Always a mom, always a musician

Laila Biali has embraced motherhood as a source of inspiration for her new musical projects

Jazz pianist and vocalist Laila Biali is on a cross-Canada tour which stops in Maple Ridge on Saturday

Jazz pianist and vocalist Laila Biali is on a cross-Canada tour which stops in Maple Ridge on Saturday

While travelling on transit across New York City, where she lives, you may find Laila Biali tapping her feet, perhaps a little zoned out.

With her son Joshua on her lap, the Vancouver-born jazz musician can’t help, but fall into a melodic mesmerization.

The toddler has already been an inspiration for several songs on pop project she’s working on with her husband Ben Wittman.

“Laila Biali as a mother, a singer and musician has been completely integrated,” says Biali who embarks on a cross-Canada tour Jan. 25.

“I am always a mom and always a musician, so the two are constantly overlapping and in a way inspiring each other. I find respite and restoration in making music but I also find respite in doing what a mom does, in caring and nurturing another individual. It is pretty amazing.”

The past two years has seen a renewed focus on Biali’s skills as a composer, arranger, singer and pianist.

Her reputation for challenging the boundaries of music is unparalleled. She takes the best of pop, rock, classical and soul, informs it with her knowledge of Jazz and weaves it all into her musical arrangements seamlessly.

Her versatility has won her touring engagements with top-tier artists over the past few years, including Chris Botti, Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega, and most recently the pop icon Sting.

Biali has two projects in the works – a pop project set for release under a brand new name in fall and a jazz record, just in its infancy, slated for release in 2013.

She plans to test two songs she’s writing for the jazz album on tour, one that might even include vocals by her bassist Adam Thomas whose voice she described as “an amazing hybrid of Sinatra and Stevie Wonder”.

“It’s always a little scary but unless you hear the songs in a live situation you don’t quite know what they’ll be like,” says Biali, whose last album From Sea to Sky won a Juno in 2011 as Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.

“It’s almost like a pregnancy when a baby is incubating. You know if it’s a girl or a boy but you can only guess what their character might be like.”

Although the songs might not be perfect, Biali musters up the courage to test them by recalling a bit of advice she got from jazz legend Herbie Hancock while playing at a tribute to Miles Davis in Toronto a few years ago.

“I remember Herbie saying one of the gifts that Miles Davis gave his audience was he allowed them to watch him grow. He made himself vulnerable,” explains Biali.

“I found that so inspiring because it challenged me to do the same because if we wait until we have something that we think is perfect, it might never be shared at all.”

Being mom has not only roused Biali artistically but also made her more disciplined, more focused.

“There are very limited hours in which I write and be creative,” says Biali, who writes on an apartment-size upright piano, playing with practice pedals on most of the time so her songs don’t disturb the neighbours.

She usually write at night after one-year-old Joshua goes to bed.

She’s also set concrete goals to stick to time lines, instead of having things flow from out of thin air.

It might sound unromantic or rather strategic and take that magic out of creation for some people, but for now the tactic is working for Biali.

“Any creative person knows that at some point writing is not this mystical, inspired voice. You have to work at it,” she says.

“It is become a discipline for me to find a time to do that.”

Tour

January 25, 2012 | Victoria, BC @ Hermann’s Jazz Club

January 26, 2012 | Campbell River @ Tidemark Theatre

January 27, 2012 | Coquitlam, BC @ Evergreen Cultural Centre

January 28, 2012 | Maple Ridge, BC @ The ACT Maple Ridge

For tickets, visit lailabiali.com