Invoking Resilience Through Music and Community: An Interview with Local Jazz Performer Deborah Gilmore

Hampered by a seemingly ceaseless and destructive pandemic, I think it’s safe to assume we all yearn for a return to live music, whether that be as the performer or the appreciator.

I had the privilege of coming close to that radiant experience when I sat down in the presence of sparkling jazz singer Deborah Gilmore to discuss her musical journey during these tumultuous times.

Only having been in the area for a short while, Deborah has already networked a wide and diverse community, building a growing audience for her music. All while maneuvering COVID-19 barriers, Deborah has also been aiming to find a stable home, an exertion that has induced her present musical exploration. By and large, she sincerely believes in the vitality of a musical presence, especially its ability to connect and support one another.

“Music is not important to only me, but for everyone. Music is like breath.” 

Deborah Gilmore has pursued what she likes to call “Mo Betta jazz” since she was a young girl. Upon arriving in SLO this January, Deborah intended to collaborate with other musicians to promote and build a music community of jazz. Luckily, before the pandemic flooded our global immune system, Deborah was able to stage a few shows in our small town of San Luis such as at Hotel SLO and Mama’s Meatballs. Nevertheless, COVID-19 restrictions along with some other difficulties beyond her control have inhibited Deborah from fully diving into her jazz expedition. 

Despite many obstacles, I learned that her strength and persistence continue to drive her forward. Preceding the move here, her high spirits were last seen further south along the Central Coast in Santa Barbara where her return to music had officially reignited. Deborah had been grappling with houselessness at the time, and while this sudden misfortune disconnected her from music it later became a catalyst for its return. Alas, just when she thought she found secure housing, she was turned down by a landlord who discriminated against her for the color of her skin.  

“I was so distraught…I felt that I was going to lose my mind because of the longevity and arduous journey. It wore on me.”

Nonetheless, music reappeared in her life in a transformative and healing manner that has fostered immense resiliency and compassion. Arising out of this adversity, Deborah found direction once again when she walked into the public library and started listening to her music.

“The thought crossed my mind, I haven’t been listening to music because I’ve been in a survival state…..finding food, a place to live…I just started listening to my favorite artists. It inspired me. I started to feel better and then the thought of doing music again came to me. Putting on musical productions was something I needed to do.” 

From then on, she fell back into performing and connecting with musicians along the way. Forming relationships and building a reliable network of musicians wherever she goes is a substantial part of Deborah’s journey. Deborah has worked with over 40 professional musicians all along the Central Coast. Now, she mainly works with four core musicians from Santa Barbara, but whenever she needs a fill in there’s always someone to call.

“I’m always networking and when I see someone with an instrument…well, that’s an instant network! I can feel instincts about people, I can feel their energy. From all the engagement of hustling in the streets, I’ve been able to feel people out well.”

Deborah’s revisitation to the musical part of her life is also largely influenced by her understanding of our innate desire to express. Unfortunately, the pandemic has deprived us all of this natural tendency.

“It’s important to create as human beings. When it’s taken away, it affects us psychologically and physically. The world we are living in right now is influencing our music. Our joy is being taken away. You know what music means to you.”

Perceiving and interpreting the atmosphere at any musical event is always on the top of her mind. Deborah strives to connect her songs to the energy of the environment. Weeks ago at the court hearing of Tiana Arata and other youth protesters and activists, Deborah was invited to perform. She chose to sing “The Impossible Dream” by the late Luther Vandross. 

“I wanted to choose something that would be thought provoking, whether it be about the times we are in or just to get people critically thinking.” 

Deborah embodies her ability to form connections in her musical performances. Her favorite moment while performing is looking up to her audience and taking in the energy everyone is experiencing.

 “When I see that people are engaged and happy, I’m at my happiest stage. I’ve seen that I’ve accomplished my goal.”

Her overarching goal is to “get people out of their heads.” Music is a mutually healing opportunity. She knows she’s in the right place when she sees the crowd receive the message she radiates. In these moments of mutual experience, nothing else matters.

Although she has found happiness in connecting with the current community she sings to, Deborah has high aspirations for her soulful adventure. She plans on traveling north to perform in jazz clubs in cities like San Francisco. Paris is also one of her destinations, but Deborah’s ultimate goal is to perform a theme song for one of her favorite motion picture series: James Bond. While she’s still here fostering love and community through her relationships and music in San Luis Obispo, Deborah is still working on navigating both houselessness and COVID-19 restrictions.

“As human beings, we are born to be creative. When those abilities are stifled, that brings a certain amount of depression, despair, or unhappiness.”

Resiliency and strength seem to be of second nature to Deborah as she continues to push her way forward. She is working on continuing to hold some live shows in SLO and selling her CDs which can be purchased by contacting her directly at or by phone at (805) 291-6547.

Stay tuned for her upcoming holiday album which is available now, 12 days before Christmas. To further support her journey, you can donate to her Go Fund me page here.

Katie Rose is a .WAV staff writer, she wrote the article. Image Credit to Renee Kao, .WAV’s Creative Director.