Interview with Bria Skonberg – Jazz Trumpeter and Vocalist

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 (nyhotjazzcamp.com) which culminates with a festival (gothamjazzfestnyc.com). 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.


Interview with Kiku Collins – Pop, Jazz, and R&B Trumpet Player

Kiku Collins has established herself at the heights of pop, jazz and R&B. This former “Jersey Girl” followed music on a journey out of her small town to the Interlochen Center For the Arts, and from there, onto the biggest stages in the world. According to Jazz Journal International, “Ms. Collins plays trumpet and flugelhorn like a twenty-first century Miles Davis.”

Collins has performed with Beyonce, Michael Bolton, Jill Scott, Nick Lowe, Gloria Gaynor, Train, et al. She’s performed on the Today Show, Oprah Winfrey, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, at the White House for President Obama (twice), The Rachel Ray Show, The View, The World Music Awards, the Black Girls Rock Awards on BET many times, Ellen Degeneres, the Grammys (and many others),in addition to appearances at several international jazz festivals.

Collins boasts two recordings as a leader, to her credit. Innova Records said about her debut recording, “Here With Me” that “Kiku puts a flugelhorn to her lips and animals come to listen, it’s so sweet.” Her newest recording, “Red Light” showcases her unique abilities as composer, performer and producer and includes notable guest performances by Michael Lington and Al Chez. A third album is officially in the works.

Collins continues to keep a busy schedule as a performer and clinician for Getzen Musical Instruments and spends much of her time creating new music in her recording studio. Legendary trumpeter Mike Vax said of Ms. Collins,“Her phrasing, sound and lyricism remind me of great singers. For me, that is one of the best compliments that I could give to any trumpet player!”

Collins is also a cancer and lymphedema patient, and is actively involved with #Cancerland and other advocacy organizations. Until we have a cure, we have each other.


Brass Chicks: From working with Beyoncé to appearing on TV and in the White House, you are no stranger to high-profile gigs with and for important people. How do you manage your nerves and stay calm on stage during these performances?

Kiku Collins: I make sure that I’m prepared as much as possible. Learn the music inside and out, warm up, hydrate, and go from there. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way is this – if I feel nervous, I tend to screw up. I like to use the energy in a more exciting way. I like to think of all of the people out there who are excited to hear music! And, I get to make some of it for them! What a privilege. Enjoy it and create happiness! I remember after my first White House gig, one of the band members congratulated me on one tune that I started on my own – out of the blue. He said he sat there nervously waiting for me to start, and breathed a sigh of relief when it came out right. I laughed at him and realized how funny it was that he was more nervous than I was. What I did was blow air through my flugel, which was cold at the moment, sing my first note in my head, and realize that I’d done it a handful of times during rehearsals without a problem. I was still a bit tense since I had no reference note or rhythm, only a very quick and quiet countoff, but The Obama’s were sitting mere feet away from me, waiting! What an opportunity!

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Five Post-Grad Lessons from Playing Trombone in College Marching Band

This week’s Five Things Friday post was written by Kristen Frank, an alumna of Lousisiana State University’s “Golden Band from Tigerland” who played the trombone in high school and college. She holds bachelor’s degrees in English and psychology with a minor in linguistics and an MS in psychology and currently currently teaches psychology at Baton Rouge Community College.

See the end of this post for Ms. Frank’s more complete biography.


The wand chooses the wizard, and the trombone chose me. Here are five things I have learned from playing since I graduated!

Ten years ago, I was in the 10th grade, my instrument of choice the flute. I loved it: It was pretty, small and lightweight, and the same instrument my aunt had played in her high school band. She had gone on to play piccolo in her college days, and I thought I would do the same. Two years later, however, my flute was sharing the stage (literally: my last concert in high school saw me switch back and forth at least twice, not to mention the jazz band sections) with the trombone. The trombone was big and awkward, and, at first, I couldn’t buzz, much less play, to save my life. A year later, though, I had gotten into my college’s marching band on trombone. This was amazing, given that I had basically taught myself and only been playing a year. It was tough: the hours were much longer than in high school—band camp itself was a week from about 8 am to 8pm—and I was in a section full of guys, which I was not used to. I grew to love my section-mates, however, and the next three years flew by. Now that I’ve been out of college for a while, some important lessons from that band and from playing the trombone stay with me: Continue reading

Five Things to Teach your Female Students about Jazz

This week’s Five Things Friday post was written by Marie Millard, trombone, founder of Sonoma Jazz Girlz.

