Alexis Lombre.

In the ever-evolving world of jazz, Alexis Lombre continues to captivate audiences with a sound that reflects originality, soul, and the diverse range of influences that she grew up listening to as a child. 

Born and raised on the South Side, Lombre began taking classical piano lessons at the age of nine, and then switched to jazz lessons. At thirteen, she became involved in the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s (JIC) training program, which emphasized the importance of learning jazz on the bandstand, and by age fifteen, she had received the JIC Kiewit-Wang Mentorship Award to study privately with legendary pianist Willie Pickens. Throughout high school, Lombre balanced attending classes with practicing her craft. 

Lombre, who today leads the eponymous Alexis Lombre Quartet, has toured throughout the United States, Canada, and internationally with artists such as Jon Batiste, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Marcus Miller, Keyon Harrold, Endea Owens & The Cookout, Dan Wilson, Nicole Mitchell, Jamila Woods, Kassa Overall, Tia Fuller, DJ D Nice and the Miles Davis Electric Band.

Still in her twenties, Lombre has been awarded with the 2022 New Music: Next Jazz Legacy Award and the 2023 Luminarts Award. 

South Side Weekly caught up with Lombre to discuss her musical journey, the inspiration behind her music, and upcoming projects. Stay tuned with Lombre’s jazz journey by following her on IG @alexislombre, X @aglombre, and at, where you can catch her latest performances and receive updates on new releases.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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You recently returned to Chicago to perform at the Harris Theater with your Alexis Lombre Quartet. What did that mean to you?

Well, Harris Theater, that’s my first large, ticketed venue. I think Harris Theater has like 1,500 seats. And to be headlining it under my own name, with my own band, in my hometown, was huge for me. It just meant so much to me because the Harris Theater put me up on these banners downtown and in Grant Park and, I don’t know, I just felt really seen and celebrated by my city. So, yeah, I feel very supported and encouraged.

You’re originally from Chicago, right? And, grew up on the South Side?

Yes, ma’am. I grew up in the Chatham neighborhood. The very first place I lived was in Englewood and then I lived in Hyde Park. And then I spent the most of my years in Chatham, through middle school and high school.

What was it like growing up on the South Side of Chicago?

You know, it’s funny, I don’t have a framework to compare it to anywhere else. I mean, growing up on the South Side… I guess now that I’ve traveled, I realize I’ve taken for granted the good food that’s around, and food was a little more affordable back then… a lot more affordable. I stayed in the house and practiced. There was a lot of gang activity, so I had to lay low and go to school, come home, play the piano. Growing up was interesting. I think there’s a different kind of toughness when you’re actually from the South Side inner city. And the time where I came up in was an interesting time, but also there’s a lot of programs in the city that kept me busy like Gallery 37 and Ravinia and Merit School of Music and the Jazz Institute. I know I’m forgetting somebody, but that kept me busy with plenty of extracurricular activities. So there was tons of stuff for a young musician to do.

Are you an only child?

I have an older sister. She’s also an artist. She’s a dancer and a poet by the name Sunshine Lombre. She’s definitely a brilliant mind, and very deep spiritually as well.

I understand that you attended Whitney M. Young Magnet School. So, you’re a Dolphin, like me. What was it like attending Whitney Young and what influence did your attendance there have on your interest in music, particularly jazz?

What was interesting was I was just too young to go to Whitney Young at the same time that Vic Mensa was there and all these other people who were in selective enrollment schools. Chance [the Rapper] went to Jones and there’s this whole renaissance of young artists who were killing it and I was just too young, I just missed them. But I remember looking up to them and being like, “Oh, they go to Whitney Young. I gotta go to Whitney Young.” It was between ChiArts and Whitney Young, and I ended up going to Whitney Young because seeing Vic and that whole scene of young musicians coming out of Whitney Young…and also you could get out of school early. ChiArts doesn’t get out until 5 p.m. And at Whitney Young, there are so many things for you to get into at a high level. So there were lots of opportunities to do competitions and stuff. Whitney Young was supportive, especially in my last couple of years in high school. I was gigging a lot on the scene, playing in pit orchestras and doing these things, and they had this senior experience program where it was like I could do my musicianship as an apprenticeship, and they were just very supportive letting me do what I wanted to do.

Growing up, what kind of music was played in your household and who was playing it? 

It was a lot of jazz, and the jazz in my household came from my grandmother, Shirley May Lombre. She loved Dinah Washington. I grew up on a lot of Dinah Washington, I grew up on a lot of Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott. Those were my sounds coming up. Lots of Ray Charles, Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson… So that’s the bag that I came up in. You know, real soulful.

As a young woman on the jazz music scene, have there been any obstacles you’ve experienced that may have been gender-specific? And how did you deal with them? 

