Bria Skonberg trumpets her love for hot jazz and cool vocals around the globe
After spending two years in her mid-teens playing in a ska band in her hometown of Chilliwack, Canada, trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg embraced jazz for good. She hasn’t wavered — or looked back — since.
Now 34, Skonberg has earned praise from guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli, her periodic collaborator, and from legendary producer (and former trumpeter) Quincy Jones, among others.
To date, she has made seven solo albums, the latest of which — “With a Twist” — was released last year. It juxtaposes three of her original songs with memorable new versions of classics made famous by Jones (“Soul Bossa Nova”), Nina Simone (“My Baby Just Cares for Me”), Leonard Cohen (“Dance Me to the End of Time”), 1920s singer and trumpeter Valaida Snow (“High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm”) and Bjork, by way of Betty Hutton (“It’s Oh So Quiet”).
Skonberg’s music draws heavily from the exuberant swing and New Orleans jazz of the 1920s and ’30s, but she isn’t averse to experimenting. On her version of Louis Armstrong’s classic 1926 stomper, “King of the Zulus,” she uses an old fashioned rubber plunger and an electric guitar wah-wah pedal.
“I have a repertoire of 500 to 600 songs I cover, plus my original compositions. Every show is different and every show is fun,” said Skonberg, who performs Friday with her trio at California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Their concert here follows by two days Skonberg’s performance at the 2018 El Salvador Jazz Festival in San Salvador,
“People often come up after our shows, and say, ‘I didn’t think I liked jazz, but you guys are great!’ ” she continued. “What we do is not what you hear in line at Starbucks. I tell a lot of stories on stage and try to feel what people want. Because we’re improvisers, it’s always off-the-cuff and spur of the moment.”
In addition to her solo releases, Skonberg is featured on at least 26 other albums. Seven of those are by the Big Bang Jazz Band, which she led between 2002 and 2009 in Canada.
Four more are by the Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band, which she co-founded and performed with between 2005 and 2010. The all-female group played several times at the annual Thanksgiving San Diego Jazz Festival & Swing Dance Extravaganza in Mission Valley.
“I celebrated my 21st birthday there! I don’t remember that well, but I remember the festival,” said Skonberg, who met and played with then-14-year-old San Diego saxophonist Chloe Feoranzo at the festival. She was so impressed that Feoranzo will be featured — along with violinist Regina Carter and clarinetist Anat Cohen — in the all-woman big band Skonberg will lead at New York’s Lincoln Center later this year.
“I also went to jazz camp in San Diego and I wanted to move to Southern California,” Skonberg said. “But, by the time I was ready to pick up and move from Canada, I had more connections in New York.”
A third-generation Canadian, Skonberg credits the first-rate music programs at the public schools she attended in Chilliwack for providing her with a solid foundation. The annual Dixieland jazz festival in her British Columbia hometown exposed her to numerous touring acts.
“I was lucky to have great teachers who had me doing Louis Armstrong transcriptions at 15,” she said. “That kind of information is invaluable to help get into improvising from the beginning. A lot of jazz education starts with big bands, or later, which loses the emphasis on playing together with other people in small ensembles and the history of the music.
“As soon as I got to college, I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb. I swung my quarter notes a little heavier than everybody else. I sounded like I was from the 1910s and 1920s! But that was cool because it was unique and a perfect place to grow from ”
It was while she was earning her music degree that Skonberg attended a concert by fellow trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Also a native of Canada, Jensen had already made a name for herself on the international jazz scene when Skonberg heard her.
“Ingrid was the first female trumpet player I saw live when I was in college ,” Skonberg said. “She’d already been in New York for a long time, so that was a neat and inspiring moment for me. Only since moving to New York have I spent time with her, and she’s incredible.”
Skonberg moved to New York in 2010. She lives in Queens near the Louis Armstrong Museum, where she has performed and helped organize events.
Next month will mark the third anniversary of Skonberg’s New York Hot Jazz Camp. She also regularly conducts workshops at schools and welcomes the opportunity to interact with aspiring young musicians.
“I’m not a ‘sit around and wait for things to happen’ person — you can’t be in this business. And I like to pay it forward,” Skonberg said.
“I really enjoy talking to students and helping them with improvising. Increasingly, especially as a female, I am seeing I have an opportunity to help or inspire young people by giving them a chance to see what it looks like to do what I do. I need to move forward and empower them, and to tell both male and female music students: ‘You can do it. You should do it. And here’s how’.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 N Escondido Blvd., Escondido.
Phone: (800) 988-4253
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