Marie Millard received her music degree from Cal State Hayward in 1996 and began teaching elementary band and private trombone a year later. In 2016 she discovered that the all state high school honor jazz band that only had three girls in it when she participated in 1991 had even fewer girls in recent years, and she started Sonoma Jazz Girlz, a jazz improv class for junior high and high school girls. She plays with Awesome Hotcakes (awesomehotcakes.com) and blogs at halfthatjazz.com.

See the end of this post for Marie’s full-length bio.


1. Chord Spelling and Improv

Before I started teaching my jazz class, I emailed the jazz director at nearby Sonoma State University and asked what he thought were the biggest deficits in his incoming students. He mentioned two. The first was chord spelling (what notes are in each chord), which had already been my priority concerning what to teach. How many of my private students came to me playing the blues scale over anything and everything? And it’s a HARD habit to break. I would rather a student come to me knowing nothing about improvising than come to me knowing the blues scale! Continue reading

Five Ways I Got Ready for My International Solo Debut

A passionate and creative performer, Kate Amrine is a prominent trumpet player balancing a multifaceted career from developing new repertoire and curating concerts to freelancing with many different groups in the New York City area. Selected past performances include performing two solos with orchestra in Japan, an off Broadway workshop of Duncan Sheik’s new musical “Alice by Heart,” a solo recital in Mississippi at the Music by Women Festival, a featured recital at the International Women’s Brass Conference, and a recital at the Women’s Composers Festival of Hartford. Upcoming performances include Rite of Spring for two trumpets, a solo show of music inspired by politics, and a tour with Mariachi Flor de Toloache.

Kate is also extremely dedicated to commissioning and performing new music, premiering over 30 pieces both as a soloist and a chamber musician. Her debut album “As I Am” was released in November 2017, featuring new music by women composers. Kate is also an active freelancer in New York City, where she performs in many different ensembles – from musical theater and Broadway to standard orchestra gigs and more. Kate is also very passionate about increasing diversity and representation in the women’s brass community. She is the co leader of the Brass Chicks blog and co leader of eGalitarian – an ensemble of women brass players playing music by women composers. As an educator, Kate enjoys teaching private lessons in her own studio and as an Adjunct Instructor at New York University.


I was inspired to write today’s post from seeing the feedback on some of my recent Instagram posts about my time performing and soloing with the orchestra in Japan the past two weeks.  I had a great time performing Torelli’s Concerto in D and Leroy Anderson’s A Trumpeter’s Lullaby. Out of our 4 concerts in Japan, I was performing one of these pieces (if not both), on 3 out of the 4 performances.  I wrote a little bit about my preparation and the process of putting it together and how I felt about the whole experience on Instagram but I figured a longer and more detailed version of these posts may resonate with people so here’s how I got ready for my international solo debut!  Continue reading

Seraph Brass Indiegogo has 1 day and 2% left to go!

The incredible all-female brass quintet, Seraph Brass, has almost reached its crowdfunding goal on Indiegogo. The group aims to raise $25,000 in order to fund their first album, which they will release in early 2018. It will only take a few more donations to push them past the $25,000 mark — could some generous Brass Chicks make the difference?


From the fundraiser page:

“Seraph Brass began in 2014 and is in high demand, presenting over 50 domestic and international concerts in the 2016-17 season. We are a dynamic brass quintet drawing from a roster of America’s top brass players. Committed to engaging audiences with captivating programming, we present a diverse body of repertoire that includes original transcriptions, newly commissioned works, and well-known classics. Recently, we commissioned and premiered “Wolf” for solo soprano and brass quintet from Philadelphia-based composer, Joseph Hallman and have had several arrangements made by Utah Symphony trumpeter Jeff Luke and composer Thomas Oltarzewski. Through our mission to commission and premiere new works by American women composers, we hope to continue to encourage women of all ages to study and love brass music. We have performed a number of masterclasses at universities, high schools, and middle schools. Seraph Brass is on the Allied Concert Services roster, performing tours throughout the United States. Seraph is managed by Manhattan Music Ensemble.”

