Ezra Collective Creates a Jazz Sanctuary at Schubas Tavern

Elle Jacobsen | The PhoenixLondon-based jazz group Ezra Collective performed to a sold-out crowd at Schubas Tavern March 17.

The Biblical prophet Ezra built on the teachings of past leaders to create his own spiritual revival, and the Ezra Collective followed a similar path. 

The band played a sold-out crowd at Schubas Tavern (3159 N. Southport Ave.) March 17, and the set was more of a spiritual service than it was a concert — complete with a devoted crowd of entranced and enthusiastic worshippers. 

Ezra Collective, a five-piece jazz ensemble from London, formed seven years ago through the youth music program Tomorrow’s Warriors. Seeking to revive old jazz icons such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald — both notable Chicago jazz figures — the band draws from the fluidity of classic jazz while incorporating modern hip-hop influences. 

Chicago native Akenya opened the show with a powerful solo act. Her deep, soulful voice complimented the jazz accompaniment, and her scatting revived a sense of nostalgia for the classic dynamics of Chicago jazz artists. 

As the music ebbed and flowed from a crescendo of blaring trumpets and cymbals to a single note on the piano keys, Ezra Collective seemed to invite the audience in the creation — the genesis — of its music, a combination of many styles including hip-hop, trap and Calypso. 

The floorboards vibrated at the intensity of the set, which at times felt like a hip-hop concert without the synthetic beats. Some crowd members stood gawking at the performers expert handling of the instruments displayed by each band member’s solo. The five friends would often smile and laugh at one another as they traded off, sometimes stopping completely to let the melody of one instrument stand alone. 

Audience members closed their eyes and lifted their palms above the mass of fellow worshippers packed into the hall, shouting their support of the musicians during brief interludes of silence. 

In between sets, the band members would give brief homilies to explain the creation of each song and express their appreciation for jazz as a musical celebration.

Bassist TJ Koleoso shared an anecdote about a woman who approached him in tears after a concert in London. While Koleoso said he thought she was going berate him for his poor playing, the woman actually thanked him for giving her the gift of music during a difficult time. Koleoso said he was inspired by her to continue to create music that can be a source of joy despite the chaos of daily life. 

That seemed to be the theme of the evening. Ezra Collective’s most recent single “You Can’t Steal My Joy” speaks to the divisive political atmosphere in London and the joy that can still be found in music regardless of differing opinions and backgrounds. 

Fans exited their Sunday service around 11 p.m., not only carrying with them the pleasure of the evening jazz performance, but the message of unity and love for one another. 

Ezra Collective can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music and its debut album “You Can’t Steal My Joy” is set to release April 26. 

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