Art of Cool jazz camps brings decades of tradition to the next generation | Music

Art of Cool jazz camps brings decades of tradition to the next generation


After inaugurating a heralded Durham jazz-plus festival in April, the nonprofit Art of Cool Project has launched a summer jazz camp in cooperation with Global Scholars Academy (GSA), a Durham charter school. The 6-day program, which started on Monday, will give 33 kids between third and seventh grade an introduction to jazz and the blues, and they’ll showcase their talents in a Saturday, June 28, performance that’s open to the public. 

They’ll be under the guidance of trumpeter Al Strong, an associate professor at Saint Augustine’s University and adjunct professor at North Carolina Central University’ acclaimed Jazz Studies program. As Art of Cool’s vice president, Strong wanted to create something similar in the Triangle to the cultural initiatives undertaken in the schools where he grew up in Washington, D.C.

“Those programs in D.C. helped keep me out of a lot of trouble,” Strong says. “It changed my thought process and what I wanted to do.”

The program includes guest speakers and performances, with Q&A sessions afterward. There will be group and one-on-one instruction on instruments and basic theory, but there will be other ways to engage the material, too.

“We’ll come up with games to help them really absorb and internalize it, so they’re not thinking about it. It just becomes innate,” Strong says. “There’s also a blues workshop on how to write blues. We’ll break them into groups and have them write their own blues lyrics. That will be part of the performance over the last day.”

The kids at GSA were treated to a workshop and performance several weeks ago to identify those who wanted to participate. They checked out different instruments and picked their own, which Strong then rented or borrowed. The final day’s performances will include a bucket band, which is very much like it sounds: All the kids will pick different size buckets, pans and tubs and create their own drum circle.

"I feel like that’s a huge part of the how I developed strong rhythm as a child without knowing it: I was jamming out with friends on the buckets,” the jovial Strong admits. “We didn’t need a drum set or instruction.”

For Strong, it’s not so much about inspiring the next Thelonious Monk as much as it's about just planting the seed.

“I can’t teach them to be Charlie Parker in a week. It's about having a greater understanding of melody, how songs work how," he explains. “When you’re exposed to music on this level, even if you don’t become a professional or performer of some sort, we’re still working on build in future audiences for the music."

The final performance happens Saturday, June 28, at noon in the GSA gym.

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