I could answer that question in a whole lot of ways…I think sometimes that the way that I am doesn’t translate very well as a woman. I feel like perhaps if I were male, my natural sense of exuberance…I definitely felt like growing up there was like this thing of like “Oh, God, she’s exuberant, she has this thing about her, we gotta watch her, we gotta treat her like she’s normal, we gotta calm her down because her thing is too much.” And I do feel like if I was male, they would have let that fly more. Whereas, with women we’re more like, “Sit back, be receptive,” whereas my natural personality is just aggressive and loud and exuberant. So some of my issues came from that. I mean, there’s other issues about, you know, power dynamics…but as I know who I am and know my own inner power, I realize that is something that intimidates men. And they project on me like I have a problem, when it’s really them. So realizing that helps me get through a lot of the issues, but it’s an ongoing thing. And now I’m starting to find more of my people and feel better. 

You’re still in your twenties and have already accomplished so much. But when you’re not Alexis Lombre the vocalist, composer, and pianist, are you engaged in other things besides music?

This is something that I’ve been working on, because I’ve just been so [focused on] work. And you don’t have a work-life balance when you love what you do, because if I play a gig, then I wanna go home and then play some more, because I love music. But then sometimes it’s like “Okay.” So I’m actually learning how to have hobbies and have leisure time. I’ve started crocheting. It keeps my hands busy. I like to learn languages for fun. I think that’s fun. I haven’t done that in a while. But I mean, that’s really something. You gotta come back to me on that one because that’s something I struggle with.

Your debut album, South Side Sounds, released in 2017, was described as a “soulful, straight-ahead reflection of your upbringing on Chicago’s South Side” by the Museum of Contemporary Art. It features a track called, “I’m Tired,” which has a super smooth melody that seems to take the listener on a journey of unspoken heartache or unresolved emotion. Was there a particular experience living on the South Side that motivated you to write it?

I wrote all the songs while I was in high school, and I wrote “I’m Tired” because I really was tired. I know, it’s simple. I was in high school doing these AP courses and doing all these classes and then [being a] full-time professional musician: playing the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival—back in the day when Room 43 was still open. I think Room 43 was a critical place on the South Side for my development, I would say. Yeah, the first time I felt the Holy Spirit was at Room 43, in a jazz club. I felt it come through me while I was playing. That was my first time. So it was like most of my time in high school was going to high school all day, doing these extracurricular music programs, playing gigs for those, and then playing at Room 43, playing at Annie’s, playing at Jazz Showcase, doing all these things. And I just remember feeling tired because all I did was work.

Are there plans for a South Side Sounds follow-up? Can you tell us about what you’re currently working on?

I was hoping you would ask because I got something to tell you! And this is good timing. So I have a single coming out called “Boundaries,” and I got a lot to say about this. I have this kinda different sound that I’m in right now, which is not so much instrumental straight ahead; it’s kind of a genreless kinda mix of stuff. I’m in the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) right now. So I’m all free, I’m doing what I wanna do. That’s kinda where I’m at right now. So it’s mixed with R&B, soul…but I’m always gonna be a jazz baby. That’s just how I came up. Some Chicago musicians are like church kids. I’m like a jazz kid, I didn’t really grow up in church, even though I love the Lord—but I grew up in jazz clubs. Jazz to me is as much as hymnals are to most musicians. However, yeah, this new one, “Boundaries,” is more eclectic. It’s about the importance of personal space and boundaries and, especially as a woman, just respecting my body in this space. My intent with this record: I wanna brainwash the masses to understand how important boundaries are. So that there will never be a case of sexual abuse ever again…That’s my intent. I just want to eradicate it with the power of frequency. That’s what I want to do.

When do you anticipate “Boundaries” will be out?

“Boundaries” is scheduled to drop soon and it will be exclusively on Apple Music for their Juneteenth campaign. I’ll be included on a playlist full of many other artists, such as Endea Owens, Kamasi Washington, J. Hoard. It’ll be a promotion that lasts for a few months and then it will be everywhere later. This is just a launch specifically on Apple Music.

Any future projects in Chicago?

I’m in Chicago on August 27 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. That’s under my own name. That’s my own project. And then there’s this other show I think the South Side is gonna like at the Little Black Pearl. It’s gonna be with Keyon Harrold, Lizz Wright, Ledisi, and Terri Lyne Carrington—right on 47th, you know what I’m saying? That’s June 14.

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Dierdre Robinson is a writer and accounting manager in Chicago. She has a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. She last wrote about the South Side Home Movie Project.

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1 Comment

  1. Great interview, so informative! Glad to know how things are going with Lex Lombre. I congratulate her on her current endeavors.

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