Maternal jazz  

• Jessica Carlton juggles being a jazz musician and the mother of a young daughter.

DOES having kids dull an artist’s edge and put them on a family-friendly trajectory?

It’s an interesting theory that some critics entertain as the rock ‘n’ roll heroes of their youth get married, settle down and start changing nappies. Is the music now second fiddle and a bit, well, anodyne?

It’s the same with comedians – suddenly the close-to-the-bone jokes have been replaced with routines about little Johnny’s play dates. 

Perth jazz trumpeter Jessica Carlton was not immune to these doubts, and was refreshingly honest about the fear of losing her muse and creative spark when she gave birth to her daughter Olivia four years ago in her mid 20s.

“At the beginning, I was overcome with love but I also really struggled with my health – both physical and mental,” Carlton says. 

“It took me a while to feel like my own person again. I had fears that I had lost myself as a musician and an artist.”

But then a different feeling took hold and Carlton found her baby became the inspiration for a batch of new songs that will be performed at the upcoming Women in Jazz concert in Fremantle.

“With time and healing, I came to realise that motherhood actually enhanced my artistic perceptions and voice,” she says. 

“Not only did I have a continued source of inspiration born out of my new reality and the new person growing in front of my eyes, but I had developed a maturity, a renewed strength of passion, and a perspective that I previously did not have access to.

“This is what began my work of composing and improvising music based on motherhood. I firmly believe that the voices of artist mothers in all artistic fields are unique and should be highlighted and uplifted.”

Carlton’s set is part of a series of Women in Jazz free concerts, run by Jazz Fremantle and made possible via a commonwealth government live music grant.

“The impetus for the grant application was the under-representation of women in jazz,” says Jazz Fremantle’s Kenneth Westgate.

“Apart from singers it is not easy for women musicians to find regular gigs and they are subject to harassment as they are in many areas of life.”

Carlton, 30, agrees and says being a woman in the jazz scene can be tough.

“I have experienced a lot of hardship as a female artist in a male dominated industry; and that, no, I don’t believe in meritocracy,” she says. 

“I think that it is very important to discuss these experiences and to find ways – in the industry and at institutions – to change the culture and foster an inclusive and supportive community.

“Festivals like this go a long way in highlighting the musical voices of women (and mothers). In a book called In Their Mother’s Eyes by Jayne Anne Phillips, there is a quote I love that says: ‘We need the embodiment of their [artist mothers] perceptions in literature and music, in film and sculpture and photography and performance, in whatever mediums our various cultures may produce…’

Cartlon was nominated for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year at the Bell Awards in 2015, and won the Monash Jazz Prize in her second year at Monash University.

Inspired by musicians like Melbourne composer and pianist Andrea Keller, Danish composer and guitarist Jakob Bro and Norwegian trumpet player Arve Henriksen, Carlton serves up contemporary jazz with deft melodic trumpet lines.

“I am also very strongly influenced by artists/creators of different mediums such as authors and visual artists. I have always been an avid reader, and inspiration often strikes while reading – meaning that many of my musical ideas begin as extramusical concepts.

“I am currently working on a postgraduate research project that looks at how to transform works of poetry and visual art into composition and improvisation so this is also something I am very interested in.”

Carlton will spend the next year and a half doing research for her postgraduate degree at WAAPA and creating music for a new quartet that reflects a “neurodivergent mind”.

But one thing will always get top billing in her life: “And, of course, I will continue the ongoing and innately creative journey of raising my daughter.”

The Jessica Carlton Quartet will appear at the Women in Jazz free concert at the Navy Club on High Street on Saturday October 15 at 12pm. Also on the same bill is Canta Brasil, with Victoria Newton and Georgie Aue, playing everything from bossa to samba.

For more info see jazzfremantle.com.au/events. 

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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