Music festivals are a perfect way to discover new talent. A few years ago I noticed the contagious, unique and exciting sound of the Southern Rock group that opened for the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd at Lansing's Common Ground Festival. The group was Blackberry Smoke and I have been a fan ever since.
The musical genre of jazz is appreciated by small numbers of fans in North America. This music is much more popular in Europe or Asia. The good thing about this is that North Americans can attend jazz festivals and performances for a low price.
This past weekend I attended the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in East Lansing, Michigan. Admission is free and one can enjoy 2 days of excellent jazz performances. As the home of Michigan State University, this town has developed into an area that attracts some top-notch jazz artists. One key factor for this is the school's jazz department, and their impressive faculty. The jazz faculty at MSU is comprised of seasoned veterans who have appeared with some of the top performers at some of the world's most hallowed venues. Due to their connections, they are able to attract the biggest names in jazz to work as artists-in-residence and clinicians at the university. Find out more about them here.
I had heard about a trumpet player performing at the festival. As a brass player myself, I decided to take in her show. Trumpet player/singer/songwriter Bria Skonberg took the stage with her band at the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival and captivated the crowd. Her versatility is what was impressive. With the appearance of a Nordic supermodel and a bubbly, playful personality to match, she turns heads. However, it is her old-school way of singing mixed with her confident trumpet playing that makes for a Big Easy gumbo that is a feast for the ears. She has an appreciation for the past, but yet keeps a foot in the present as well. She has mentioned Louis Armstrong and Anita O'Day as 2 of her influences. Hailing originally from British Columbia, Canada she has lived in the Big Apple since 2010. At age 31, she has appeared at over 50 jazz festivals around the globe.
The Wall Street Journal exclaimed the she is "poised to be one of the most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation." She plays New Orleans jazz like the Louis Armstrong disciple that has made her unique. She is an award-winning artist who has been lauded by DownBeat magazine. She played with filmmaker/clarinet player Woody Allen in his Dixieland jazz band at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City.
Her albums include "Fresh", "So is the Day" and "Into your Own". She put her own interpretation on the 1996 pop single "Lovefool" by The Cardigans. She performs the classic "Come On A-My House" with a style that matches the original by Rosemary Clooney. She performs some of her singles such as "Won't You Come Out and Play" and "Wear and Tear" with a sense of mischief and whimsy that will captivate anyone who appreciates the work of a fine artist. She takes a standard like "Tea for Two" and transforms it into a piece that sports a contemporary flair.
She is a fan of standup comedy, and sees the similarity between the struggle of a comic and that of a jazz musician. She is working on putting the routines of the legendary George Carlin to music.
Here's what one critic said of this impressive new artist.
“Bria Skonberg’s new CD is like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room…She has a voice that is pure and almost little girl in quality except on bluesey items where she displays some of the authority of Dinah Washington…This is a totally fun album and very contagious. There is never a dull moment…most of all there is the bright, inquisitive talents and spirit of Bria Skonberg who promises to be a mighty musical force.”
- Marcia Hillman, New York Jazz Record
Samples of her music, You Tube links, photos and other press materials can be found here.
*Some information from http://jwpjazz.com/bria_skonberg.html, http://centrum.org/2013/03/bria-skonberg-working-hard-and-staying-humble/ and Lansing City Pulse from June 17, 2015.