The Wall Street Journal says Bria Skonberg is “poised to be one of the most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation.” The Washington Post calls the singer/trumpeter a “young jazz star on the rise,” and CBC Music listed her as one of the “35 best Canadian jazz artists under 35.”
Michael Campbell, chair of the Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival, simply says “She sings like an angel.”
Skonberg and her New York All-Stars are one of the groups helping make this year’s Pentastic lineup what Campbell calls the best they’ve ever had.
Though she now lives and works in New York, Skonberg is a B.C. musician, learning her chops in a Chilliwack school, Capilano University and, eventually, as part of Dal Richard’s Orchestra. And, mixed in there, a few sessions at the Pentastic (Sept. 7 to 9 at various venues around Penticton, for more info see www.pentasticjazz.com).
“I can’t remember offhand the last time I played there, but it was probably around 2010,” said Skonberg. “It’s a homecoming.”
Getting to New York, including performing at Carnegie Hall, winning a 2017 Juno for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year and other accolades has been a gradual process, she says.
“I am a product of public school band programs. That is where I started playing the trumpet. The band that I played with a lot in high school, kind of our school combo, we stuck together after high school,” said Skonberg. “I kind of jumped into the band management position and started basically looking for gigs, right out of high school.”
After graduating from University, Skonberg travelled, performing in China, Japan and throughout Europe, playing with Dal Richards when she was home.
“That was a real time of mentorship for me. I had just graduated college and literally he found me, right out of the gate,” she said. “It was a really incredible time that taught me a lot about showmanship, knowing and appreciating the audience.
“His advice that I won’t forget was ‘don’t forget the balcony.’ Try to reach every single person that is out there. It doesn’t matter if you are playing for 10 or 10,000. Try to make sure you are connecting with everyone there.”
Skonberg describes the journey as “an awesome adventure.”
“That’s kind of been my motto. Jump in and say yes. The adventures and the experiences continue to surprise me,” said Skonberg.
The move to New York came in 2010, after performing at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“I was feeling pretty comfortable, and I knew if I wanted to continue to grow, I needed to get uncomfortable, so I moved to New York,” said Skonberg.
“It’s a wonderful, vibrant city. There is no end of different kinds of music you can get into. All of that ultimately makes it way back into my music.”
Skonberg, who co-founded the New York Hot Jazz Festival, says the Pentastic is special to her because of the great trad jazz and entertainment it incorporates, which she calls her home base.
“Louis Armstrong is one of my greatest influences. I have developed more into writing original music, doing my own spin on classic,” said Skonberg. “The people at the festival will hear a whole lot of different stuff.”
Skonberg has seven albums, with the last two being nominated as Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. She won in 2017 with the self-titled album Bria, but her 2017 With A Twist gave up the prize to Diana Krall’s Turn up the Quiet.
“You have to spread the love, I have to share a little,” joked Skonberg about losing to B.C.’s other famed jazz musician.
If they’re lucky, audiences might get a treat at Pentastic and see Skonberg jamming with fellow trumpet player Lance Buller, a Pentastic favourite who loves to jump on stage with the other bands.
“Trumpet players, we love to stick together, even though our reputation is that we have big egos,” said Skonberg. “But Lance and I are like two kids in a sandbox. I’ve known him for a long time and we always have fun times together.”
She’s also looking forward to visiting with other musicians, like Bob Draga, Tom Rigney, Dave Bennet.
“I love festivals because it gives me a chance to catch up with all sorts of friends and people you wouldn’t see normally,” said Skonberg.
She’s planning to head into the studio later this year to work on her next album, so the audience might get a little preview of what is in the works. Check out briaskonberg.com for more.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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