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (13): Keyna Wilkins

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.

Keyna Wilkins is a pioneering Australian/British pianist, flautist and composer. A two-time finalist for the Australian Art Music Awards for Individual Excellence, she is an innovative soloist and leader of cutting edge ensembles. Keyna is an Associate Artist with the Australian Music Centre and also composes for film and theatre. Her collaborations include the indigenous-jazz fusion duo “Yulugi” with leading First Nations didgeridoo player Gumaroy Newman, and “Ephemera Ensemble” who performed at the 2017 Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival and at Extended Play Festival of New Music in 2018. Keyna has presented lectures/workshops at the Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference and was guest speaker at The Women’s Club “Trailblazers in Music ” series in 2021. She lives in Sydney with her 8 year-old twins.

Keyna Wilkins. Photo credit: Tawfik Elgazzar

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

Keyna Wilkins: Focus on what you really want to achieve musically. For example, record an album and don’t do anything that isn’t essential for it – outsource certain jobs if necessary (if you have no money, try a barter system). Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s too hard. It’s all possible if you think creatively. Since having twins 8 years ago, I have recorded 8 albums and played hundreds of gigs and have been getting the best composition commissions of my life. And I’m not rich. Yes, it’s all possible. To achieve this, it’s good to have responsible adults around you who your kids like and who enjoy spending time with them to help you out every now and then. 

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)?

KW: There is no “right” way to parent. Every child is different, and every parent is different. It’s very good and healthy for kids to see their mums loving their career and moving forward. Trust your gut feelings.

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

KW: Try to involve your kids when you can. For example, I get my kids involved in shows sometimes, it’s good for them and it’s a great bonding experience and the audiences love it. Never be ashamed to ask for help. Also, I took about one and a half years off completely after having children. There are plenty of women who take many years off and if that feels right for them, then that’s what matters.

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

KW: Up until now I have had my parents or partner look after my kids while I travel for music.

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

KW: Try something simple first, like one gig.

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

KW: The whole experience of having children has made me much more grounded and in touch with my vision as a musician and composer. I was actually so much more inspired after kids came long. And because I had less time, I just had to get on with it, so I have actually been a lot more productive and time-efficient, but the best thing was I stopped worrying about the little things. 

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.)?

KW: If either of my children are really unhappy or sick, I will cancel. The most important thing in my life is always my kids, then myself, then my partner.

LINKS: Artist website

Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.


YouTube Channel

Leave a Reply