David Wake: Tuning In To Work-Life Balance

BY JOSHUA M. MILLER | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI


It was once written that even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Milwaukee musician David Wake knows this feeling all too well.

Ever since he helped form the Milwaukee band De La Buena 15 years ago, Wake has worn and juggled many musical hats. In addition to playing piano and other instruments in the Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz-infused band, he has increasingly shaped its direction as its musical director. Thanks to his efforts, the band has carved a prominent place in the city’s music scene.

But with success and popularity comes learning to balance music and performing with the rest of his busy life. Over the years he’s held various day jobs, including accompanist at the UW-Milwaukee dance department and music teacher at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Lately, he’s worked in tile and carpentry.

Wake is also raising a young family. He has a toddler son as well as 7- and 11-year-old daughters. Combining family time with work and music means plans and schedules can go awry in an instant, and fewer opportunities to broadly showcase his music. Lately, though, Wake feels he’s achieved a harmonious balance of all aspects of his life.

“I have to be a little forgiving of myself for not being on top of stuff that I think I should,” Wake explains. “I just remember that I have three kids and I’m trying to make a good life for them. I had found my niche in touring, but it got to a point where I didn’t want to be away from my family and had to change lanes a little bit. That’s the big thing about balancing — getting the work in when I can and not be too hard on myself when I can’t do it. It’s a matter of finding some efficiency.”

Much of Wake’s music work is done after he puts his kids to bed. Sometimes he’ll focus on the administrative side, which includes putting together set lists and contracts for the band. Other times, he’ll sit at the piano and work on writing music.

It can be an exhausting way of life, but Wake says it’s worthwhile.

“Some nights I feel really motivated and I can stay up really late and the next morning I’m hurting, but I feel like I’ve gotten some work done,” Wake says. “But some nights, after I was putting my son to bed, I was asleep by 9:40 p.m. It’s a delicate balance. The real key is to ease back and get the work done when I can and know that, when the time is right, it’ll be there. I’ll still be able to get stuff done and sink into a creative zone.”

The flexible mindset has aided him in writing music, as well.

“I tend to be meticulous, and sometimes I get stuck on some micro details just from my nature,” he explains. “Part of the balance and achieving some maturity from it is seeing the whole picture when I’m writing a new piece and cutting away some of the superfluous stuff to where the heart of a song is. To get to that without really overthinking it.”

One of Wake’s greatest joys is seeing his children’s personalities emerge over the years. His youngest daughter is a dancer and singer. His oldest daughter is a musician and also a singer who recently wowed audiences at her school talent show with a song from the movie “The Greatest Showman.”

“My wife is an artist too, so, of course, we sacrifice our artistic lives to raise a family right,” he says. “It was a moment [like that] where all the sacrifices were worth it to see our kid shine at that event. Those are moments as parents where you’re reminded you’re shaping these young lives.”

Wake hopes De La Buena will eventually get around to recording a new album — an undertaking delayed by the band members’ busy schedules.

“We’re well overdue for an album release,” Wake says. “We probably have about three albums’ worth of material. It’s a matter of time and having the band together. I really hope to record something this calendar year.

“I’d like to do a jazz record with a smaller ensemble in addition to a large-ensemble record,” Wake continues. “I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself. I have a full plate, and if it didn’t happen, I’m not going to beat myself up. But we have so much material. It would be a shame if we didn’t put something out soon.” MKE

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