Creating Jazz for the 21st Century

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 793   By: Robert E Martin

10th July, 2014     0

It is upon rare occasion that one hears a new artist give a performance, which thanks to a seamless combination of musical talent, artistic instinct, and creative vision coalesces into a major chord of harmonic perfection; but such is the case with Bria Skonberg and her recent appearance at Bay City’s State Theatre on July 1st.

Skonberg is an incredibly gifted trumpet player, a beautiful vocalist, and a composer that embraces a broad pallet of popular music with open arms. In the process she constructs a dynamic and innovative sound, full of subtlety and nuance, yet built upon a firm foundation of Dixieland based Jazz mixed with equal amounts of innovative experimentation and rhythmic dexterity.

Saginaw’s Dave Oppermann first experienced Skonberg 10 years ago while performing with his New Reformation Jazz Band at a festival down in New Orleans and was immediately impressed with her. When he found she was on a tour and appearing in Ann Arbor, he booked this last minute show at the State, which was a total excursion into musical joy and by all indications, indicative of the fact that Skonberg is well on her way to broader success.

Recently The Wall Street Journal stated that Skonberg is “poised to be one of the most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation” and recently she was honored with a New York Bistro Award for ‘Outstanding Jazz Artist. In 2013 she earned a Jazz Journalists’ Association nomination for ‘Up & Coming Jazz Artist of the Year’ and is also included in Downbeat Magazine’s ‘Rising Star Critics’ Poll for 2013.

Her first professional gig was as a big band singer at age 16, doubling on trumpet; and at the age of 26 Bria moved to New York City, where she has lived for the past three years, assembling an incredible quintet of musicians consisting of Dalten Ridenhour on piano, Sean Cronin on bass, Darrian Douglas on drums and Adrain Cunningham on clarinet and saxophone; and of course, Skonberg herself, who wrapped her arms around a jazz re-invention of John Lennon’s haunting reminiscence Julia from The Beatles’ White Album’, and who possesses a powerfully controlled and brassy dexterity on the trumpet, in a style that seems like a fusion between Harry James and Louis Armstrong, all tempered and nurtured with a feminine sensibility that remains fluid, cultivated, and never forced.

As an original composer, Skonberg demonstrates a remarkable range and sensibility, especially on songs from her third and latest release, entitled Into Your Own. Compositions such as Six More Weeks ride the stride of a subtle and memorable riff that builds into a crescendo of musical & vocal expressiveness; and on the outrageous and exhilarating Winin’ Boy Blues, Skonberg works her trumpet with a processed patch embedded into her mute that harkens the experimentation of Miles Davis and a sound akin to the distorted soaring guitar lines of Jimi Hendrix.

Because of her capability to innovate while also honoring tradition, her lyrical style is rooted in swampy New Orleans grooves, soul and world music. Her debut release, So Is the Day, peaked at #7 on the U.S. National Jazz charts and all of three of her albums can be purchased by visiting

After her memorable performance, I was fortunate to catch up with Bria for a brief interview.

Review: When did you first start getting interested in music and at what point did you start taking it seriously as something you wished to pursue professionally?

Skonberg: I think as a young girl everybody loves to sing, but I didn’t sing openly until around age 14. I started with the trumped at age 12, piano at age 8, and before that I was into dance, probably when I was around age 3 or so. I don’t think I’ve ever taking music seriously, but it was around my second year of college that I understood what it would take to do this as a career, which is when I committed to it. I book most of our gigs and take an organizational approach, but as a musician, I’m always looking and asking myself how am I going to adapt.

Review: What would you say distinguishes the sound and direction of what you are saying with your music?

Skonberg: I would describe my music as a fusion. I associate with 1920s jazz, but I think that I’m taking a 21st century approach. We’re all exposed to so many different musical styles now that when I started writing original music I became interested in what would pop up in the different layers of a song, and I wanted to do it all. I take a very eclectic approach. One person said they felt like they were watching a lot of their best friends playing music together, so I try to make my work approachable as much as we strive to make it original.

What’s cool now is the age range of people that listen to my music or go to concerts. The majority grew up between 1960 and 2000, so they are tuned to music that is open-minded and experimental. The more I put my authentic self out there the more people seem to gravitate towards it.

Review: How long are you on the road?

Skonberg: I usually go out for a 10-day stretch and also do a lot of weekends. New York is an awesome place to study and I play with the Louis Armstrong Band at Birdland (  in New York once a week and do a lot of different work with various groups. I don’t want to travel for more than 3 months because my home base is New York City right now, which is so awesome.

Review: What are your thoughts about where the future direction of Jazz is going?

Skonberg: These things go in phases. You have the crooners and then the re-creators and what I’m most excited by now is what’s happening with the fusion of idioms. Jazz has an opportunity to reflect the human spirit and how it comes together. If you look at the world right now there is so much at our fingertips and many possibilities, so I try to take a humanitarian approach.  I take to music and treat it the way I meet people and see it as one big thing with a lot of promise. There’s a lot you can do with music to reach people, which sounds a little idealistic; but I believe music can bring people of different cultures together and as long as there is tension in the world, people will want to find a place to connect.

Review: What’s the biggest challenge for you right now?

Skonberg: I would say that it would be managing my time efficiently and scheduling. Balance right now is a challenge; so keeping a balance in my life is the tricky part. But I’m definitely not bored and that’s awesome!

For those that missed Bria’s appearance, she will be returning to the State Theatre next year, so be sure to watch these pages for details. 


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