Two decades ago, Canadian jazz musician and singer Bria Skonberg made the switch from piano to an instrument with more bebop attitude — the trumpet. Ever since, Skonberg has been shaking up the jazz world and earning rave reviews. On Nov. 30, Skonberg will make her Penn State debut, performing a variety of standards and original compositions with her quintet.
A New York City resident since 2010, Skonberg is known for her understanding of classic jazz, her instigative nature and in fashioning an adventurous style rooted in New Orleans jazz and blues, world percussion, soul and cabaret. Skonberg has appeared as a band leader and guest artist at jazz festivals in North America, Europe, China and Japan.
Skonberg grew up in Chilliwack, British Columbia, and took piano lessons in elementary school, switching to trumpet in her early teens.
“My older brother played fiddle and both my sister and I started on piano,” she said. “I started trumpet in the 7th grade concert band on recommendation from my dad who played back in high school.”
Skonberg benefited from her musical opportunities in Chilliwack, crediting excellent public school teachers and schools that supported the music programs.
“Chilliwack had an annual jazz festival that featured local and international talent as well as youth bands,” she said. “Being included in these festivities both to play and learn was a very inspiring experience.”
In 2006, Skonberg graduated from Capilano University in Vancouver with a degree in jazz trumpet. In 2012, Skonberg teamed up with Prohibition Productions to found the New York Hot Jazz Festival, an annual jazz bash that celebrates all forms of the genre. In May, she kicked off her N.Y. Hot Jazz Camp New Orleans-style music workshops.
“My style infuses a love of classic jazz and blues into sharing my experiences, which stem from traveling the world and collecting sounds, meeting people and sharing stories,” Skonberg said. “I think of music like food — try it all.”
Skonberg will perform material from her newest album, “Bria,” which focuses on alluring pieces, dramatic dynamics and exotic sounds.
“I’m really excited about the band members,” she said. “They’re phenomenal musicians from a variety of backgrounds, and I love to hear how they interpret the music.”
“Bria” brings together Skonberg’s trumpet playing and singing, which are both distinctive voices.
“My trumpet tends to be fiery and feisty, where my vocals are more smoky and intimate,” she said. “The fun challenge has been finding and writing pieces that are vehicles to show both in their best light. I credit the producer, Matt Pierson, for helping me find the spaces for this to happen.”
In addition to fronting a high school-era ska band and jazz ensembles — including the all-female jazz group Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band, The 51st Eight and Bria’s Hot Five — Skonberg has performed with several notable musicians throughout North America. She has shared the stage with guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, clarinetist Anat Cohen, Vancouver’s King of Swing Dal Richards and multi-instrumentalist Wycliffe Gordon. She has headlined in New York City at Symphony Space, Birdland, The Iridium, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and Café Carlyle.
Picking one performance as the most special is difficult, but Skonberg said one memorable experience stands out from all the rest.
“One that comes to mind is the opportunity to play in Louis Armstrong’s backyard in Queens,” she said. “They have a wonderful summer concert series there and I’ve both done concerts and talked to students there. It’s a public museum and you can feel his spirit everywhere.”
Skonberg said she loves playing jazz specifically because it’s always spontaneous and informed by its surroundings and people.
“I get bored easily and jazz provides an ever-renewing experience,” she said. “I hope that our music brings people together.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Bria Skonberg
- When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30
- Where: Schwab Auditorium, University Park
- Info: www.cpa.psu.edu