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Irvin Mayfield, Jr. (born December 23, 1977) is a Grammy and Billboard Award-winning artist with 25 albums to his credit. Mayfield is the founding Artistic Director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and currently serves as Jazz Artist in Residence for the Apollo Theater; he served as Artistic Director of Jazz for the Minnesota Orchestra from 2009-2015. In 2009, he entered into a historic partnership with the Royal Sonesta Hotel and created Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse, which brought "Jazz back to Bourbon Street" in the historic French Quarter. Mayfield was nominated to the National Council on the Arts by President George W. Bush and was subsequently appointed to the post by President Barack Obama in 2010; he served through 2014. He also received The Chancellor's Award from the University of New Orleans (the highest ranking award given to a professor) in 2010 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Dillard University in 2011. He and NOJO recently opened the first space built for Jazz in the city that created the music -- The Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market.
Irvin Mayfield, Jr., was born on December 23, 1977, in New Orleans, Louisiana to Joyce Alsanders and the late Irvin Mayfield, Sr. His mother was a school teacher at a school in the Upper Ninth Ward. He is the youngest of five brothers and has three half-brothers and one half-sister from his mother's previous marriage. Growing up, he resided in several sections of New Orleans, including the Seventh Ward. His father, a military man, was once a drill sergeant in the United States Army and also a boxer.
He received his first trumpet when he was in the fourth grade, asking his father for one after seeing the success a friend of his was having with girls by playing the instrument. His father--who had played trumpet in high school--encouraged him to practice and improve as much as he could. The first song he learned to play on trumpet was "Just A Closer Walk With Thee"; he later performed this piece at the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert in 2005 and as part of a major work called ALL THE SAINTS commissioned by Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans as a gift to the city and commemorating the historic parish's bicentennial. The standing room only premier on November 17, 2005 was hailed as the cultural re-opening of the city after Hurricane Katrina, and took place three days before Mayfield learned that his father had died in the flood after Hurricane Katrina. Early in his public school education, Mayfield befriended fellow schoolmate Jason Marsalis. Jason is the son of jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, of the famous Marsalis family.
Mayfield began his musical career during the latter half of the 1980s, playing with the Algiers Brass Band, a traditional New Orleans based street act. His early work with the band was educational for him. In the late 1990s he shared an apartment in New York City with Wynton Marsalis for a brief period. Wynton was already an accomplished recording artist at the time.
As a young man he attended and graduated from NOCCA, acquiring a scholarship to the famous Juilliard School of Music based in New York City. Instead of accepting the scholarship, at the behest of Ellis Marsalis, he decided to attend University of New Orleans instead (where Ellis ran the jazz studies program). Mayfield dropped out during his first semester of school.
In 1998 Mayfield helped found Los Hombres Calientes, a New Orleans jazz group that incorporates Afro-Cuban jazz with rhythm & blues. Original members include Mayfield, Bill Summers, Jason Marsalis, Victor Atkins III, David Pulphus and Yvette-Bostic Summers. Shortly after forming, the band signed with Basin Street Records, a New Orleans-based jazz record label. His recording debut with Los Hombres Calientes was a success, and Mayfield gained national recognition as a result. Though the band has not released a studio album since 2005, they still play an occasional gig.
In the fall of 2002 Mayfield founded the Institute of Jazz Culture at Dillard University, having been an artist-in-residence there since 1995. The mission of the Institute is to combine several educational approaches toward jazz music, offering courses which combine music with politics and culture. Affiliated with the Institute is Dr. Michael White, holder of the Keller Chair of the Humanities at nearby Xavier University (a fellow recording artist for the Basin Street Records label, also). Much of the inspiration for founding the Institute came from Mayfield's time spent living with Marsalis as Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, wondering why New Orleans did not have such a place.
The most important thing I want people to understand is that coming to the concert, buying a ticket, is really participating in the rebuilding process of New Orleans. It's putting a hammer and a nail to a roof.
