Jazz Aspen June Experience: Bria Skonberg
IF YOU GO …
Who: Bria Skonberg
Where: Jazz Aspen June Exerience
When: The Little Nell on Friday, June 21, 6:30 p.m.; St. Regis on Saturday, June 22 and 5 p.m.
More info: jazzaspensnowmass.org
Bria Skonberg takes classic songs and the hot jazz style of the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s and ’40s and yanks them into the 21st century.
The trumpet player and singer, who made her local debut at the JAS Café in 2015 and returns for performances at the Jazz Aspen June Experience today and Saturday, is an emergent star of the jazz world. She’s been honored with a 2017 Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year and has earned a spot on DownBeat Magazine’s “25 for the Future” list.”
Skonberg blends her repertoire of originals with classic jazz songs by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Sidney Bechet but the old stuff is made new in Skonberg’s energetic interpretations, which mash them up with contemporary sounds.
“We take elements of the old jazz and infuse it with new ideas,” Skonberg said during a previous stop in Aspen.
A native of Chilliwack, British Columbia, she burst onto the scene when she moved to New York in 2011 — quickly becoming a trad-jazz darling on the strength of her riveting stage presence, husky vocals, creative compositions and vibrant horn playing.
Jazz Aspen’s Jim Horowitz first saw Skonberg in action five years ago at the New York Hot Jazz Festival, an annual daylong concert in Greenwich Village which Skonberg co-produces. Calling her a “triple threat” as a band leader-trumpeter-singer, Horowitz said he was impressed by Skonberg’s ability to straddle the worlds of hot jazz and contemporary music. He’s since made her shows a staple of Jazz Aspen offerings.
“Entertaining, to me, means connecting,” Horowitz said, “taking that musical gift and really using it as a way to connect with people. Not everybody has that, but it’s something that I look for. … She has that ability.”
Skonberg began playing trumpet at age 11. Her style, she said, was influenced by classic, New Orleans jazz, along with the jukebox hits her baby boomer parents listened to and pop music. You can hear all of those notes in her fiery interpretations of hot jazz songs.
“I find the music itself really approachable,” she said. “The melodies are lyric-based and they stick in your head. It may seem harmonically simple, but there’s a real art and challenge to making it sound real and authentic.”
Her mentors in New York include trombone player Wycliffe Gordon — who will headline the Little Nell on Sunday night — and veteran trumpeter Warren Vache.
“The trumpet is a never-ending pursuit,” she said.
Amng Skonberg’s indelible originals is “Go Tell It” — a funky, upbeat original with callbacks to the spiritual song “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” Skonberg said the idea for it came as she was writing and looking back at old compositions for inspiration. As the persecution of gays in Russia became a global issue around the 2014 Winter Olympics, she heard Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” a civil rights anthem of the 1960s. It inspired her to write about her generation’s fight for equality.
“That’s the civil rights fight of my generation,” she said. “So you can take a musical snapshot of what’s going on at that time.”
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