Bria Skonberg broke into the New York jazz scene after graduating from CapU
Nivedan Kaushal // Arts & Culture Editor
“It was one of those moments where I was ready to throw the trumpet against the wall – just a breaking point of frustration. And then I had a heart-to-heart with my horn. ‘All right, are we gonna do this? Are we gonna do this? Yeah. I think we are.’” New York-based jazz trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg, an alumna of Capilano University’s Jazz program, grew up in between a dairy farm and a cornfield in Chilliwack, BC. She was asked to learn trombone for Grade 7 school band, but instead picked trumpet because her father, a trumpeter himself, had one in storage. Many years later, Skonberg has performed with several acclaimed jazz musicians, including Wycliffe Gordon, Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden. Her LP, Bria, won a Juno Award in 2017, and her most recent album, With a Twist, was nominated for another this year.
“I was a shy kid, too shy to sing. I think trumpet was really a vehicle for me to be around people and perform,” said Skonberg. During high school, Skonberg partook in improvisational theater, captained both the soccer and volleyball teams and served as student council president. Her love for performing prompted a guidance counsellor to suggest she study music at CapU. It wasn’t until Skonberg’s second year of university, however, when she broke out of her shell. Committed to being a professional musician, the “trained extrovert” started hanging out in the Fir building’s halls until 11:30 pm every night. “To be honest, I’ve not been on this campus very many times since I graduated. Fir 113 still has the same kind of anxiety it used to,” Skonberg laughs. By third year, she was fully supporting herself as the leader of two hot jazz bands with a busy touring schedule. After graduating in 2006, Skonberg was scouted to play in the Dal Richards Orchestra, a big band led by Vancouver’s “King of Swing.” “And then I spent a lot of time gigging over in Europe. Honestly, I fell in love with somebody.”
Vancouver was Skonberg’s homebase as she toured through Europe, China and Japan. Her initial success slowed considerably, however, when she failed to receive a grant to study in Los Angeles, and was passed over by major producers who “already had a blonde jazz singer.” Struggling to find her niche as a musician, she relocated to New York – the hub of artistic authenticity and originality – in 2010. “I was going through my growth, but I was still kind of copying, aspiring to do what what others had already done. You know…. glossy, jazzy big band type stuff. The moment of realization for me was when I thought, ‘I’m the only trumpet player in New York from Chilliwack.’”
Nowadays, Skonberg regularly performs original material, much of which differs from the hot jazz she is traditionally known for. Skonberg is also involved with many educational initiatives such as Jazz and Democracy, a project which uses jazz as a metaphor for understanding democratic ideals. She does outreach for jazz at the Lincoln Center and is the co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival. “I have three T’s to hit in a day – trumpet, training and trust. If I practiced trumpet, gotten some physical exercise and reached out to someone I love, that’s a good day.”
Follow Bria Skonberg on Facebook: @briamusic