Interview with Bria Skonberg – Jazz Trumpeter and Vocalist

By Kate Amrine and Rebecca Epstein Boley, with Bria Skonberg

Bria Skonberg headshot

New York based Canadian singer, trumpeter and songwriter Bria Skonberg has been described as one of the “most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation” (Wall Street Journal). Recognized as one of 25 for the Future by DownBeat Magazine, Bria Skonberg has been a force in the new generation with her bold horn melodies and smoky vocals, and adventurous concoctions of classic and new.

Brass Chicks: As a trumpet player and vocalist in the jazz world, you have developed a unique voice covering many jazz styles. How has being a vocalist informed your brass playing, and vice versa?

Bria Skonberg: I loved singing as a young girl but honestly was too shy to do it openly. Playing trumpet helped me gain confidence to sing in front of people. Learning lyrics has been such a benefit for learning melodies and I often embellish my vocals the same way I would on the horn.

BC: Have you faced any specific challenges related to being a woman in jazz? If so, how have you seen them evolve over the course of your career and how have you confronted them?

BS: I think if I was to compare the benefits to challenges of being a woman musician they would even out; If I’ve lost opportunities I’ve gained others. I do think there’s a higher expectancy for you to perform well so you have to make a strong first impression and opening musical statement. Confidence is key and something I have had to work on, but it’s worth knowing how to “fake it ’til you make it”. Stand up tall, hold your bell up and put that air through the horn!

BC: Tell us about your new album and collaboration with Pledge Music. Why did you choose to use that platform and what has been your experience with it?

BS: I wouldn’t recommend anyone get involved with Pledge right now because they are not paying out to their artists, myself included. I chose that platform because I had a successful experience with them two albums ago. They have a sizeable database to attract new audiences and you don’t have to make your financial ask public which I prefer.  I am frustrated but will deliver what my Pledge community has ordered no matter what happens.

BC: What do you have coming up? What are you looking forward to this year?

BS: Despite the Pledge experience, I have an awesome new album recorded of mostly original music, and I’m currently figuring out how to release it. I’ve been on both ends of the label spectrum – from very independent to major – and I just want to find a good fit, but keep an eye out for that in the Fall. 😉 I’ve had a regular band for over a year now and I’m looking forward to growing more with them, visiting new places and trying new foods! I love meeting new people so that’s always a plus. I’m doing increasingly more work with students of all ages and love the workshop environment. I’m the Artist in Residence in Cape May this year and I direct a jazz camp for adults in Manhattan ( which culminates with a festival ( I have an all female large ensemble called Sisterhood of Swing that honors the International Sweethearts of Rhythm which is a fun and meaningful project where I’m also learning a lot, and I’m developing educational activities for teaching artists at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. I’ll be part of the Monterey Jazz Festival Touring Band March/April which will be such a good experience playing with Melisa Aldana, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Christian Sands, Jamison Ross and Yasushi Nakamura.  I’m looking forward to practicing more and becoming a better trumpet player. 🙂

BC: Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians? Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate?

BS: Work hard, stay humble. Surround yourself with people that challenge and inspire you. Have patience and discipline. Be prepared to do it all yourself. Embrace the uncomfortable because that’s where the learning happens. Respect yourself and present yourself accordingly. The challenges are focusing and prioritizing what is important, necessary, and urgent. I think the best thing for me was that there were always female trumpeters in my classes so I didn’t think I was special. Be your own personal best.

BC: Are there any resources you recommend (books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life, or similar)?

BS: I actually listen to a lot of stand up comedy or story inspired podcasts like This American Life and Radio Lab. It helps me not take things too seriously and learn more about humanity which informs my music. I’m reading Swing Shift right now by Sherrie Tucker which captures what female musicians had to deal with throughout the 1940s which is fascinating and frustrating. I’m super grateful to be living in this time where we can have discussions, honor the past and move forward together.  Thank you so much for instigating this with your blog! 🙂

Bio continued from above:

Noted as a millennial “shaking up the jazz world,” (Vanity Fair), Bria Skonberg has played festivals and stages the world over, including New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, and over a hundred more. She recently performed the Star Spangled Banner at Madison Square Garden for an NHL game. Originally from the small town of Chilliwack, British Columbia, Bria studied jazz and performance at Capilano University in Vancouver while balancing a full road schedule with two bands. After graduating, she traveled extensively, performing in China and Japan and throughout Europe. When she wasn’t traveling, Bria was honing her chops with Dal Richards, Vancouver’s King of Swing. Playing BC Place Stadium at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver capped off this exciting period, with Bria featured at the Paralympics opening ceremony for over 50 000 people. Seeking new challenges, Bria moved to New York city in September of 2010. Upon arrival she went to jam with friends in Washington Square Park and an hour into playing world renowned trumpeter Wynton Marsalis stopped to listen. He gave her a thumbs up.

In 2012, Bria released So Is The Day (Random Act Records). That collection showcased a developing flair for original songs and new takes on standards with notable players like Wycliffe Gordon, Victor Goines and Ulysses Owens Jr. and included a duet with John Pizzarelli. So Is The Day received rave reviews from critics; “while tipping a hat to tradition, [So Is The Day] appropriately pushes Bria Skonberg to the forefront of today’s musical talents” (All About Jazz). In 2015, following her second album Into Your Own, Skonberg received the distinguished Jazz At Lincoln Center Swing Award. Further accolades include Best Vocal and Best Trumpet awards from Hot House Jazz Magazine (2014-15, 2017), Outstanding Jazz Artist from the New York Bistro Awards (2014), DownBeat Rising Star (2013-17), and a nominee for Jazz Journalists Association Up and Coming Artist (2013).

Bria signed to Sony Music Masterworks’ OKeh Records in 2016 and released her debut LP, Bria, which won a Canadian JUNO award and made the Top 5 on Billboard jazz charts. She collaborated again with producer Matt Pierson, as well as multi-Grammy winner Gil Goldstein, for her second Sony album, With A Twist, released May 2017. Her music has garnered over 6 million streams online. 

She is an avid educator and supporter of public school opportunities, giving numerous workshops and concerts for students of all ages. Bria has been a faculty member at the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Camp (2008- present), Centrum Jazz Camp, performs outreach on behalf of Jazz at Lincoln Center and co-founded the New York Hot Jazz Camp for adults in 2015. She is currently working with the Louis Armstrong House Museum to develop educational activities, and is co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival.

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