Two Baltimore natives are continuing jazz music’s long history in New Orleans, its birthplace.
For five and six years, respectively, David Diongue and Sterlin Brown, both 19, have been making the trek down to New Orleans to spend the summers with Positive Vibrations Foundation. PVF seeks to improve the community through music and is host to several day camps.
Full scholarships have brought both David and Sterlin to New Orleans in past summers as students; this year, they’re attending as teaching assistants with the Lusher Jazz Intensive and Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, both sponsored by the non-profit music organization.
PVF co-founder and director Ben Faulks started the foundation in 2009 with aid from a private philanthropist; its first project was renovating the band room in Lusher School. Now the foundation funds youth programs, music festivals, and the musicians who teach weekly master classes. Sixteen students, from across the United States as well as foreign countries, are awarded annual scholarships to spend the summer learning about music from New Orleans musicians.
Every week, the camp brings in a new set of musicians to teach a master course, which recently included David and Sterlin, on tenor and alto sax. After the master class, students at the camp plan a performance of the type of music they have just learned.
Both Sterlin and David have completed their freshman year in college — Sterlin at John Hopkins University in Maryland and David at Oberlin College in Ohio. Studying music in a university setting is far different from playing with other artists in real-life situations, the pair agree. The two are now old enough to enter and play in clubs during their summer in New Orleans. Being interns for the music camps has granted them exponentially more freedom, they say, both in their personal lives as well as in their music.
David and Sterlin explain that playing in New Orleans leads to a heightened sense of the music, due to the deep roots of jazz in the city. Every gig they play taps into something that neither had experienced before.
As for the future, Sterlin hopes to land a producer gig somewhere in Nashville. David predicts a more free-spirited approach — choosing a city at random and trying to be a musician there; however, his second major — computer science — offers a reliable backup plan.
The two say that a city tour of New Orleans, and the experience of playing with real musicians in an improvisational environment, is more than one can ever learn from the classroom.
You can catch David and Sterlin performing on July 3 at Essence Music Festival.