Mothers In Jazz (55): Brenda Earle Stokes

#“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.

Brenda Earle Stokes is a Canadian musician who possesses a true command of both the piano and the voice. She has performed as a side person with Roxy Coss, Wycliffe Gordon, and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and has held residencies at the Kennedy Center and Banff Center for Fine Arts. A finalist in the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition, Brenda is also active as an educator, serving on the faculty of Fordham University and running a busy private studio. She was a past winner of the IAJE Sister’s in Jazz competition, identifying her as one of the top emerging jazz artists of her generation, and has toured clubs and festivals across the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. She lives in New York City with her 10 year-old son.

Brenda Earle Stokes. Photo credit: Nicole Mago.

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

Brenda Earle Stokes: Sadly, I didn’t get any advice beyond “You’ll figure it out.”  I wish someone had offered me some! 

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)?

BES: That it’s ok to step away from the relentless music making and gig-hustling.  I felt so much stress around not being active in the same way once my son was born.  I finally gave myself permission to take a break and enjoy my life in a different way. 

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I also feel strongly that we all parent from very different experiences and that there are a million “right” ways to do it.

LJN:Your top tip(s) for other mothers in jazz:BES: It’s ok to take a break from your musical life if you need to.  Becoming a parent is an all encompassing experience and everyone has a different vision for this time in their lives.

Seeing images of other mothers on tour or in the recording studio with their babies sleeping quietly in a Moby wrap was really hard for me.  There was no way that was ever going to work for me –  my son didn’t have the disposition and neither did I.

If you need to cut back on your music making, change directions to earn more money for your family or step away altogether for a while – it’s totally ok.  Your music will be waiting for you when you’re ready.

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

BES: My son was NOT one of these babies who sleeps quietly while Mommy is in the recording studio or in rehearsal. So, my best gear was my breast pump, which gave me the freedom to continue doing some gigs.

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

BES: I couldn’t ever take my kid anywhere because it just didn’t work for him.  Therefore, my advice is that it’s ok to take a break from traveling and gigging if it doesn’t work for your family.  Otherwise, build a network of trusted caregivers and find a way to make it work.

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

BES: I am amazed at the efficiency at which I can get things done.  What used to take me a week, now takes me a few hours because I have NO CHOICE.  Mothering has also revealed my strengths, and courage and wisdom that I never realized I had.  I feel so much more confident about who I am and what my values are.

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.)?

BES: I have become much more determined as an entrepreneur and business person. I have chosen to really prioritize my professional goals and take steps in that direction. I no longer feel stuck doing gigs I don’t like or being at the mercy of the phone ringing.  My responsibility to my family has inspired me to forge my own path and not be afraid of doing things in the way that feels right for us.

Brenda is in the process of composing a song cycle called c which is a collection of songs about the complex life of mothers – from excitement to wonder, from fear to frustrations of the entire experience. She also launched a platform called “The Versatile Musician”, which is an extensive suite of online courses designed to empower and inspire singers, pianists and music educators.

LINKS: Brenda Earle Stokes’s website
Piano and Voice with Brenda
The complete archive of Nicky Schrire’s Mothers in Jazz

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