What originally started as a couple friends trying out instruments in a youth music program in London became Ezra Collective — a five-piece jazz ensemble experimenting with hip-hop and afrobeat to create a unique sound.
The band — led by Femi Koleoso on drums, TJ Koleoso on bass, Joe Armon-Jones on keys, Dylan Jones on trumpet and James Mollison on saxophone — formed seven years ago through the organization Tomorrow’s Warriors. The organization seeks to introduce the youth of London, specifically in underprivileged areas, to jazz music as a means to funnel their energy into something productive and vibrant.
“It was just one of those things, my four best mates and I,” Koleoso said. “It was natural for us to make music together. … The linchpin of all of this was just that we loved to spend time together.”
Honoring jazz’s fluidity as a mixture of different genres, the band is open to influences from anything from spirituals to trap music. Koleoso said his father introduced him to Calypso music from Nigeria and the band has included that style in the mix.
Koleoso described the band’s tour as a celebration of friendship and music. He said the band is excited to play in Chicago again and be a part of its large and ever-growing jazz scene, naming influences such as Chicago artists Saba and Jamila Woods, among others. Koleoso said he wants the audience to come in with an open mind and ready to dance.
Ezra Collective’s debut album, “You Can’t Steal My Joy,” drops in April and has an underlying political message. Koleoso said the album is a response to the growing frustration among London’s younger generations, which feel disenfranchised, during a frayed political climate with issues such as Brexit.
“Being a young person [and] growing up is a message everyone can relate to,” Koleoso said. “There are so many different ways in which other forces and other powers seem to be stealing things away from us. Being from London, tuition fees tripled the year I tried to start university. Then you’ve got instances such as Brexit, which is something that was wanted by an older generation, which the younger generation is very much against.”
Koleoso said despite political divisions, music is a conduit for discussion crossing cultural boundaries. Music is the one thing that can’t be stolen, according to Koleoso.
“They might be able to take these things away from us, but the magical moment when I get to reason with my brothers and sisters and just play our instruments — that moment there is the most incredible moment I get,” Koleoso said. “That’s something they can’t take away from us.”
Solo jazz artist and Chicago native Akenya will open the show for Ezra Collective. The band is set to play Schubas Tavern (2424 N. Lincoln Ave.) March 17. Tickets can be purchased for $15 at its website.