One year after Katrina, the jazz septet Lucky 7s get lucky again.
One year ago this week, Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop was playing the Chicago Jazz Fest in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. “I think it was too soon for anyone to feel anything other than shock,” Bishop says.
But for trombonist Jeff Albert down in New Orleans, Katrina brought more than shock—it brought the destruction of the grassroots scene he and other musicians had been building in his native city. “What was really frustrating was we all felt like we were on the verge of really coming together in the scene,” Albert says. “And [Katrina] just blew the whole thing up: Everybody was gone and everything was closed.”
Longtime colleagues Bishop and Albert found higher ground by forming a group of musicians—four from Chicago and three from New Orleans—called the Lucky 7s. Their first series of shows in late February of this year (during Mardi Gras, incidentally) didn’t go unnoticed. Jazz Fest committee members decided to fly Albert—the only musician in the band who doesn’t currently live in Chicago—in from the Crescent City to play the New Orleans stage at Jazz Fest on Sunday 3, and then two subsequent shows at local clubs.
Avant-garde jazz bands rarely tour through New Orleans—mostly because of its distance from other jazz-friendly cities—but Bishop’s trio, Vandermark 5, did in 2002. Albert was familiar with their work. “The whole Chicago, North Side free-jazz scene had been very influential on me in a lot of ways,” Albert says. “And hearing Jeb’s trio was really one of those shake-me-up moments.” After that, the two stayed in touch through online jazz message boards.
Weeks after the storm passed, Albert realized few musicians were returning and his desire to play was only increasing. He reached out to Bishop to see if there were any Chicago opportunities, and Bishop obliged. “Besides needing the [financial] work, there was just the spiritual and emotional aspect of needing to play,” Albert says. In addition, Bishop suggested they collaborate while Albert was in town and the Lucky 7s were born. Their CD, Farragut, recorded live at the Hungry Brain during that Mardi Gras collaboration in Chicago, is more triumph than tragedy. Even Bishop’s “Belgrade,” inspired by a 2004 trip to the grim city, suddenly had a different resonance. “Working after a catastrophe, that’s the theme of the piece,” Bishop says. “The fact that we were organizing the music in the wake of all this is really important.”
And serendipity has followed them: Drummer Quin Kirchner, whose New Orleans house flooded, was originally from Chicago and returned here; and bassist Matthew Golombisky, who had been attending graduate school for music composition for four years in New Orleans, was able to transfer his remaining semester of course work to Northwestern University’s prestigious music school, where he graduated this past May. Both now call Chicago home.
Albert has no plans to leave New Orleans, despite its ghost-town feel. “You can go from a totally normal-looking street—with people and cars parked—and then two blocks over, nobody’s there.” Which means touring has become a luxury instead of a drag. “You have to get out of town regularly,” Albert says. “If you stay in New Orleans too long, it wears on you in a funny way.”
Lucky 7s play the Chicago Jazz Festival Sunday 3, Velvet Lounge Tuesday 5 and Elastic Wednesday 6.