Our reviewer looks at one of the performers who'll be back soon in the new late-night series in one of NYC's elegant rooms.... When Bria Skonberg walked out on the stage at The Café Carlyle, I looked for her guitar. She has that, lanky fresh faced- innocence of those 1960s' young blonde folk singers, so, of course, there had to be a guitar. But, when she picked up her trumpet and played “Let Me Off Uptown"
(Redd Evans and Earl Bostic) in a tribute to Anita O”Day with Roy Eldridge (playing in Gene Krupa’s big band and recorded for Columbia in1941), she blew me away and I got that there would be no "California Dreamin'" tonight. Bria Skonberg is a trumpeter/vocalist/ band leader/ songwriter and one of the most original, versatile musicians I have ever seen.
She sings and plays 20th century jazz in her own 21st century way. She plays a red-hot trumpet and sings in a mellow sultry voice. Like the pro that she is, she begins quietly and builds slowly to a passionate explosive finish. In Brass and Belles she pays tribute to her inspirations, the great trumpeters and singers of the past. She can do them all, never imitating, but instead capturing their unique styles in her own special way.
In “Comes Love”(Lew Brown/ Charlie Tobias/ Sam H. Stept) she does Billie Holiday with Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet. In “And the Angels Sing” (Ziggy Elman/ Johnny Mercer) it’s Martha Tilton with Elman from the 1939 Benny Goodman Orchestra. She does a sensational Keely Smith and Louis Prima with their hit Capitol record of "That Old Black Magic” (Mercer with Harold Arlen) . Her perfect and poignant Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown in “September Song” (Kurt Weill/ Maxwell Anderson) astonishes. Close your eyes and it’s 1954. Open them and there is no old or new; time stands still when a jazz musician of her caliber plays. Like all the greats, she is is yesterday, today and tomorrow.
She put together a group --- Dalton Ridenhour on piano, Darrian Douglas on drums and Sean Cronin on upright bass and vocals --- who played together on stage for the first time this night. I would have never known if she hadn’t mentioned it. She said, “I finally found my band.” I totally agree. Bria and Sean Cronin, who have known each other since music school in British Columbia, do a playful jazzy Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong in “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (George & Ira Gershwin). It’s one of my favorite numbers of the evening as they gleefully reverse roles with Bria playing Armstrong and Sean doing Ella in this hilarious loving duet. In “High Hat Trumpet and Rhythm” she honors Valaida Snow, one the earliest female jazz trumpet players (who also wrote the piece). Bria knows her music history and tells fascinating stories about trumpet/ singer teams. She, of course, is both and it’s fresh, electric and new.
This extraordinary talented woman is not just an interpreter of other people’s music and style, but also a really gifted songwriter and compelling storyteller. With original material, she goes to a different more vulnerable place where the stakes are higher and love and loss are played out in soulful, hard-hitting and swinging trumpet solos. She writes contemporary songs with the classic complex jazz rhythms. In her own “I Wish I Hadn’t Forgotten,” a lovely tune with lyrics that make a three-act play, she duets with Sean and, although it’s a swinging up-tempo song, there’s a sad subtext about two parted lovers who have moved on to others, but “They don’t hold a candle to the thrill you gave to me” and "I just can’t remember why I let you go.” The beautiful “Have a Little Heart” tune begins with her mournful flugelhorn solo and segues into gentle, mellow song of wistful longings and suggestions for things that will never be. Her eleven o’clock nod-and-sway number “So Is The Day” --yet another self-penend item--- is a knockout, sexy, bluesy, New Orleans-style song which she plays with a plunger mute with a jazzy wa-wa sound and sings in a lush sultry voice. Add the gorgeous piano solo and it becomes one of those great numbers I will never forget.
You must buy tickets to see Bria Skonberg at the Café Carlyle immediately. There are only two shows left. You have to see her up close in this warm, intimate setting before she really hits it big time (and she will) and you can only to watch her on television specials and in huge stadiums. Don’t miss her now.
Bria Skonberg in Second Act, A Late Night Series of Fun and Entertainment at the Café Carlyle.
April 25/26 and May23/24 at 10:45 pm
$25 cover charge on Thursdays, $30 0n Fridays and a $25 food and beverage minimum
For reservations call: 212. 744. 1600
The Caryle Hotel is on Madison Avenue at East 76 Street.