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Bria Skonberg: 5 songs that changed my life

Holly Gordon

Fresh off her first Juno win for vocal jazz album of the year, Chilliwack native and New York City-based Bria Skonberg is no stranger to accolades.

Touted as one of Vanity Fair’s millennials who are “shaking up the jazz world” and a “young jazz star on the rise” by the Washington Post, the singer/trumpeter also recently made our “35 best Canadian jazz artists under 35” list. Signed to Sony Music Masterworks’ OKeh Records — where she released her fifth full-length, With a Twist, in June — Skonberg is in high demand and touring extensively. But that Juno was still unexpected.

“It was such a surprise!” she writes, via email (various plane delays stopped us from connecting over the phone). “Ultimately we don't make music to win awards but it is encouraging to know the work is being recognized as quality by the industry and my home country especially.”

Skonberg, whose work is rooted in New Orleans jazz while skillfully tackling covers of Janis Joplin and the Cardigans, started on the piano and picked up the trumpet in Grade 7, playing in her middle-school concert band. She earned a jazz trumpet degree in Vancouver then moved to New York City, all the while playing bandleader (vocals and trumpet) in various outfits — Bria’s Hot Five, the Big Bang Jazz Band, Bria Skonberg Quintet — and co-founding the New York Hot Jazz Festival, which focuses on jazz from its New Orleans beginnings to the prohibition and swing eras, in 2013.

“They actually inform each other quite a bit,” says Skonberg, of her two instruments: voice and trumpet. “When I play melodies I think of the lyrics and when I sing I tend to embellish the way I would on the horn. Otherwise it's fun to play them off of each other such as singing something in a sweet way and being gritty with the trumpet. I like making music that has a dramatic spectrum of dynamics and storytelling; I can use them as two different characters or as one person's inward and outward thoughts. The combination gives me a lot of options and range to play with.”

Skonberg plays the Halifax Jazz Festival tonight with band members Chris Pattishall (keys), Corcoran Holt (upright bass) and Darrian Douglas (drums) — with Halifax’s Alana Yorke opening — so we thought this would be the perfect time to ask the singer about her influences.

Below, five songs that Skonberg says have changed her life, from Louis Armstrong to Anita O’Day to Lauryn Hill.

'Potato Head Blues,' Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven

"This was the first Louis transcription I learned in Grade 12, to play as a feature with the Chilliwack Senior Secondary dixie band. It's an immense undertaking (I still practise it!) and I loved the challenge so I dug into Louis' work more seriously after that."

'Sweet Georgia Brown,' Anita O'Day

"I watched the clip of Anita and the Newport Festival and immediately fell in love with her. Her timing is so impeccable, fluid yet strong, always swinging."

'Sentimental Journey,' Esquivel

"There is so much happening in Esquivel's music and it all has a place. For someone interested in so many things and styles, hearing this was beyond satisfying and it inspired me to think big. It's organized chaos, and a wonderful soundtrack for rush-hour subway rides."

'Freeway Mambo,' Perez Prado

"Everything on the Havana 3 a.m. album is excellent, but this came to mind as it's my morning alarm clock right now. The trumpet section is amazing and I became more interested in infusing Latin rhythm into my work."

'I Gotta Find Peace of Mind (Unplugged),' Lauryn Hill

"This song found me when I was feeling constrained and frustrated by circumstance, musically and emotionally, and it helped me through a tough time. The way Ms. Hill puts herself out there this way, as real and raw following overwhelming commercial success, is inspiring."

More to explore:

Sampha: 5 songs that changed my life

Kamasi Washington: 5 records that changed my life

Thundercat: 5 songs that changed my life