November Artist of the Month: Bria Skonberg
Written by Emily Morrow on November 4, 2019
Bria Skonberg entered our consciousness a few years ago at the highest plane of Jazz exposure, as a trumpeter and vocalist of obvious skill and style. She employs the allure of well-shaped singing, combined with the depth of thoughtful phrasing as an instrumentalist. It’s been a while since we’ve heard a dual-threat who’s as capable at balancing trumpet and voice as she is; if you’re just joining the club of folks who appreciate what Bria does, then welcome!
Skonberg started her story in Canada. She came from the small British Columbia town Chilliwack that lent its name to a B-grade rock band, and is known more lastingly as the medium-small city at the hub of a skiing region. All through her time in British Columbia, she experienced the very best of that province’s music offerings: piano studies in elementary school, the switch to brass just before high school, and then her jazz degree in trumpet at Capilano University in Vancouver.
There’s actually more to it than that. Bria Skonberg rose to fame by her own skill and determination, but also as an essential team member in a cooperative student group that went pro. At the end of the 20th century, a couple of high school educators proposed to create a Dixieland-style band featuring some talented students. The fledgling effort gradually added talent; in 2000, Skonberg on trumpet was the fourth voice to join the group that eventually became known as the “51st Eight.” Their long story is to be found here: https://bit.ly/2JF2rG3, but compressing it into manageable size: this plucky band of high-schoolers impressed listeners and dancers around the Pacific Northwest for years to come. Through small personnel changes, and significant life changes (off to college, and then into marriage for several members), they have managed to stay afloat to the present day. Even Bria Skonberg eventually left for other activities, but she appeared on the first four of the group’s records, and those represent her first exposure on records.
Bria Skonberg widened her circle of activities to lead the Big Bang Jazz Band—another outfit whose strength was interpretations of the classic Jazz literature played in classic style. And she also played with the all-women Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Orchestra. Since moving to New York in 2010, Bria has regularly led her own groups—again echoing the repertoire, style, and even band names pioneered by Louis Armstrong. She also co-founded the New York Hot Jazz Festival and the New York Hot Jazz Camp as further conduits for preaching the gospel.
Bria Skonberg has recorded under her own name for a decade now; suddenly she’s everywhere—in the press, winning the awards… Skonberg’s focus has broadened to encompass original pieces and the full breadth of the world’s songbook. Her interpretations as both singer and instrumentalist continue to inspire us.
…as will her music all month on air.
Bria Skonberg’s new album “Nothing Never Happens” is available now! You can see her performing live at City Winery in Boston on November 30th.