Jazz in the Forest
Canadian singer/trumpeter Bria Skonberg performed at Outdoor Forest Theatre.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Flanked by local musicians including Billy Jones on drums, upright bass player Heath Proskin and longtime friend Eddie Erickson on guitar and banjo, who were, themselves, flanked by the Treasure Island set on stage at the Outdoor Forest Theatre on Thursday, June 3, Canadian jazz singer/trumpter phenom Bria Skonberg performed a classy, swinging and well-modulated set of jazz classics, standards and her own compositions.
She’s played Monterey Dixieland Jazz Festival twice before (the last time was five years ago) and is not slated for this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival, though she says she would like to perform there.
The 26-year-old, who mentors kids in jazz, began the set with a bell-clear scale of trumpet notes, before switching to singing; the songs ranged form “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” and “Stardust” to “That Old Black Magic” and her role model Louis Armstrong’s “Hotter Than That.”
Between songs the funny beauty told stories and joked with the picnicking and wine-drinking audience of about 45 people. She described her younger years, when she shared a room with her bigger sister and the two dueled over which music to put on.
“She would play Nirvana and grunge, and I would play The Bee Gees just to irritate her,” she said.
“She won, a lot, but I can pull a mean hair.”
Going through a “boy-band” phase in her teenage years, she joked that eventually she had to get her own boy band, indicating her three backing musicians.
“Boy?” replied Erickson, “Maybe old man band? It’s been a while since I’ve been called a boy.”
“Quiet, boy,” Skonberg joked, then informed the audience: “That’s harassment. And I’m thoroughly prepared to give it.”
The music turned in the trademark power that the trumpet can command, in deference to nearby neighbors, but made up for it in clarity, phrasing, complexity and tone. Skonberg used three various plungers to affect the sorrowful “wah-wah” sound coming from the horn's bell. Jones drummed using brushes and mallets, adding complex flourishes to his metronome-like timekeeping. Proskin looked cool as a cucumber as he plucked his bass, occasionally employing holstered bows. Erickson, genial and comfortable, traded solos with Skonberg, who occasionally passed him the lead. The two have known each other for 10 years, she said, and recently played at a jazz festival in the Netherlands; it was her first time playing with Jones and Proskin.
(The straight jazz performance was also a “first” for the Outdoor Forest Theatre, which has been home to, primarily, musical theater, though the ample amphitheater seating, dual fireplaces, chirping birds—which, once, seemed to keep time to the music—fresh air and big, changing sky only enhanced the whole experience.)
But perhaps the most surprising and entertaining aspect was Skonberg’s singing, done in a sultry timbre with playful phrasing that recalled Lauren Bacall’s jazz singing in her earlier movies.
“It’s 1920s and ‘30s [style],” said Skonberg after the show. “Billie Holliday, Louie Armstrong. It’s about entertaining.”
Which she will do more of this weekend during this Monterey stop on her tour of the States. She plays in a trio with Erickson and Proskin at a benefit party 6-9pm Friday, June 4, at the Culinary Center of Monterey, which is a prelude to Saturday’s Monterey Beer Festival (noon-5pm, www.nightthatneverends.com)—who are sponsors of Skonberg’s Monterey dates.
When asked if she will attend Saturday’s festival in any capacity, she turned to festival organizer Jeff Moses, whose 13-year-old daughter sang a song as a surprisingly strong “surprise guest,” accompanied by Skonberg on trumpet.
“Hey, Jeff,” said Skonberg, “You want me to emcee the [festival’s] bands?”
“Yes,” he said.
“I’m emceeing the festival,” she said.