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Interviews

Irvin Mayfield: Hombre of Hot Music and Vital Education

By Published: August 30, 2004
"When you tell someone around the world you're from New Orleans, they expect you to know jazz," Mayfield says. Much of that knowledge came not only from formal music education in school, but from other, older, musicians on the city scene. He also listened to the great lineage of trumpet greats starting with Louis Armstrong and going through Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Booker Little and on. Current trumpeters like Wynton Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard and Nicolas Payton also had an influence, as did legends like Charles Mingus and Phineas Newborn, and people on today's scene, like Brad Mehldau.

Learning from elders, he feels, is something that's lacking today to a large extent.

"The level of musicianship is low generally and artistically. The musicians don't practice. Or they're interested in playing bullshit. Younger musicians are not humble. They refuse to humble themselves to go to the older musicians and get what they need," he contends. Jazz "is lineage-oriented and you have to respect what came before... Nobody wants to be mentored. In New Orleans, we have it. That's the only way you're going to get this stuff."

Among "this stuff" is the Afro-Latin music that Los Hombres investigates. Formed in 1999, the idea was to investigate different African influences as they extended through the music of the Caribbean, Brazil and Cuba, and spawned the development of styles like samba and salsa, he says. Living in New York City with Marsalis as a young man, Mayfield met people like Chucho Valdes. He was impressed how Marsalis and Valdes, among others, played in the same genre—jazz—yet brought in diverse elements. Mayfield thought the music of Cuba and Brazil could be melded with New Orleans; the characteristics of Terrence Blanchard and Ivan Lins could be incorporated into the idiom in interesting ways. It was not revolutionary in conception, as Latin and jazz have been mated for decades. But there was room for more exploration and it made Mayfield curious.

"Jazz allows us—gives us—the platform to bring these other musics into play. Jazz is the most democratic music. It's the manifestation of democracy into music."

Mayfield met Summers and began discussing such things with the percussionist. In time, they got together at Summers' house and began a dialog that became the collaboration, at first with musicians including drummers Jason Marsalis and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. The personnel has changed somewhat over the years. Horns are added, as well as percussionists and even, as evidenced at the beginning of the live DVD, dancers. The new recording will include Jamal Baptiste, who Mayfield calls "one of the most exciting drummers to come up in a long time."

The Los Hombres CDs and DVD explore the exotic rhythms with Mayfield's trumpet providing both percussive flavor and melodic exploration. All nature of Latin music seems to be included, which is by design and through the deliberate research and experience of Mayfield and Summers. It exposes the listener to a broad cultural landscape that includes New Orleans, the latter especially through the sound of Mayfield's trumpet.

The DVD is a great example of the band in performance. The exotic "Vodou Hoodoo Babalu" sets the stage with thick rhythms that set costumed dancers into action. Band members sing and chant throughout, as well as play their asses off. Mayfield deftly negotiates the rhythms and harmonies with a strong tone and effective phrasing. On "Night in Tunisia" it's apparent he isn't a high note specialist, that role (which was a key part of composer Dizzy Gillespie's trademark rendition of the tune) goes to Leon Brown. But dig the circular breathing tour-de-force trumpet attack by Mayfield toward the end of the number. (Harder to do on trumpet than sax). In total, it's an outstanding show and an educational travelogue through Afro-Latin land.

In his "spare" time, Mayfield also composes. "It never feels like you're doing it when you're doing," he says of writing. But when it's done, there is satisfaction. "You put a vision out there and get other people to be part of making your vision a reality" via the performance.

"You can't ask for more," Mayfield says of all his current projects. Perhaps just as well. He may not have time for it.

Visit Irvin Mayfield on the web at www.irvinmayfield.com .

Photo Credit

Skip Bolen


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