It will be a triple homecoming when the Bria Skonberg Quintet, riding the summer jazz festival circuit, stops in Vancouver.
Skonberg, a trumpet player, vocalist and composer, along with bassist Sean Cronin and saxophone and clarinet player Evan Arntzen all hail from the West Coast of B.C. but have since relocated to New York City to pursue their musical careers.
“We already bring an interesting, high-energy, good-feeling kind of concert,” Skonberg says. Playing in front of a hometown crowd, she adds, will make things that much more lively. “It’s going to be a big party I think.”
Rounding out the fivesome is pianist Dalton Ridenhour, from Missouri, and drummer Darrian Douglas, from Mississippi, both of whom add to the eclectic nature of the group. “We all bring our different musical sensibilities together,” Skonberg says.
The graduate of Capilano University’s jazz program grew up in Chilliwack where her budding musical talent was nurtured at home, at school and in the community. “My parents weren’t musicians, but we were kind of musical hobbyists. We always had a lot of instruments around the house,” she says.
She first picked up a trumpet in Grade 7 band, drawn to the brass instrument, in part, because her father played it in high school and the family had an old trumpet lying around the house. “I just took to it,” she says, lauding the instrument’s big, bright sound. Today, she plays a Bach Stradivarius 43.
In Grade 7, still in the concert band, Skonberg would listen longingly to the Grade 8/9 jazz band play Duke Ellington, Count Basie and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
“I just remember seeing them all dancing a little bit while they were playing and it was something I wanted to get in on.”
In high school, as her interest in jazz grew, so too did her musical library, expanding beyond the big band ensembles to include contemporary artists such as the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and traditional jazz legends like Louis Armstrong. “Lots and lots of Louis,” Skonberg recalls.
Meanwhile, the annual Chilliwack Jazz Festival gave her and other Fraser Valley youth the opportunity to interact with professional musicians and play in public.
Skonberg moved to New York in 2010 and currently resides on the Lower Eastside after living in Brooklyn for a few years. The transition to the Big Apple was a relatively easy one, she says, because she had already forged so many connections with artists in the scene. At the time she graduated from Capilano University in 2006, she was already managing two bands, working as a solo artist and playing festivals across North America.
“By the time I got [to New York] I had some invitations to go places and sit in with different groups and that’s really how to get your foot in the door around here.”
To date, Skonberg has released three albums: Fresh (2009), So is the Day (2012) and Into Your Own (2014). A fourth is currently in the works with an anticipated release date next spring.
Since moving to New York, Skonberg has headlined major events, toured internationally and collaborated with a number of well-established jazz artists. Perhaps her most memorable gig to date is playing in the backyard of Louis Armstrong’s house-turned-museum in Queens as part of a concert series.
She is also co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival, a day-long marathon of live jazz music from its early beginnings in New Orleans through the Prohibition years and into the Swing era.
“There’s been a bit of a renaissance revival happening in the last couple of years and this is a way to pull all that together,” she says, attributing the resurgence of hot jazz to the popularity of 1920s vintage pop culture (think HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby).
While her sound is certainly influenced by this style, Skonberg says her music represents a unique mix of subgenres that is rooted in New Orleans jazz and blues with some world music and danceable swing mixed in.
“It’s kind of a fusion at this point and I think a melting pot of all the things I’m interested in,” she says.
The Bria Skonberg Quintet perform June 26, 6:30 p.m. at Performance Works on Granville Island as part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Tickets and information at coastaljazz.ca.