We had the good fortune of connecting with Barbara Brighton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Barbara, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Taking risks can be courageous but it can also be reckless. There is a thin line between the two and I have done both. There is no question that in my youth I was reckless in some of the choices I made. Fortunately, I survived, in spite of the consequences. I have also taken some risks that have turned out to be wonderful and life changing. I have traveled alone, ignoring my anxieties about going somewhere strange. Some years back, I decided to go to Paris on my own. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had a hotel room and the phone number of a couple of friends of friends. When I arrived, I panicked. I had ten days alone in the city. I didn’t speak the language, except to ask where I could find a bathroom! I had a map and three phone numbers. I started calling people and they were all extremely receptive. Each one took me around to see “their” Paris. It didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable enough to explore on my own. It was one of the most memorable, magical events of my life. That experience elevated my personal confidence in ways I could not imagine.
Very early in my life, I was a single mother without education and a dead-end, low paying job. My parents tried to convince me that this was my lot in life and I had to continue what I was doing in order to provide security for my daughter, as inadequate as it was. After much soul searching, I decided that I was going to back to school, no matter what I had to do. I wanted to make something of myself and give my daughter a good life. It was a huge risk. I had to go on welfare and get as much help as I could. I hadn’t been in school for almost eight years, and I had no idea how I would make it work. My parents were dead set against this idea and offered little support. My social worker at the welfare office said that if I got good grades, she would continue to get me as many services as were available. I was scared to death, but taking this risk changed my entire life as well as the life of my daughter. I took some psychology courses and felt like I found my calling. I knew my direction and worked towards being a therapist. I completed school, getting excellent grades and meeting some incredible people who encouraged me to keep going. It was so difficult. At times there was very little money, lots of mac and cheese, studying late at night after putting my daughter to sleep and doing any work I could to make extra money. I didn’t give up and eventually graduated with a master’s degree and stared my practice. I’m happy to say that I have had a successful career to this day. If I had failed, it would have been a disaster and there’s no telling what would have happened to us. The risk was enormous, yet it felt like I didn’t really have a choice. Sink or swim.
Mid-life, it was suggested by a friend that I start a music business. I loved jazz and had a pretty decent knowledge of the music and the musicians. I started music lessons when I was four, so this was, in a way, a return to my roots. I had been thinking about cutting back on my practice anyway, so it was a good time to embark on a new endeavor. This risk was relatively small. Failure was certainly a possibility, but it wouldn’t have ruined my life or my security. I wanted to be successful, but to be honest, I just jumped in with both feet, without looking too far ahead. It was a bit of a surprise, but a happy one, when the business took off and is still going. I have produced over fifteen CD’s and having a great time.
We can only hope to have the wisdom and maturity to balance the benefits versus the consequences of the risks we take. Sometimes we take risks because the consequence of doing nothing are too great. When I decided to go back to school, my self esteem was at an all time low, but I knew I had to give my daughter a better life. That was my inspiration, determination and my courage.
As I age, I find that the need to take risks decreases. Perhaps there is less opportunity, or maybe I don’t feel the need to take risks. That may be the good and bad news in having a relatively comfortable existence! However, life is full of surprises, so I wouldn’t say that my risk-taking days are necessarily over. I guess I’ll find out!
What should our readers know about your business?
I am fortunate to have two very rewarding careers. I have been a psychotherapist in private practice for over 40 years.Half of that time I was a consultant for the Van Nuys Breast Center, a comprehensive treatment and diagnostic center for breast disease. In the nineteen years I was part of the team, I had the opportunity to run a weekly breast cancer support group and well as working with patients and their families through this difficult journey. After the Breast Center closed its doors, I brought my practice home and continued to work with adults and adolescents as well as continuing my work with cancer patients. I have great respect for those who reach out for help and I am humbled that they put their trust in me.
The time I spent at the Breast Center was life changing. I often said that I hope my patients benefitted half as much as I did, doing this work. It opened my heart, filled me with compassion and changed the way I perceived my life. It taught me to live with gratitude and it shifted my priorities.
My other career is much different. I started a music business over twenty years ago, not knowing exactly what I was offering. I had a friend in the business, Ellen Cohn. She kept telling me that I was going to burn out in my therapy practice and that I should start a business working with jazz musicians. I loved jazz and knew quite a bit about the music and the musicians but couldn’t see myself in the business. Sadly, Ellen died of breast cancer at a young age, and at her funeral, I met a jazz singer, Mark Winkler. We became fast friends and with his encouragement, I made business cards and started going to jazz conventions and meeting people in the industry. When I was asked what I did, I would reply “ what do you need?”.
Bill Traut, who managed jazz musicians, was talking to me about one of his clients, Kurt Elling. He wanted to do something in LA to introduce Kurt to the West Coast. I had an idea of putting Kurt in 28 venues in 30 days. Bill and Blue Note records hired me to make it happen and it turned out to be more successful than any of us could have imagined.
Around the same time, I met Catalina Popescu, who owned the famous Catalina Jazz Club. She allowed me to produce concerts with local jazz musicians, tribute concerts and eventually I started the Young Artist Jazz Series. Each month I would present young jazz musicians from different school programs at Catalina’s. It was a huge success and it continued for 21 years. Many famous jazz musicians today, performed for the series when they were students. In 2019, I was deeply honored to receive the Jazz Journalist’s Jazz Hero award.
Over the past 20 years, I have produced 15 CD’s and I am working on two more this year.
I take pride in being part of a very small community of female jazz producers. I hope I can inspire other women to pursue this career, if it is what they would love to do.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take my best friend to Catalina Jazz Club and Vitello’s, in Studio City. They have great food and a wonderful jazz room. Of course, that’s assuming she likes jazz! I would take her to our beautiful beaches and visit a couple of museums. I love the Norton Simon and of course, LACMA. The Observatory is always a great place to go. Most tourists want to see Hollywood, which isn’t my idea of fun, but I would be a good sport. I would take her to my favorite vegan restaurant, Vinh Loi Tofu. There are so many great restaurants downtown, so I would let her pick. I would have a party so she could meet my friends. This would all be contingent upon her interests and what she had in mind.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people who have helped me along the way. Here is the short list: My social worker, whose name I don’t remember. She is long gone, but without her belief in me, I can’t imagine where I would be today.
Robert Hoffman, MD- He gave me tremendous opportunities at the VA, where I was interning. I was his assistant and I learned more from him than 6 years of schooling. We became dear friends and started our first practices together. He continues to be my mentor and the brother I never had.
Ellen Cohn, for talking me into starting my music business.
Mark Winkler, David Benoit, Judy Wexler, Julie Kelly, Beverley Church-Hogan and Gary Brumburgh for giving me the opportunity to be their producer.
My daughter, Wendi and my granddaughters, Sophia and Bella for their ever-present love.
Portrait Photo of Barbara Brighton by Bella Brighton (My granddaughter)