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Irvin Mayfield: Hombre of Hot Music and Vital Education

R.J. DeLuke By

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Jazz is the most democratic music. It's the manifestation of democracy into music. —Irvin Mayfield
For a young trumpet player, New Orleans native son Irvin Mayfield is a busy man, yet in a particularly interesting way. He performs in a variety of groups, which isn't out of the ordinary for a working musician these days. But he also serves—with great pleasure, mind you—as a cultural ambassador, not only for his city, but for jazz music.

Mayfield, 27, believes in the art form he learned in the Big Easy, and he isn't afraid to put his time and effort where his mouth is.

"We allow so much bullshit to go on" in the music industry and the music scene, he says, sounding not unlike one of his mentors, fellow New Orleans trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Musicians, he adds, need to "stand together" and work to change the perception of jazz and the perpetuation of good music, versus much of what passes for "music" today on the radio, on TV and in stores.

Mayfield's commitment to music is documented in his recordings with Los Hombres Calientes, which he co-leads with Bill Summers, and with his own groups. Last year, he recorded Los Hombres Calientes, Vol. 4: Vodou Dance with Summers and company, as well as Half Past Autumn Suite with Gordon Parks, a pianist whose other contribution to art—photography—inspired the Mayfield-penned songs on the disk. A DVD, Los Hombres Calientes—Live came out this year and shows a steaming performance at the New Orleans House of Blues in March of 2003. The next Los Hombres CD, due out in January, titled Carnival will be "the most adventurous recording we've ever done.... A lot of artists say that, but this album really is—by light years—our best" with better band chemistry and deep investigation into the authenticity of the Afro-Latin roots of music, he says.

But he is also founder of the Institute of Jazz Culture at Dillard University and founder of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a non-profit institution that performs and educates. He calls the 16-piece orchestra "the most significant jazz institution in the south right now" and dedicates most of his time to its activities.

Last year, Mayfield was named cultural ambassador for New Orleans by the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the governor's office of Louisiana, the Louisiana State Representatives, the Louisiana State Senate, the New Orleans City Council and the New Orleans Aviation Board. So his plate is full. And that's how he likes it. "I've never taken a vacation, just out of gratitude. I'm gracious to have the opportunity to be out here," he says. "To be from a city with such richness as New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, and to be the spokesman for that culture is a great thing."

"I get to go to a lot of places representing arts and culture," he says, contending that his presentation "shows the arts as a creative industry in Louisiana... part of the whole industrial development package." These presentations are not for musicians, but in front of CEOs, economic development officials, politicians and the like, and Mayfield presents the arts "as an economic driver."

"If you look at where businesses want to locate," he continues, "the arts is the number 1 economic driver. Over everything. Sports and everything. I take it seriously and I love it. There is finally a chance for musicians to speak up on the subject." He goes further: "Through the arts comes education and not the other way around. Every jazz performance, at its highest level, does that."

"We're in a cultural crisis right now, which is good," says Mayfield. "You need some shit sometimes to stir things up."

Mayfield is not from a musical family, but attributes his musicality to his home city. Even though the 1980s was not a fertile period in the nation for jazz music, and it was (and still is) hard to find on the radio dial or on TV, Mayfield said things in New Orleans were different. For example, "being the drum major in the band is more important than being captain of the football team. It carries more weight."

"I got to experience the rich culture of the city. (Music) is really ingrained in the culture and everybody gets a chance to explore it," he says. At about the age of 14, he started to get serious about music. "In New Orleans that's old, but in other places it's young." Being involved in school bands took him around the world on tours. He was 14 when he first went to Germany and has been there 15 times since.

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