Raised in the city that created "go-go" music, Al Strong carries an affinity for dance music that is apparent in his sound.
Long before Al Strong chose the trumpet, his grandparents laid the musical foundation in their Washington, DC household. An only child raised by his grandparents, music became an integral part of his upbringing. Strong's earliest memories date back to his grandmother's weekly in-home church services, where she would play gospel hymns on the organ. His grandfather took a more secular approach to music listening, introducing him to the likes of Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, and Donald Byrd during car rides, specifically longer rides that involved fishing trips. Hearing these different genres, Strong took a keen interest in understanding how instruments could generate a particular sound. In turn, he spent much of his childhood trying to replicate the music he heard, reproducing the sounds with whatever household items he could get his hands on. Growing up in DC only further supplemented Strong's growing musical curiosity; the influences of Caribbean, go-go, orchestral, and jazz early on allowed him to develop a mature affinity and respect for a variety of music disciplines.
After informally experimenting with both the organ and the drums, Strong began to more formally nourish his musical inclinations through participation in gifted and talented programs that offered symphonic band classes to junior high school students. Here, he was introduced to the violin and a range of other instruments. Although not drawn to the violin as his main instrument, Strong used this opportunity to visualize the overarching musical connections between all instruments. Next, he auditioned for and was accepted into the internationally lauded, Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. Strong initially took one-on-one trumpet lessons from Michael Hackett, who taught him basic tone production. However, his exposure to jazz instruction and listening would primarily come from his peers and Jazz Program Director, Davey Yarborough. It was with Yarborough that Strong was first able to showcase his talents overseas, performing with the school's esteemed jazz band.
Achieving higher education was always one of Strong's dreams, but financial support at home posed a challenge. Fortunately, in addition to his musical talents, he had a solid academic background and the grades to prove it. On an international trip with the Duke Ellington School, Strong was recruited by the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) jazz ensemble, who also happened to be touring Europe at the time. Dr. Ira Wiggins, Director of Jazz Studies at NCCU presented him the opportunity of a lifetime, a full-tuition scholarship to study jazz at the University, in Durham. Strong continued to advance his education by attending Northern Illinois University to study with renowned saxophonist and professor Ron Carter. Receiving instruction in both classical trumpet and jazz trumpet playing, Strong earned a master of Jazz Performance/Pedagogy.
In the fall of 2011, Strong teamed with statistician, Cicely Mitchell to create a non-profit, jazz presenting organization titled, the Art of Cool Project. The non-profit's mission is to expand the audience for jazz, initially through presentations in non-traditional spaces. Key project initiatives include an annual music festival located in Durham and jazz summer camps for at-risk youth (stArt of Cool). Recently, the Huffington Post coined the Art of Cool Music Festival as "the Coachella of Jazz."
After years of working both in front of the action and behind the scenes, Strong remains a central part of the Raleigh-Durham jazz presence. Many of his supporters implored him to record his music, thereby making it available to themselves and the larger music community. Supporters saw in him an ability to synthesize the sound homegrown from the Raleigh-Durham area and merge it with his own life experiences. In January 2016, Strong introduced his debut album, LoveStrong Vol. 1. Since its release, his music has garnered national and international attention, receiving critical acclaim in the US, Italy, and Senegal.
When not performing in the Raleigh-Durham area, Strong balances his non-profit responsibilities, adjunct trumpet professorship in the jazz studies program at his alma mater, NCCU with traveling and performing. He is regularly booked in jazz scenes up and down the East coast, frequenting cities such as New York, DC, and Atlanta. He has headlined his own shows at the BlueNote Jazz Festival, the Winter Jazz Fest, Blues Alley, and a host of other clubs. At the heart of Strong's work ethic is dedication to building a brand based on good, honest music that connects with and speaks to the listener's hearts.
Strong has had the pleasure of performing for artists such as Brandford Marsalis, Aretha Franklin, Clay Aiken, and Linda Eder. He has also lent his trumpet playing to an array of talent including The Foreign Exchange, Yazarah, Soul Understated featuring Mavis 'Swan' Poole, and Big Daddy Kane, along with a number of others.