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The Juju Exchange Brings Their Sonic Rx To Merit Music’s Annual Benefit

Written by on October 30, 2023

Chicago trio The Juju Exchange are here to fix your ailments with their JazzRx — layered contemporary improvisational music, rooted in jazz tradition. They’re set to bring their signature sound to the stage for Merit Music School’s annual benefit concert on Nov. 1.

In an interview on Vocalo Radio, the trio sat down with host Nudia Hernandez to share their journey from being alumni of the Merit School of Music to their rise in the Chicago music scene.

Long before they formed The Juju Exchange, Nico Segal, Julian Davis Reid and Nova Zaii found themselves playing in Whitney Young High School’s jazz band. Each of their individual musical histories are deeply intertwined, from performing at family birthday parties to attending Merit School of Music to collaborating with artists like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. Still, the three didn’t come together as an official trio until years after they met; Segal played trumpet at Reid’s wedding, and the idea to form a group clicked into place.

“I sort of just got inspired by performing … at Julian’s, and basically was like, ‘Hey, we could do this,’” Segal recalled. “‘We could do more of this, and it would be fun, and I would like doing that. And we should!’ And we did!”


Julian Davis Reid, one-third of The Juju Exchange, discusses his connection to Merit School of Music ahead of his trio’s performance for the school’s fundraiser to support music education. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

The trio released their first official project as The Juju Exchange, titled Exchange, in 2017, and have stuck together collaborating and performing ever since. Their signature “exploratory and nuanced improvisational music,” as described on their bandcamp, combines both classical and modern sounds — mostly instrumental, and always cemented in jazz.

Their latest project JazzRx, released this March, can be described as a collection of sonic medicine. In an effort to evoke jubilation, the collective conducted a survey of people’s emotions and tailored the album to help alleviate their problems. The 28-track album is a powerful collection of sounds, with standout tracks including “Soothed,” “Always Here” — featuring vocalist Akenya — and “Fecundity.” Each composition envelops listeners into its own world (both with and without words) as the album pushes forward, punctuated several times by spoken requests to “prescribe some jazz.”

Nova Zaii and Nico Segal jamming out to their music before their conversation with Vocalo’s Nudia Hernandez. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

“I do think The Juju Exchange in general is a project that I can really stand on and really believe in,” Segal remarked. “I believe so much in my bros, and in their playing, and in our pushing of each other and stretching musically.”

On Nov. 1, The Juju Exchange is set to return to their alma mater, the Merit School of Music, to perform at the school’s fifth annual benefit concert, Play On. Merit is known for its dedication to providing equal access to music education, and has served Chicago’s community of young musicians for more than 40 years.

(From left to right) Nova Zaii, Nico Segal, Nudia Hernandez and Julian Davis Reid outside of the Vocalo studio. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

“It was amazing for us to have time to deepen and widen our musical networks here in the city [while attending Merit],” Reid reflected. “Both with teachers who are coming from all over and were exposing us to all kinds of music, but then also to students coming from all over.”

As an equity-based non-profit, Merit is dedicated to its mission of serving students while embracing socioeconomic diversity, allocating over half of its budget to student support. Their financial commitment eliminates barriers preventing access to music education, ensuring that all students, regardless of their backgrounds, can pursue their musical passions.

The Juju Exchange will be performing alongside fellow alumni King Melik and the Merit School of Music’s Honors Jazz Combo for their fifth annual Play On benefit concert. The performance will be held at City Winery Chicago on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 7:00 p.m. More information is available at

Follow The Juju Exchange on Instagram.

Interview and audio production by Nudia Hernandez

Written introduction by Blake Hall and Morgan Ciocca

In-studio photography by Morgan Ciocca

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