Introducing Nicole Abissi – Guest Brass Chicks Blogger

I am so excited to present Nicole Abissi – our next featured guest Brass Chick blogger, who also performed at IWBC. We have played together in NYC and I was really interested to hear her responses to our interview questions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks community!

Nicole Abissi is a member of the renowned Stiletto Brass Quintet since 2013. She frequently plays with many of the country’s fine orchestras, as well as on Broadway. Nicole received her Bachelor of Music degree from The Juilliard School and Master of Music degree from Stony Brook University.

In 2007, Nicole began a fellowship with The New World Symphony in Miami, Florida. There, she had the opportunity to work with the premier conductors of our time, as well as receive lessons and coaching from many of the finest brass players in the world today. Nicole won her first professional position as the Second Trombonist of the Alabama Symphony in 2009. In September of 2012 she joined the Colorado Symphony as acting Principal trombonist for the 2012-2013 season. In addition to her performance experience, Nicole is a passionate teacher. She has given clinics at many universities as well as music festivals, such as, Georgia State University, University of Alabama, Interlochen Arts Camp, and Youngstown State University. Her students have gone on to study trombone performance at such schools as The Juilliard School, Northwestern University, New England Conservatory and Lynn University.

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Reflections on the International Women’s Brass Conference – July 2017 theme

We are extremely excited to present a series of posts about the recent June 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference.  We will also feature a mini -interview with each post to provide more background about each guest.

Jennifer Wharton and Nikki Abissi will be this month’s guest Brass Chick bloggers, sharing their insights from attending and performing at IWBC and more! Our first main interview will feature Joanna Hersey – who is the current President of the International Women’s Brass Conference. We are so fortunate they are sharing their thoughts and stories with the Brass Chick family.
We have already had some requests and suggestions for future themes, posts, and more but please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any great ideas! Brass Chicks is a community and we would love to create the best possible content for our readers 🙂

 

Meet the Bloggers

This blog is run by Kate Amrine and Rebecca Epstein-Boley. A trumpet player and a horn player, we are based in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, respectively. We are both extremely excited about brass playing, the incredible women in the industry, and the role we hope Brass Chicks can play in publicizing the best of those things! The blog will be seeing some changes and a more steady flow of new content in the next few months, so we thought we might introduce ourselves to get things started.

Kate Amrine, TrumpetKate, whose multifaceted career includes Broadway, off-Broadway, commercial, big-band, and orchestral playing, also maintains an active teaching studio and recently gave a recital and led a warm-up at the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference. This fall, she will release her debut album featuring works for solo trumpet by female composers.

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Rebecca, meanwhile, is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. She enjoys playing with student and professional ensembles such as Chamber Music Michigan, the Huron River Ensemble, the Ann Arbor Camerata, and the Dearborn Symphony, as well as maintaining an active private studio. She looks forward to further pursuing her love of chamber music after graduation. When not playing the horn, Rebecca enjoys drawing comics about music history.

The world of women in brass is vibrant, powerful, and growing fast. We aim for Brass Chicks to be a rich centralized source of information about everything happening in the women’s brass community. We want to showcase various perspectives and share exciting news and narratives.

Stay tuned for cool things soon to come!

Brass Chicks is Moving to WordPress!

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Although it’s had a great run at its old Tumblr home, Brass Chicks has grown up and now seems better suited to the WordPress format.  The new Brass Chicks will be less a collection of profiles of female brass musicians (“musician baseball cards”), and will have more interviews with musicians, reviews of and reports on concerts,  and articles about what it’s like to be a woman in the brass world.

We hope you share our excitement for the future of this blog in its new incarnation!  You can look forward to some sweet new content headed your way in the next few months.