Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (20): Kate Wyatt

With today’s interview, we have reached the twentieth episode of Mothers In Jazz”, a series of interviews 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.

Canadian pianist Kate Wyatt is recognised as a top tier jazz musician whose playing has been compared to that of Fred Hersch and Shai Maestro. She has performed with musicians including Kenny Wheeler, Christine Jensen, and the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal (ONJ), and has a multitude of recordings under her belt, including jazz albums, pop projects and music for film and television. Originally from Victoria, British Columbia, she is also a passionate music educator and recently joined the faculty of JazzWorks Canada, alongside Lorne Lofsky, Kirk MacDonald and others. Kate lives in Montreal with her husband, bassist Adrian Vedady, and their two children, aged 14 and 17.

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Kate Wyatt. Photo by Julia Marois

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

Kate Wyatt: Honestly, at the time when I had my first kid almost 18 years ago, I really didn’t know many other musician moms. I was also pretty much the first person in my friend group to have kids. So, any advice of that sort that I received came from one generation back, and a lot of it didn’t really apply to me, because being a freelance musician carries a whole set of additional challenges quite separate from the mainstream.

That said, some advice I wish I had paid more attention to would be along the lines of making sure to carve out time to nurture myself. Like so many moms I felt like I had to be “perfect” and thought that meant putting my career on the backburner. But being a musician is so much more than a career – it is an identity and what makes our souls sing! Nurturing that side in ourselves only allows us to have that much more to bring to our parenting.

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: Something that I’ve seen in myself and other mom friends (in music and in other career paths), is a lot of “imposter syndrome”. Being a little outside of the game because we’re in a stage of focusing on our babies and young children, can have the tendency to make us feel less-than. Having young kids often means cutting back on gigs and having way less time to just “hang” in the scene. It can make you feel like a bit of an outsider. So even if you’re a kick-ass musician you can start to doubt that about yourself. Don’t! The thing I didn’t know is that all the nurturing you give reflects back in your music. You might not be playing all the gigs and practicing all the time, but you are growing in such a deep way, and this will make you a much deeper musician.

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

KW: People tend to see mothering as a balancing act. Either you spend “too much” time on your music and feel guilty for not giving that time to your kids, or you spend “too much” time on your kids and feel bad that your career isn’t where you want it to be.   

My top tip: there is no such thing as the perfect balance. Show yourself some grace and forgiveness. At some points you’ll be more in mothering mode and that’s ok. At other points you’ll be out touring or busy with gigs and that’s ok too. The mothering feeds the music, and the music feeds the mothering. The sum total is a thing of beauty.

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

KW: The best baby gear I ever invested in was a good baby carrier. It allows you to hold your baby and operate hands-free (especially once your baby gets big enough to go on your back).  This is unbelievably helpful for traveling! It also can be a great way for others to babysit your fussy baby while you play. Lots of babies find being in a baby carrier while the wearer is walking around to be the most soothing thing.

When my kids were older the life saver was having snacks on hand all the time. Never leave home without a snack (or three) in the bag. A collection of small toys and some paper and crayons or pencil crayons will go a long way to keeping a young child occupied. These days most everyone has a device they can hand a child, but I strongly suggest holding off as long as you can before putting it into use. Get as much as you can out of the toys and snacks and save resorting to shows and games for only when nothing else will work. You’ll actually get a happier child for longer when you do it this way. So important for when you need them occupied for an entire rehearsal or gig.

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

KW: Pure and simple: do whatever it takes to have another caretaker with you. If anyone ever offers to help accept that help. Have a relative travel with you, have a friend babysit. If you have to hire someone, and it costs almost everything you’re earning from the gig, do it anyway. There is no such thing as multitasking. When you need to play you need your focus there.

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

KW: When I first became a mother, and when my kids were really little, the most important thing in my life (music) wasn’t the most important anymore. I played less and I was ok with that. And then my kids got older, and I started working more (and craving it more!), and I realized that all that old fire and ambition was still there, perhaps even more so. Having a time of shifted focus didn’t diminish me as a musician, and it didn’t mean the end of my passion for music. 

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: I don’t think I ever consciously set boundaries for myself.  It’s more that my lifestyle and work schedule have naturally changed over and over in various ways as I’ve traveled the motherhood journey. There has been a slow ebb and flow in how much I gigged, traveled and all that, but all in a very organic way.  It’s all about being open to what comes and responding to what’s needed in the moment, exactly like when we play music.

Kate’s debut album in her own name, “Artifact”, was released in July 2022. It features Lex French (trumpet), Adrian Vedady (bass) and Jim Doxas (drums).

LINKS: Kate Wyatt’s website

Landing page for all of Nicky Schrire’s Mothers in Jazz interviews

1 reply »

  1. Women In Jazz
    Kate Wyatt
    London Jazz Times

    Thanks for the insightful series.

    This interview with Kate is the first I have read after spotting the article on Linked In (Women In Jazz group).

    I hope you will consider a series on Fathers In Jazz!

    I am a professional jazz drummer, music producer and filmmaker (JazzTown, Who Killed Jazz) and my daughter was in kindergarten when I divorced her mother and was awarded full child custody by the court.

    I continued to work while raising my child as a single father gigging at night, teaching private drum lessons in the afternoon, and squeezing in volunteer hours every week at her school (a great way to stay involved in her life during waking hours!). The help of my mother, who lived only a mile away, during this period was invaluable.

    Kate’s challenges to find a flexible balance are universal for both working and stay at home parents regardless of gender.

    Identifying parents by their gender is informative (especially for a compare/contrast of their experiences) given the very different societal pressures placed upon men and women.

    But I believe, at the end of the day, the genders have more in common than not. If the primary goals were to share parenting tips to help raise healthier and happier children while maintaining a balanced life as a working jazz musician, then the series would benefit from gender inclusivity.

    Ben Makinen

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