When Bria Skonberg hits the stage with trumpet in hand, she brings an uncanny energy and ebullience to bear, recalling her original role model, Louis Armstrong. A charismatic presence and accomplished singer with an urge to swing, Skonberg has been entertaining audiences with her combination of chops and charm since working as a teen on the Canadian jazz scene.
A native of Chilliwack, British Columbia, she began playing trumpet in 7th grade and by her late teens was working with Canadian jazz veteran Dal Richards and his Orchestra in concert and on recordings. After relocating to Vancouver, she formed her Bria’s Hot Five and The Big Bang Jazz Band, both of which performed around the Pacific Northwest.
By 2010, Bria moved to New York City and in 2012 released So Is The Day, her first album on a US label (Random Act Records). The following year she became co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival and appeared at that first annual celebration of ‘20s and ‘30s music with her Bria Skonberg’s Hotter Than Sextet. Her second album, 2014’s Into Your Own, found her stretching stylistic boundaries and on 2016’s Bria, her major-label debut released on Sony Masterworks, she explored a modern-day pop sensibility in the spirit of fellow Canadians Michael Bublé and Diana Krall while keeping one foot solidly grounded in the classic jazz of Armstrong and Sidney Bechet and the show tunes of George Gershwin and Cole Porter.
A Juno Award winner (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy) for Bria, named Best Jazz Vocal Album of the Year for 2016, Skonberg branched out stylistically on 2017’s With a Twist, which included the Nina Simone-associated “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” a retro take on “Whatever Lola Wants” from the 1955 musical Damn Yankees, a New Orleans flavored rendition of the Ed Sheeran hit “Thinking Out Loud” and an icy cool interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”
“I’ve always been interested in a lot of different kinds of music,” she told Paste magazine. “And when I moved to New York I saw it as an opportunity to try a bunch of new things. Because I was strictly in hot jazz re-creation, doing a lot of Louis Armstrong type stuff, which I love and is still a very important part of my musical upbringing. But when I moved to New York I began writing tunes that reflected the sights and sounds of the city, trying to infuse that into my music. I was very lucky to tap into an incredible community that is here in New York that focuses on the roots of jazz. So even as I stretch farther out, I’m still learning more about the history of the music, especially where it came from. So it’s just been a very satisfying experience, especially coming from Canada, to learn more about the roots and the history of the music. So I’ve learned to love the music even more by being here.”
It’s easy to see why The Wall Street Journal said Skonberg is “poised to be one of the most
versatile and imposing musicians of her generation.”
From her tango-flavored original “Same Kind of Crazy” to her take on trumpeter Valaida Snow’s scat-fueled 1934 hit “High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm,” Skonberg shows a reverence for the past while also putting her own twist on tunes like Sidney Bechet’s “Egyptian Fantasy,” the Bing Crosby vehicle “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” and her own mournful dirge “So Is The Day.” Citing Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Chris Connor and June Christy as her main vocal influences, Skonberg also mentions a few non-jazz singers who have also caught her attention over time. “One of my all-time favorites is Lauryn Hill,” she says. “I also love Eva Cassidy, Mariah Carey from the ‘90s. Why not? I fall in love with these artists, their personalities. I think we first get to love their music and then get to know their personalities and like them that much more.”