Mothers In Jazz: Sarah King
“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.
Sarah King is a vocalist with roots in song, dance and theater. She earned her BFA in acting from Marymount Manhattan College and is a seasoned street performer, from modest beginnings playing the ukulele in subway stations to winning underground dance contests. In 2013, she played a jazz singer in the cast of “Sleep No More”, the immersive and award winning theatrical experience that tells Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy through a film noir lens. She has performed at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall alongside Cyrille Aimée, and she can be spotted as a cabaret singer in the upcoming season (Season 5) of “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel” accompanied by Billy Stritch on the piano. Sarah lives in New York City with her 6 year-old son.
LondonJazz News: What is the best advice you received about balancing/juggling motherhood and career?
Sarah King: One employer told me that being a mom is a strength, not a liability. She hired me because she knows moms can do anything. They get things done. Moms are superheroes. (I also work part time as a florist to make money matters easier).
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)?
SK: A marriage is not necessary. Better to be single than partnered in misery. I felt a lot of pressure (partly from myself) to make it work with the dad. This was energy completely wasted.
LJN: Your top tip(s) for other mothers in jazz:
SK: 1. Don’t feel bad for taking a booking fee. 2.Find and keep musicians in your band who make your life easier, not harder. Find the musicians who support you, appreciate you and work as hard as you do. Work with musicians who set a good example, from which you can learn—, and who want to work on things with you. Find musicians who recognize what’s best creatively for the group to work well and be entertaining; not necessarily what suits their individual tastes. 3.Take a bath. Find time for yourself to relax.
LJN: Baby/child gear tips for travel/touring/gigging:
SK: We live in NYC and didn’t have a car when the baby was little so we taught the kid to walk everywhere, take public transit and enjoy it from age 1. Get a scooter at age 2. Get rid of the stroller as soon as they like walking and taking buses and trains.
LJN: Best general travel/gigging/tour-with-child advice:
SK: I actually don’t bring my kid on tours. I would like to in the future. Now that he’s not a baby, I bring him to daytime gigs where he can drink Shirley Temples and play cards with someone. Invite friends to the gigs to hang with him. Let him hang with the clarinet player’s wife. Ask for enough money to cover the babysitter! Tell your booking person the situation and see if they can accommodate you and your child.
LJN: What has surprised you about becoming a parent and remaining engaged with your professional activities and ambitions?
SK: I was surprised by the guilt. The mental tiredness. The feeling like I’m always missing something. The worry that my kid will never see me reach my highest potential. The fear that I’m spending too much time away from my kid. The fact that you might have to get a day job.
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.)?
SK: I don’t do gigs that don’t pay enough anymore. I don’t look at the gig as just money anymore, I look at it as time spent away from the apple of my eye, and it had better be worth it!
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Sarah’s most recent album “Tulip Or Turnip” was released in 2021 (with Jon de Lucia on clarinet on the track above), and she also appears on Stephane Wrembel’s newest album (out February 2023).