Mothers In Jazz (59): Hannah Burgé

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.

Hannah Burgé is a Canadian vocalist and pianist. Her musical works runs the gamut from contemporary jazz to world music. As well as being a recording and performing artist, she also teaches at Western Don Wright Faculty of Music in London, Ontario and is a distinguished scholar who served as a Research Fellow at Queen’s University. She lives in Toronto and Prince Edward County with her partner, bassist Paco Luviano, and their two children, aged 8 and 14.

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Hannah Burgé. Photo credit: Jeff Hui

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

Hannah Burgé: I certainly didn’t have a ton of advice on this subject when my kids were born. I had watched the career of my vocal coach and great friend Ali Garrison, who is an awesome artist and mom. I learned from Ali that you can do great things with love, respect, and a dash of humour.

When my second child was about to be born, I was determined, come hell or high water, to finish my record.  I was eight months pregnant and napping in between takes. Once the baby came, my friend came to the studio to watch her while we mixed the record. 

Like many music moms, I felt isolated after my children were born. There is enormous pressure to get back to work and to release new music. Sometimes we feel that we have to be superhuman. I’d like to suggest that it’s okay to take breaks when you need them.

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)?

HB: I wish that folks had told me it’s okay to make your life work for you. I’m not the artist that’s on the road 100 days a year, though I love and admire music moms who do that work. I’m a total book nerd, and had fun doing a masters degree in jazz musicology. Academia is a good fit for me; right now, I’m in the last months of my Ph.D, which means I’m working on my dissertation every day.  I love teaching, I love musicians, I love talking about music, and I’m insatiably curious about the “why” of it all. I wanted a balance between teaching, research, and playing. Find the fit that brings you a bit of joy every single day.

Also, you need a partner who’s okay with you being your assertive, best self. Pre-pandemic, I was in another city three days a week, while dad was watching the kids. For the past two years, I’ve been putting in crazy hours, firstly as an Academic Program Manager, then a Professor of Music at Humber College. I’m able to do that work because there are two parents who can juggle the school pick up, clean the house, do laundry, and tag-team on all the scheduling. The reverse is of course, also true: I take on all the home things while my partner is on the road.  I give credit to single parents, who live a life in music while raising their children solo. Our industry can be rife with petty jealousies and the competition is fierce. If you have a partner that supports your work, without jealousy or competition, you have hit the jackpot.

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

HB: I’ve always taken my kids to work. And, I’ve always gone to work. When I conducted choirs, my kids were in chest carriers, or sat playing beside me. My kids came on the road for my gigs and their dad’s shows. I am so fortunate that my parents were able to watch my children when I played long-distance gigs. They took the children during my tour to Mexico. When my daughter was ten months old, my mom drove with me to Illinois so that I could be part of an Ethnomusicology conference. That’s a privilege that not everyone can claim, and I’m grateful for the special relationship that my kids have with their grandparents.  

You need a posse. It’s simply not possible to do this life without support. Since the pandemic, I started checking in with jazz players who are also parents, this is a really intentional, new community. Statistically speaking, a number of great jazz musicians are also mothers and parents, but finding members of the parent club can take some effort.

For all that is good in the world, you must get a mentor who is older and wiser. If you’re a jazz mom/parent who has experience, please offer to mentor others. I guarantee that music parents want and need your advice.

Here’s another tip: talk about money with your jazz pals. I’ve noticed (doing equity work) that there is a tendency to be shy about pay scales for gigs and teaching work. For all the progress we’ve seen since the pandemic, there is still a gendered wage gap for masterclass teaching, jazz camps, and festival gigs. I chat regularly with my parent pals who are women and moms about this subject now, and we learn from one another. (I want to give credit to the programmers who have already made the pay scale adjustments.)

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

HB: Phew, it’s been a while since I had to think about baby gear. I once received some peppermint scented Shower Sheets and they were incredible. I’d love to find those again.

I was gifted an Uppa Baby Stroller from a bunch of loving folks when my eldest was born, and I’m here to tell you that sucker can carry a bass amp, toddler, and diaper bag at the same time. I used that until the wheels fell off.

We always bought cars that could fit an acoustic bass and a carseat. I now have a list of car brands and models. My children have been to every music festival in Ontario within driving distance and they think that “car picnics” are a fun activity.

I’m not sure that this is a kid gear tip, but I wouldn’t survive without my Bose Sleepbuds.

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

HB: Things are bound to go very, very wrong sometimes. They just will. Try to cut yourself a break. Do the best you can.

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

HB: I was surprised to find out that many of the artists I loved were parents. I once asked Christian McBride to list inspirational jazz moms with whom he’d worked, and he named Geri Allen, Betty Carter, and Nancy Wilson. I hadn’t even known they were parents. Part of teaching history is filling in the gaps for others, and Christian did that for me.

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.)?

HB: Here’s something of a list:

  • I try not to take more than two weeks away from my kids at any one time. 
  • I intentionally spend time in nature, walking or hiking or going for a run or gardening.
  • I don’t compare myself to my peers. 
  • I only work with artists who I like as people. 
  • I try not to lose myself in social media; it’s a false world and doesn’t represent the realities of our day-to-day.  
  • I support my kid’s interests, and encourage them to try new things, and then I try to apply that advice to myself.   

LINKS : Artist website
“Green River Sessions” on Spotify
The complete Mothers in Jazz archive

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