Trumpet player Bria Skonberg makes her Vail debut tonight
August 19, 2015
VAIL — It's impossible to guess while hypnotized by her sultry, 1950s-style vocals, red-hot trumpet solos and commanding stage presence, but Bria Skonberg is a "trained extrovert." Growing up on a farm in the small town of Chilliwack, outside of Vancouver, B.C., the 30-year-old fell in love with the trumpet as preteen after her parents encouraged her to play with a variety of instruments — the piano, bass and clarinet.
"I always understood that music is like food," Skonberg said. "You should try everything."
That adventurous mindset has led the Canadian to her eclectic sound. Rooted in traditional jazz, Skonberg has not held back when it comes to experimenting with world percussion and electronic sounds on her first three records and promises that the fourth upcoming recording (crowd funded at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/briaskonberg), will house her most dynamic material to date.
This unconstrained drive that appears to define Skonberg's style did not come naturally to the musician … or so she says. She claims that she was extremely shy as a child and didn't truly come out of her shell until taking the lead role (Sandy) as a ninth grader in her school's performance of "Grease."
From Sandy to jazz diva
Clearly, the extrovert training became intensive, because by the time Skonberg was midway through high school, she had worked her way up the ranks in school bands and choir, had and created and managed her own jazz, ska, marching and big bands. She was also captain of the basketball team and president of student council.
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"I'm a product of great parents and teachers," said the tall, striking blonde from a midtown diner near Manhattan's famous Birdland Jazz Club, where Skonberg regularly performs with Wycliffe Gordon and a slew of other jazz greats in between traveling the world with her own band.
"The play in ninth grade was where I started to sing openly. I was too shy before that. Now I can see the trajectory. The trumpet has been a great vehicle for letting that soul out," she said.
Skonberg moved to New York City from Vancouver in 2010. It took her no time at all to find her stride and take up her cadre of activities, but these days, they're all geared toward making, performing and teaching music.
While she can't exactly cut loose on the trumpet in her small Lower East Side apartment, the Canadian spends a significant chunk of every day she's in town making faces at herself in the mirror in an effort to dial in her most efficient trumpet mouth. And she prefers to tackle all of her chores and training within a calculated time slot.
"If you can focus for 10 minutes and play something vigorous, it's like heavy lifting. You need air in between. It's this buzz that happens. But a lot of practice is me looking in the mirror going (makes a puckered lip face). With the trumpet, you have to do whatever you can do to efficiently push air through the horn and make it vibrate. Working on dexterity, placement of the tongue … it's the mechanical things that make the difference. You get one finger partially off and it starts to squeak."
There's not much squeaking that happens in Skonberg's world. Whether she's launching into a trumpet solo, belting out a verse, kindling a hot jazz camp for kids in the city, testing a line for her next original tune or performing with an ensemble of big name veterans, she is going all out.
But she says the extrovert training is still a work in progress. One key step Skonberg has mastered is embracing her unique talent and letting it shine unobstructed.
"In the jazz world, we call that a 'hood ornament,'" she said. "When I moved to New York, I had this idea that if you're too pretty, people won't take you seriously. When I lived in British Columbia I was wearing sparkly dresses, singing for a big band. I plugged that into New York, and it didn't have the same effect. So I cut through the … whatever the politically correct word is …. and it was a huge integrity check along the way. Now four or five years in, I'm more comfortable. I can say, this is what I look like. This is what I play like. Now what am I going to do that's different?"
Bria Skonberg makes her Vail debut with her quartet — Dalton Ridenhour on piano, Sean Cronin on bass and Darrian Douglas on drums — tonight for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square in the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. The show is at 6 p.m. and tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating and a drink ticket). Prices go up an hour before the show. For tickets or more information, visit http://www.vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.
Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted to write this article for Vail Jazz. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.