I am pregnant, and completely blown away by the myriad of difficulties associated with being a jazz singer while pregnant.
First, there are virtually NO maternity dresses for jazz singers. Of course, I could wear a beautiful orange Lanvin dress like Beyonce, but the cost of that one dress exceeds my performance fee so I think that would be quite a bad business move.
In general, I notice that when I search for formal maternity dresses, I get results for tight little black dresses. I know there is a growing lack of understanding of dress codes in the States, but I figured that most designers know that mini skirts are not formal wear. Granted, I do have a few slinky dresses that have enough stretch to make it over my burgeoning belly, but what works for Heidi Klum on the red carpet does nothing for me on stage while singing for an hour or two. Who wants to stare at my belly encased in bright red spandex for that long?
After an exhaustive search I discovered it was easier to search for "empire waist dresses" in plus sizes and avoid maternity dresses for stage wear. For example, Target has a great chiffon maxi dress that can be dressed up with accessories. I also cut the elastic waist band out of a sparkly black plus-size dress and tied the ribbon under my bust.
Second, watch the repertoire. "Santa Baby" is already risque. Add to that a big fat pregnant belly to that, and the song is downright nasty. Songs about drinking. ditto. Someone yelled out a request for "The Chair Song." I told them that they had to be crazy. Someone who had asked for "(My Man is Such a) Handy Man" during my "Nina Simone Tribute" shows in the summer tried to collect on my "next time" promise was met with a sturdy "NO!" Seriously... does anyone want to see a heavily pregnant woman singing about "greasing my griddle" and "stroking my fiddle?"
And if you answer "yes," then I especially don’t want to sing it for you.
Third, the hormone changes thicken your vocal chords and the baby takes up half of your diaphragm space. The support is just not there. There is nothing to bear down against. It is absolutely crazy. I think back to when Alexa Weber Morales was singing at Pearl’s while pregnant, and really I have no idea how she did it. My keys needed to be brought down a whole step. Certain tunes I had to reconfigure altogether. For example, I love starting in lower key and eventually doing a "shout chorus" an octave higher. In the middle of "Cold Duck," I flipped it up an octave and then suddenly realized I didn’t really have the range to stay up there. I literally went for a high note and nothing came out! I had to work my way down to a more manageable range without losing the build I had just created. At times I am so out-of-breath that the thought of wasting air and depriving myself (and the baby) of oxygen just to hold a note feels sadistic!
Fourth, as Fats Waller sang, "your feets is too big." This is a problem when you have to stand for hours. Sitting doesn’t really help because that decreases my diaphragm space. And sitting does not keep your feet from swelling unless you put your feet up. Putting your feet up on stage is unacceptable in my book unless I am lying on a piano (like I used to do at Martuni's) or I just sprained it on the break (running to feed the meter at a Mal Sharpe Big Money gig at the No Name Bar in Sausalito).
I have no idea how April the floor manager at Pearl’s managed to run up and down those steps and stand all night while pregnant. My hat is off to all those ladies that do it. Maybe it is because they are younger. Maybe they discovered the medical compression stocking trick more quickly than I did. Or maybe they do less air travel. Flying across country and then going straight to a rehearsal or show is normal for musicians, but when your legs are swelled up like sausages by the time you land it can really throw a wrench into things.
Fifth, heightened sense of smell can really be a pain. What do people do when they go out? Often times they put on cologne, sometimes they smoke, but most of the time they drink. People already love to get too close to me. It is one of the things you have to accept about the business. After staring at you and listening to you for hours, people feels as if they know you so they just come right up to you, hug you, grab your belly or at least hold your hand for too long. I have gotten use to the manhandling with little complaints. After all in some cultures it is good luck to rub a pregnant belly. But my already nauseous stomach cannot deal with booze breath. Or perfume. Or smoke (I don’t care what kind it is). Or even just sweat. I can barely stand my own smell these days much less getting bombarded by an entire audience's smell. Back in the day I could tell the club not to put smokers in the front rows, but it is hard to dictate an entire fragrance-free front row.
All in all, I am overwhelmed how accepting people are of my condition. I have had a couple of raised eyebrows, but not many. A big thanks to the Rrazz Room for not batting an eye and doing crazy things like running to grab crackers for me seconds before I get on stage. Thanks to MIA for paving the way by stepping on to the stage at the Grammy Awards 9 months pregnant. Thanks to Houston Person for shouldering some of the entertainment burden.
And more than anytbody else, I thank my husband for his support, because although it is nice to know that I won’t be discriminated from making a living while pregnant, it is even better knowing that I can financially afford to stay home. Musicians don’t get sick days or maternity leave. We book dates six months to year out and it doesn’t matter if you get the word before the show that "your favorite uncle died at dawn," as Irving Berlin once famously noted, you still go on.
You can’t really schedule a baby and when you are making a living doing a headliner-driven concerts (as opposed to title-driven shows such as musicals or event-driven concerts such as street fairs) the venue, the audience and your supporting musicians rely on you to come through.
And I am really happy I got through an intense holiday concert schedule!