Bria Skonberg, Making Things Happen!

Written by | Winter 2020

Award-winning Canadian born trumpeter, singer and songwriter Bria Skonberg is causing quite a storm. Having won the vocal jazz album Jono award in 2017 and nominated again in 2018. The New York Times said she was ‘the shining hope of hot jazz’ and the Wall Street Journal described her as ‘one of the most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation’. Strong praise from two prestigious sources. Her resume is impressive. She has played with U2, Christian Sands, Cécile McLorin Salvant and last year the Lincoln Centre asked her to lead the first integrated all-female big band, which launched her Sisterhood of Swing.

Her website describes her as ‘Trumpeter, Singer, Songwriter’ and something I found fascinating, ‘Instigator’. First time I have seen this. I asked Bria what she is instigating.

“I like to make things happen. Ever since I got out of school, I’ve been leading my bands trying to get opportunities, doing different records. But now I also direct a jazz camp for adults, I work a lot with the Louis Armstrong House Museum and helped start a couple of festivals here, etc. I don’t like to sit and wait for things to happen.

My earliest experiences with music were a coming together of people. My home town had a jazz festival and I like getting people together. My idea of music is that it should be fun, a gathering – a get-together. The trumpet for me is the same – it’s like saying ‘let’s go, come on’ and historically it has been used for fanfares, to announce royalty or to warn of danger and such. There’s a song on my album called ‘Villain Vanguard’ that I wrote shortly after attending the women’s march in New York and it falls into this scene. It’s an instrumental song, but to me, it’s where the trumpet tells a story, but then there’s a moment where things look bleak, but the trumpet lets out a call that rallies everyone back together.”

Bria’s recent album ‘Nothing Never Happens’ has a wonderful combination of original material and interesting arrangements of classics. Her voice has a beautiful depth and warmth to it which is outstanding. Canadian born, but now based in New York, we talked about the political climate in the USA and how this affects creators – and the relevance of jazz as a voice in society.

“The album was my response to the white noise – it gets so loud, and you can’t escape the media, the bickering, the opinions. Everything now is either meant to incite rage within people or at the very least make people reactionary – and in a way, part of you does get so fired up. Yet another part of you goes numb at the same time. It’s very overwhelming for everybody. It doesn’t matter what side of the coin you are on, it’s a lot to process. Thankfully, we have the Arts for these exact moments, and I took myself off the grid and went on a few writing retreats to also process my feelings about that and it came out in song. I feel it’s important when you create art that it documents the time you live in, you’re reflecting in many ways.

It’s not a traditional jazz album by any means, it has a lot of different styles and part of that is inspired by the feeling of the barrage of information you get, it’s just too much. But also, there is a silver lining of hope within it, being a double negative — and you’ve probably experienced this — if you just keep going and remain optimistic you have a better chance of what you want to happen working out. To me, the album has a real breadth of emotions. It provides a nice escape from the everyday challenges that are going on over here right now. Also, the musicians on it are incredible – it’s the quartet that I’ve been touring with for the past few years plus some special guests and they have been really wonderful and patient with me as I tried out a bunch of ideas. Good vibes and comradery throughout it. It’s authentic. I feel like the music on this album is from the heart. This is the album with the most amount of grit and yet empowering at the same time. I feel that for everything that you would classify as the negatives — the artist has come forward with a double positive.

It’s raised conversations that are so necessary to have – the empowerment of women, especially in response to the administration and I have been a part of that. It’s definitely lit a fire in people, myself included, to define what you believe in. It’s hard as there’s so much false information and you have to have a strong sense of self. I find that music is a good vehicle for that. Whatever side you vote for, all people deserve good music and if music can serve as a bridge to bring people together, to discuss and enjoy even basic human feelings, it helps put the spotlight on what we have in common. That’s what I want to fortify – what we have in common versus what rips us apart.

Jazz In Europe Magazine – Winter 2020 Edition

This article is an abridged version of the full interview that appears in the Winter 2020 edition of the Jazz In Europe print magazine.

Also included in this edition are interviews with Carsten Dahl, Bob Mintzer, Maria Schneider and Connie Han. Scott Thompson speaks with the legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. Darrell Craig Harris interviews Jay Beckenstein from Spyro Gyra and this editions photo feature spotlights Dutch photographer Maurits van Hout.

You can purchase a copy of the magazine here.

Last modified: January 31, 2020