Al Strong has a very busy weekend ahead of him.
Friday night, the D.C.-born, Durham-based trumpeter and his jazz ensemble will perform with Raleigh supergroup/cover band The Shakedown as part of a Mardi Gras-themed party at Lincoln Theatre. He’ll also take the stage Saturday night at C. Grace in Raleigh and do a special Valentine’s Day show Sunday at Sharp Nine Gallery in Durham.
Strong is a busy man in general. At the time of this interview, he was driving home after a day of running here and there. But he’s primarily focusing on a couple of things: 1) promoting his debut album, “LoveStrong, Vol. 1,” which came out last month, and 2) co-organizing this year’s Art of Cool Festival, which will take place all over downtown Durham in May.
Last week, nonprofit organization the Art of Cool Project (which Strong co-founded with business partner/ex-bae Cicely Mitchell) announced more artists appearing at the third annual three-day fest. Strong is looking forward to taking on his usual responsibilities before and during the fest, especially since he took a year and a half off from Art of Cool, concentrating more on getting “Love” out on the streets.
“We have such a great team (at Art of Cool) now that, you know, that made it easier to do that and feel comfortable about the planning and the logistics of the festival,” says Strong, 35. “It was my hope that I would basically become available again right around this time.”
He was also dealing with personal issues, such as the death of his grandmother, whom he lost in January 2015. “I had been dealing with a lot of things involving her estate and just handling her affairs, and, now, a lot of that stuff is out of the way, too.” It was bad enough Strong had been facing another painful obstacle: Crohn’s Disease, which he was diagnosed with a few years back. “There were periods of time, like in the past three years, where the disease had kind of gotten really debilitating for me,” he says, with physical flare-ups that would take a day to a week to subside. “After a while, because the body is an amazing thing, a lot of the stuff becomes normal.”
These days, he says his body is functioning well enough, pointing out he hasn’t been on meds for two years. “Of course, treatment kind of got me back on the right path, so I could go ahead and complete the album and kind of share more of my time with the Art of Cool Project.”
With its cool blue cover reminiscent of classic jazz albums designed by Reid Miles to the riffalicious, quintessentially jazzy tunes found on the album, “Love” could practically be seen as Strong telling Blue Note or Verve to hurry up and sign a brotha.
“Definitely, it would be nice to get a look from a prestigious label such as Blue Note,” he admits. “Any project is, more or less, an audio calling card of sorts for artists. And the album artwork, myself and (photographer/graphic designer) Chris Charles shared a mutual vision about the look of the album having a sort of timeless appearance.”
But Strong, who calls the album “a product of his environment,” says he’s not just showcasing himself on “Love.” He’s also shining a light on the musicians, players and performers on the album – people he has collaborated with and even taught as an adjunct professor at N.C. Central University. “Not only am I here, but there are a number of North Carolina musicians – musicians from the Triangle area here who have a lot to add to the greater music scene,” he says.
So even when he’s ripping and running all over the place, playing from one gig to the next and making sure his music is heard, Al Strong always remembers to remind people he’s not the only Triangle artist doing that.
Who: The Shakedown, with Al Strong and Friends
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh
Cost: $12 ($25 VIP balcony)
Details: 919-821-4111 or lincolntheatre.com