Bria Skonberg and her quartet treated KNKX to a wonderful studio performance filled with original tunes back in September. The group featured Mathis Picard on piano, Devin Starks bass and Darrian Douglas on drums.
The group began with an original song called “Time to Go,” which Skonberg said felt fitting since she’s been traveling and touring and always feels on the go as she moves from place to place. It was a fun lively piece.
The group was asked about how they started their musical journey. Picard says he took over piano lessons from his older brother and that set him on his way. Skonberg says her family influenced her. Her older brother played violin and she spent time touring with the family and dancing before choosing trumpet and vocals. Starks says he began by playing a keyboard his dad brought home and learning tunes and then transitioned to the bass. Douglas said his father was a musician which was an influence and that as a boy when he saw the drums he was hooked. He says he had to beg to play them.
For the second song, Skonberg performed a mashup that she had just recently put together. It was a chill-inducing blend of Louis Jordan and Duke Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” and the Beatles' “Blackbird.”
Picard said he was currently inspired by stride and older classics like Bach, Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson and Marcus Roberts. He also said he is heavily influenced by electronic music and the compositions of Larry Heard. He says it helps him think of different ways of using the keyboard. Skonberg points to the blues as a current influence. She pointed to people like Bessie Smith, Tom Waits and Perez Perado. She said she’s fascinated by partnerships between horn players and vocalists like Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughn as well as horn-playing vocalists like Louis Jordan and Chet Baker. Starks said he finds himself listening to 80s music like Chaka Kahn and Prince. Douglas called himself schizophrenic regarding music influences but pointing to some of his contemporaries as influences such as Picard, Henry Conway, Brianna Thomas and Corcoran Holt.
The session ended with another original tune called “Villain Vanguard.” It was a densely layered piece with a dark experimental jazz sensibility. Skonberg said it was a protest song with the idea of persistence in the face of current social and political challenges. It is a taste of what to expect from Skonberg’s upcoming release which is will be recorded and produced this fall.
Picard has a debut album that’ll be recorded in November made of classical and stride compositions. Starks will be releasing some music with other artists including Skonberg. Douglas is part of a non-profit that helps young musicians learn to monetize their skills. Skonberg is also heading into the studio with the group to record originals with topical themes and is raising funds in that effort.
More info on Douglass’s charity:
More on Pianist Mathis Picard: