As a life-long native of New Orleans and a proud member of the New Orleans jazz community, Irvin Mayfield is an extraordinarily accomplished individual as well as a dedicated preservationist and seriously skilled practitioner of traditional New Orleans Jazz. In addition to a staggering list of civic and community involvements, he is the co-founder of the Afro-Cuban jazz group Los Hombres Calientes, has released ten albums since 1998, and juggles roles as Cultural Ambassador and founding director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, (where he is also a professor).
In 2002, he founded and became Artistic Director of The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) and holds positions both at the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and the Champions Group of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Further, he is artist in residence at Christ Church Cathedral and, he is the Artistic Director of Jazz for the Minnesota Orchestra. Born and raised in New Orleans, Irvin began playing the trumpet in the 4th grade when he was influenced by a friend who played the instrument who, In Irvin’s words, “got good grades and had lots of girlfriends.” In New Orleans, they say trumpet players do not necessarily decide which instrument they play.
The instrument chooses them. And, once you are chosen to play the trumpet, you become part of a legacy of trumpeters that include Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and others. Without a doubt, Irvin Mayfield is a card carrying member of that great society of musicians.
Irvin acknowledges that Jazz experienced a slight slump in popularity over the last decade, but is enjoying an undeniable resurgence as of late. No doubt that lift in popularity has a lot to do with his efforts and the work of his musical contemporaries throughout the country. As Irvin points out, “All art ebbs and flows in popularity; I think Jazz is just another example of that like many other things. Some folks get into it at certain points in time, some don’t. But when you think about it, Louis Armstrong was the world’s very first pop star back in the late 20s, then other things happened, Frank Sinatra came along later and made jazz popular too.”
Through the decades, in New Orleans jazz has remained a constant part of the fabric of everyday life. You hear it in weddings, funerals, house parties and birthdays. It’s played in church, barrooms and bordellos, street corners, and in elegant clubs like Irvin’s. Irvin continues, “When you come to New Orleans, you get to be different. In fact, our motto is “You’re different here.” When you are in this town, you let go of your “mundaneness,” and your “everydayness” and say OK, let’s grab a hand grenade (which is a cocktail made of every kind of liquor available) and wake up in a poncho somewhere, or go in a complete opposite direction to visit one of the most beautiful cathedrals anywhere, St Louis Cathedral, or dine in one of the best restaurants in the world, see and experience some of the finest architecture on earth, and no matter where you go or whatever you do, you will hear this amazing music that’s been around for over 100 years called jazz.”
When asked about the culture that defines New Orleans, Irvin replies, “New Orleans is a unique city where a lot of cultures came together beautifully and it’s one of the few places where culture still exists in its original form. When you think about the places where you can get a true American Experience, there are some places you have to go, and New Orleans is definitely one of them. You’ll see what we call “Democracy in Different Forms. We have “herd democracy” which is jazz where you play as an individual and in groups at the same time, “Taste it” democracy with our Gumbo. (No two pots of gumbo are ever made the same) And, we also have a democracy of dance, called “second line” where we dance at funerals to celebrate life.” Once again, that’s a paradox that makes perfect sense here.
“Here funerals are celebrated by live music for people who deserve it, you can’t just go hire a live band for your 2nd line funeral procession, that honor has to be given to you. Sometimes the honor of live music comes to musicians, sometimes to someone who was well known in their neighborhood and sometimes it’s for someone who just raised hell their whole life, but people come together and celebrate their lives. It’s about rebirth in New Orleans and that’s why we bounce back the way we do. We learned that again with Katrina.”
He goes on to say, “New Orleans is the type of place where it’s not just the holy trinity of food, music and architecture; that make it special. It’s really the people. New Orleans people have this kind of built-in hospitality where we know the best food you’re going to get is at someone’s house and the best type of conversation is going to be a personal one.” In New Orleans, people can be themselves, individually is allowed and most importantly, appreciated. “In any other city, to be a drum major, might be considered less than great, but in New Orleans, the drum major is the big man on campus equal to the captain of the football team in other cities. Music is the only art form in the same space as emotion, and we have a lot of emotion in New Orleans.”
When asked what he’s most proud of at this point in his illustrious career, he shares that being in a town where people appreciate what
he does and to be considered an ambassador for the town is the highest honor that he can imagine. Spoken like a true New Orleanian.
You can see the interview with Irvin, LIVE at HealthBeautyLife.com.
Visit him on Twitter: @IrvinMayfieldJr
When in town, be sure to stop by the club.
Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans
300 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
504.586.0300 to contact the hotel
By: Greg Root
Photos: Allen Carrasco