INTERVIEW: Marianne Windham ~ Jazz Musician


[If you can’t see/play the sound clip above, try clicking on this link]

Location:  Guildford, Surrey
Date of birth:  1963
Qualifications:  BSc (Hons) Physics

Marianne Windham was a director of a thriving software consultancy. She loved her job. Yet two and a half years ago she walked into work and handed her notice in. Why? She had “accidentally fallen in love with jazz”…

It all began seven years ago when a friend invited Marianne to a jazz weekend; “I had never heard jazz before then really and I thought, this is wonderful, I’ve got to play!”

She bought a double bass and squeezed practising in around her career and family. It was a tight squeeze but within four years, playing had become her passion and she knew, “in order to get anywhere I’ve got to put the hours in. I need to devote myself to it.”

So in January 2011, she turned her back on the corporate world.

Fast forward two years and Marianne has worked with some of the leading names on the UK jazz scene! She plays for big bands in London and the Southeast and is a member of the Surrey Mozart Players, one of the top non-professional chamber orchestras in the country. She also runs Guildford Jazz, which hosts some of the finest jazz musicians in Britain.

Over tea and a very nice Victoria sponge, I asked Marianne exactly how she’s managed to create the kind of creative life many of us dream of. This is what she told me…

Did you have any inkling as a child that this was what you would end up doing

No, I had no idea! I was an amateur cellist but I was never that great. I was actually quite good at physics but I had this whole dilemma of ‘do I do the arts or the sciences for A Levels?’ I quite fancied doing music and English but I wasn’t sure enough about myself. So I studied physics at university and I ended up working in Software Engineering.

Playing the double bass was just a hobby for you at first. How did you know you wanted to turn it into your career? 

[If you can’t play the video above, try clicking here and then clicking ‘download’]

The unusual thing about you is that you really enjoyed your job!

I was alright doing what I was doing. I wasn’t deeply unhappy. But I think I wasn’t listening to the bit of me that was saying “Excuse me, you’re not actually entirely happy, there is more that you need.” Some of it is to do with being master of your own destiny. Some of it is to do with the creative side that was a bit dormant I think. Now I am much more connected with myself. I feel profoundly different to how I felt three years ago.

So what happened after you made your decision?

I went in and talked to the two co-directors and said “Actually, I’m not sure this is where I want to be.” And they were great about it and suggested I take a sabbatical. So I took a sabbatical for a month and played music the entire time. And at the end of the month I knew, this is what I have to do…It just grew inside of me, this certainty. I think the answers do come, if you allow it. If you trust yourself and follow your own instincts.

Did you have any moments of doubt?

There’s always doubt, all the time! I don’t regret for one moment doing what I’m doing. It was absolutely the right thing for me to do. But I have lots of self doubt about my ability to do it…People who are great players started at the age of three! And not only do they spend the whole of their life honing their skills, but the really great players  have this 10% of brilliance that some people just have…On the other hand, you don’t always have to be the best at everything in order for it to be OK.

What about performing on stage?

It can be terrifying but you try to lose yourself in the music. I want there to be beauty and integrity in everything I play so there’s a terror in that because you know as soon as you start playing you’re not going to come up to the ideals in your head about how you want to sound.

What is it that keeps you going, despite the ‘terror’ and ‘doubt’?

This feeling that I need to do this in order to discover myself. I want to be the person that I can be. And it doesn’t really matter if I’m never going to be that great, or even if I am great, it’s not really important. I’ve got to be true to myself. We all have to be true to what our calling is…There’s also the love of the thing itself. I think, “This is such a gorgeous instrument, how can I bring out that beauty of what this instrument can do?”

IT Director to jazz musician is quite a leap! How do they compare? 

[If you can’t play the video above, try clicking here]

Describe your average day

I write newsletters, fix gigs and send out invoices. I quite often get other musicians involved, and I respond to gig offers when I get them. There’s always quite a lot of admin to do so that will take maybe 3-4 hours, and then I’ll practice for 3-5 hours, and then like tonight, I’ve got an orchestra rehearsal. I’m out nearly ever night. I love it but of course you do burn the candle at both ends. I don’t get in often until the middle of the night or early hours of the morning.

What’s the bit you love the most? What’s the ‘spark’ moment for you? 

[If you can’t play the video above, try clicking here]

Is there anything you dislike or don’t enjoy?

Sometimes the admin is a bit tedious! Every month I have to send out marketing things to people and that’s a bit of a millstone around my neck. I’m not very good at the marketing side of things really. I find it hard work because it’s not something I do very easily. I’m not a natural sales person at all.

Would you say you’ve had to sacrifice anything to get to this point in your life?

Yes, money for a start! It’s very hard to make money from being a musician. Especially a jazz musician. So yes, there are some financial implications. But other things too. Being someone quite senior in a company has a certain status and it’s nice to be in charge of things and make things happen. So I’ve given that up. And all the technical skills I have accumulated over the years – I don’t use any of that now. It feels like another person almost, it’s quite odd. So I have sacrificed some things. But I think I have gained far more.

Do you wish you had done music right from the start?

I wondered whether I should have done music way back when. I didn’t even do music A Level! Maybe I should have. But actually, I probably wasn’t ready. It wasn’t the right time for me to do it….A lot of what I do now involves putting people together and I love that. Interestingly, the thing I really enjoyed in my job was the people connection; making it a really nice place for people to work so that they would grow and fulfill their potential. The skills that you need to make that happen I think I’ve learnt over the past 20-30 years. So maybe I couldn’t have done it all those years ago. Maybe I had to do all this in order to have some of the skills that you need.

You’ve achieved a heck of lot in the last 2-3 years! What do you think is the key to your success? 

[If you can’t play the video above, try clicking here]

One last question: If you could go back in time to when you were a child, what would you say to yourself knowing what you know now?

Follow your heart. Be true to yourself. What you have to offer is unique. Nobody else can tell it. Don’t try to be anyone else or copy anyone else. Find out what it is that you really are; who you can be, and do that. And it doesn’t matter whether you end up running the world or planting flowers in your garden, you’ve got to be who you want to be.

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