Mothers in Jazz

Mothers in Jazz (18): Jenna Cave

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.

Jenna Cave is an award-winning Australian composer and arranger, bandleader and saxophonist who is known best for her large ensemble contemporary jazz music. She has said: “When I was younger I was definitely inspired by a lot of international groups to form my own jazz orchestra one day. Composer-led large ensembles such as the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra or Carla Bley Band were not only inspiring musically but also as role models

Jenna has directed the 18-piece Divergence Jazz Orchestra as resident composer/arranger with co-leader Paul Weber since 2012 (on video below). In 2015 Jenna was awarded full composer representation with the Australian Music Centre, and she was a nominee for the prestigious Freedman Fellowship Award (Jazz) in 2019. Along with commissions for the Sydney Women’s Jazz Collective and the Melbourne International Women’s Jazz Festival, she also composes for film and television. She is a casual academic at the University of New South Wales where she teaches jazz composition and harmony. Originally from Canberra, Jenna lives in Sydney with her 4 year-old child.

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Jenna Cave. Photo credit: Noni Carroll

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

Jenna Cave: The best advice I received was to not worry about my creative output while I have a young child. Keep the creative practice going in manageable ways, but make the creative practice the focus not the quantity or speed of output.

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)?

JC: As a person who has trouble functioning on lack of sleep, and who is the primary carer of a 1 year old, best to avoid bothering with too many midweek late night gigs.

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

JC: Things will get easier as your child gets older. Every year it is easier to focus and have time to yourself. So don’t run yourself ragged trying to do it all when they are tiny. Music will still be there, even if you’re having a break, and you’ll get back to it even if it feels like that could never happen. Look after yourself. Keep your hand in with your creative practice but don’t judge yourself on the amount of work you can produce or take on.

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

JC: I don’t have experience in this area since I have only done local gigs since my daughter was born.

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

JC: Until recently I’ve not attempted to bring my child to rehearsals or gigs as she’s so young and I know it would be impossible for me to focus with her demanding my attention. She successfully attended one of my gigs recently with Grandparents on babysitting duty!

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

JC: I found becoming a parent extremely difficult to deal with mentally for some time with a loss of identity as a musician when my daughter was very young. Eventually it became a valuable life lesson in accepting things for how they are, and ultimately I grew from the experience and have become a much more grounded person. I still love creating music but it no longer causes me the stress it once did, and I don’t sweat the unimportant bits. Simply to be able to create music is a gift. In other words, I’ve managed to ditch a bucketload of ego and I’m a happier person.

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.)?

JC: Only take on what is manageable while maintaining my wellbeing, and say no to the rest.

LINKS: Jenna Cave’s website

Landing page for Nicky Schrire’s Mothers in Jazz interview series

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