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Canadian Jazz Star Bria Skonberg Keeps Strong Ties To Sacramento
Jazz trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg was born in Canada and now lives in New York. But she’s been making annual sojourns to Sacramento nearly every year since the early 2000's to perform and to teach. She’ll be doing both this week, while also celebrating the release of her latest CD.
The album is called With A Twist, and while Skonberg says she didn't set out with any particular theme in mind when she was putting it together, one eventually showed up.
"There is a bit of theme on the album of songs that were really synonomous with some great female artists, which is a bit of a challenge to do," explains Skonberg. "I mean there are some songs, like you don't even try because the original is so great. So the "with a twist" part of the album is just to, you know, how can I put my own spin on this."
Among the singers Skonberg salutes are Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Valaida Snow. And the title With A Twist is also a nod to a sort of retro, novelty approach she takes on tunes like "Cocktails for Two" and “Alright, OK, You Win,” which has an arrangement that draws on a familiar theme by Quincy Jones.
"'Alright, OK, You Win' [is] kind of a nod to Peggy Lee. And "Soul Bossa Nova," we were looking at like kind of lounge, cocktail funky kind of music. That's a Quincy Jones number you might recognize from Austin Powers. And I just listened to them both and went 'oh, the blues, let's put 'em together.' And yeah it works. It's sassy, it's fun. There's like marimba and trombones and cellos and flutes, oh my. And it comes off in a really sassy, fun way."
There are also catchy original tunes on With a Twist including “How I Know,” which Skonberg co-wrote with composer Sam Hollander.
"The seed of the song was a lick of mine but we kind of riffed on it together and I just wanted to capture good times in New York City. It's a catchy little number kind of about falling in love and then it goes into this jazzy interlude. But Sam Hollander was a great energy and we kind of pulled the song together."
Skonberg's Louis Armstrong-inspired trumpet playing is featured prominently on the new album. And that's a sound that attendees of past Sacramento Jazz Jubilees (now the Sacramento Music Festival) know very well.
"The first time I attended the Jubilee was in 2001 with my high school band from Chilliwack, British Columbia, which is where I'm from. Then I attended the festival ten times."
That included two appearances with the popular, all-female band Skonberg cofounded called Mighty Aphrodite.
In addition to performing at the festival over the years, Skonberg has taken part in another Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society sponsored event, the STJS's annual jazz camp at Sly Park. That’s where she’s been teaching all this week. She first attended Sacramento's sister camp in Mammoth Lakes as a student and transitioned to Sly Park as an adult camper. Even as her star has been rising and her free time dwindling, she has still managed to come back often to take part in the Sacramento area camp.
"I was the head counselor one year. And I've been a faculty member for, I think, seven years. It just churns out some incredible players and really incredible people that become instant family. And although I don't get to experience the Sacramento jazz scene year-round, I am on the mailing list. And I love being able to look through and see names of people that I recognize both as my colleagues and as campers that are coming up and being pros. And I really get a kick out of reading those."
[Special thanks to Devan Kortan for his assistance with the creation of this article.]
Bria Skonberg performs with The Professors on Sunday August 6th at the Elks Lodge in Sacramento.
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