Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (21): Sara Serpa

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.

A native on Lisbon in Portugal, Sara Serpa is a singer, composer, and improviser. Through her practice and performance, she explores the use of the voice as an instrument. Sara has been working in the field of jazz, improvised and experimental music, since moving to New York in 2008. Described by the New York Times as “a singer of silvery poise and cosmopolitan outlook,” and by the JazzTimes magazine as “a master of wordless landscapes,”  she started her recording and performing career with jazz luminaries such as Grammy-nominated pianist, Danilo Perez, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow pianist, Ran Blake. Sara lives in New York with her husband, guitarist André Matos, and their 8 year-old child.

Sara Serpa. Photo credit: Ebru Yildiz

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

Sara Serpa: Sadly, I didn’t receive any advice. I didn’t know any other mother musicians when I got pregnant. There was a tendency to silence these kinds of challenges so that women did not lose work.

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: I wish I had known about breastfeeding- how hard it is and that it’s okay if you can’t do it right after your baby is born. I wish I had known about what happens to women’s bodies after they give birth (what to expect!). I wish I had known it was okay to not be productive when I could barely sleep through the night. I wish I didn’t take on all the responsibilities and learned to share the baby’s needs with my partner and my family.

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

SS: If you want to be a mother, don’t wait. There is no perfect timing. Also, despite the fact that the first years are demanding, they are precious. Spend time with your baby, because they will grow very fast. Share tasks-make your partner organize schedules, meals,look for childcare, etc. Mothers should not have to do everything alone.

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

SS: Bring a very light and foldable stroller (not a fancy one). A baby carrier is very useful all the time. If you’re pumping, bring a good pump – it takes a toll on your body.

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

SS: Simplify. A light stroller. A baby carrier. Stickers for toddlers are amazing on planes. You can buy diapers when you get there. Don’t pack too many clothes-they will wear the same thing most of the time. Board with only what you will need and not with what you think you might need. Nap times will be the most challenging part when traveling with a toddler and it might be worth adjusting to the time zone before traveling. Sleep when you can (very important!!!). Traveling with your child will be exhausting, but they learn quickly how to be around you during gigs and rehearsals.

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

SS: You become much more efficient with the little time you have. I procrastinate much less and my priorities are much clearer.

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: Time alone is very important. It is hard to leave your child behind, but it’s good to remember who you are as an artist and person, besides a mother and a caregiver. Always trust your gut feeling. Don’t be embarrassed for asking questions and for demanding what you need.

Sara’s latest album Intimate Strangers is a collaboration with Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma. An interdisciplinary musical performance that portrays the writer’s travels in several African countries, it was released on Biophilia Recordings in 2021.

LINKS: Sara Serpa’s website

LJN interviews / reviews about Sara Serpa

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