In December 2002 Mayfield founded the sixteen-piece New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, of which he still serves as artistic director, a jazz ensemble listed as a 501(c)(3) dedicated to education in the performing arts. Proceeds from events related to the group help to fund organizational expenditures, and the ensemble originally worked out of the Institute of Jazz at Dillard University.
Mayfield serves as bandleader, and other members have included Evan Christopher, among others. As of January 2006, the new home of the orchestra has been at Tulane University. The orchestra also has a residency program at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) that includes educational workshops, performances and commissioned musical pieces for debut in Newark, New Jersey. Currently the orchestra is performing New Orleans: Then and Now nationwide, featuring selections from the early years of jazz in New Orleans as well as some penned by Mayfield himself. Mayfield believes strongly that supporting the orchestra helps put the musicians of New Orleans back to work.
In July 2008, Mayfield received a one-year appointment as Artistic Director of Jazz at Orchestra Hall, the jazz series of the Minnesota Orchestra. In this capacity, he will oversee a five-concert jazz series and participate in education programs.
The idea for Mayfield's "Strange Fruit", a 90-minute opus based in 1920s Louisiana, came about on a visit to a photographic exhibit in Atlanta called Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography In America in 2002. The exhibit features photographs from the book of the same name by Hilton Als and James Allen. With him was then president of Dillard University and Michael Lomax, current head of the United Negro College Fund. Lomax encouraged him to develop a way to express this American story through music.
Photographs from this exhibit can be viewed at withoutsanctuary.org. The piece was commissioned by Dillard University, and Mayfield has brought it to a number of Historically black colleges and universities. The music combines jazz elements with negro spirituals and classical music. The show premiered at Dillard in 2003.
The composition follows the lives of three main characters named Charles, Mary Anne and LeRoi. Charles is a 25-year-old white man from a family of bankers, just back from college and ready to start a family. LeRoi is a young black man in his early 20s from a well-to-do black family and son of a preacher, off for the summer and ready for college. Mary Anne is a young white woman courted by Charles, but who falls in love with LeRoi. When Charles discovers what has happened while he was away at college, he beats Mary Anne and reports to the sheriff that LeRoi beat and raped her. The town forms a lynch mob and the governor is set to attend. Feeling some remorse for what he had brought about, Charles confesses to the sheriff that he had beaten Mary Anne and that she never had been raped. The sheriff, unwilling to cancel due to the visit of the governor, allowed the lynching to proceed anyway.
In 2005 he joined Wynton Marsalis and a host of other musicians at the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. New York Times jazz critic Jon Pareles wrote in an article on the event, "The concert's most touching moment was a performance by the New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield. His father, he said, is still among the missing. He played "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," the hymn that becomes both dirge and celebration at New Orleans funerals." Mayfield's father was found dead the next day in an area near Elysian Fields Avenue (a victim of drowning). Three months later DNA evidence officially confirmed the identity of the body.
Jazz festivals Mayfield has performed at:
Newport Jazz Festival,
Atlanta Jazz Festival,
Clifford Brown Jazz Festival,
French Quarter Festival,
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival,
New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations,
On June 26, 2006, in commemoration of Black Music Month, Mayfield held a performance at the White House in Washington, D.C. with fellow musician Ronald Markham.,
The only thing that could make New Orleans more so of a cultural Mecca, is if the constitution was written there. But the music, the constitution of the music, was created... that's where jazz was born. Jazz is the music of America, and really jazz is the manifestation of democracy in the music.
Irvin Mayfield, NPR Morning Edition (September 2, 2005)
Mayfield was made a Cultural Ambassador of the City of New Orleans by state and local governments in September 2003.
One jazz club in New Orleans bears Mayfield's name: Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel.
The Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market:
NOJO's first building project, The Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market, is a performing arts venue and Jazz community center in Central City New Orleans. The Jazz Market features music education experiences for all ages, a New Orleans Jazz Archive, tributes to current and past Jazz Masters, and performances by Irvin Mayfield, NOJO and other renowned musicians.