If you’ve ever been to a Chance the Rapper performance, you’re familiar with the spiritual awakenings they tend to inspire. Between his band The Social Experiment and the guest artists he frequently welcomes onstage, Chance frequently surrounds himself with his musician friends, and the camaraderie that exists between them is something to be admired. Among them is fellow Chicagoan Nico Segal, f.k.a. Donnie Trumpet, a 24-year-old Grammy-winning trumpeter has been touring and recording with the likes of Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and other artists since 2009. Recently, Segal has returned to his roots, and brought a slew of friends along, to form the boundary-breaking jazz band The JuJu Exchange.
“I had this yearning to play the music I grew up on and to explore more of my instrument in front of people,” Segal explains. “I’ve known Julian Reid since high school so I reached out to him about playing jazz music and the project evolved from there.”
Following Chance’s suit, The JuJu Exchange is made up of close friends including classically trained pianist Julian Reid, Reid’s brother and drummer Everett Reid, bassist Lane Beckstrom and several other close family-friends, which is not uncommon for Chicago-based artists, Julian Reid says. “I love that about the Chicago music scene. Artists are making music as family,” Reid says. “You want to stay close to each other and that’s why companionship through music is so strong. That’s the message we want the world to feel; a message of making and maintaining friendships.”
The JuJu Exchange’s debut album Exchange, released on streaming platforms earlier this year, is almost entirely instrumental – a sound that, Reid hopes, will allow audiences to appreciate jazz music in a new way. “I feel like instrumental music is in a very interesting place right now,” Segal says. “Instrumentalists like [the saxophonist] Kamasi Washington are really making more of a name and sound for themselves. People in the popular music landscape are slowly but surely coming on board and I think that’s what we want to be a part of, as an instrumental group.” But, Exchange is not purely instrumental with Jamila Woods contributing beautiful vocals to the song “We Good.”
It’s evident that incorporating friends and family was important for this record, even down to the cover artwork. Created by a friend of the band, Boston-based visual artist Shin Maeng, the illustration features a man in an orange jumpsuit looking up at a rocket – a visual, says Reid, that was inspired by an experience he had while working at a prison in Atlanta. The men Reid worked with wore orange jumpsuits as opposed to blue, indicating that those men had been particularly aggressive or had attempted to escape the prison in the past. “We want the music to be a means for contemplating how to escape a difficult situation for the sake of leading a fuller life,” Reid says.
The album, and album art, will get a second wind this month when the physical edition is hits shelves – marking Segal’s first time releasing music in a non-digital format. “I’m really excited! I think there is something special about having a physical copy of a record and listening to vinyl, especially for this type of music,” he says of the record release. “All the textures and timbre of the sounds of the instruments are more distinct on vinyl. Plus, it’s surprising to turn on your record player and hear something that isn’t traditional jazz.”
But no format beats seeing jazz music live. Luckily, you can soon catch The JuJu Exchange performing in Washington D.C. on September 17th and in New York City on the 19th.