NEW ORLEANS: THE DRUMMER'S COOKING


New York City:

Irvin Mayfield said that he had discussed the nature of the blues with the Episcopal Bishop of New York yesterday.

The trumpeter, composer, educator, and shaker and mover Mayfield leads several jazz formations in New Orleans, his home town, including Les Hombres Calientes, a band that includes influences from Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and Brazil, as well as New Orleans. Their debut CD won the Billboard magazine Latin Music Award in 2000.

“The church got off on the wrong foot with the blues," he had told the Bishop. Mayfield, 28, whose verbal chops are spectacular, splits his time between the Big Easy and the Big Apple. He was in New York for the International Association for Jazz Education convention. “’Y’all confused the blues the music with the word,’" he went on. “’You want a good example of the blues? Think “America the Beautiful," and now add Ray Charles. You can’t get any more modern than the blues.’"

“People say that Louis Armstrong isn’t modern," he said. “They confuse modern with the latest. Armstrong’s concept of expressing yourself and manipulating your instrument like that - it’s still the way you do it. He was the first one to say that this is truly an artistic voice. But let’s not over-conceptualize this stuff."

Mayfield sits on the board of directors of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, and, according to the biography on his web site, he has also been “unanimously appointed to the post of cultural ambassador for the city of New Orleans by the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, the Governor’s Office of the State of Louisiana, the Louisiana State Representatives, the Louisiana State Senate, the City of New Orleans, the New Orleans City Council, and the New Orleans Aviation Board."

“Aviation Board"? Never mind. “What people don’t understand is that jazz is basically celebratory music," he said. “When somebody dunks a basketball into the hoop, everybody cheers. Not in jazz. What a lot of young people have gotten wrong in the post-Wynton age is that they don’t think they ought to be enjoying playing jazz. Music cannot survive like that. Music is too participatory. In New Orleans, people are going to stop and talk to you, ask you who you are. They say: ‘Look, we got a party tonight, so and so is playing. Come on over. The drummer’s cooking.’ In New Orleans a serious musician is expected to know how to cook. Where the food is, that’s where we are going to be playing."

Along with Delfeayo Marsalis, who produced Mayfield’s self-titled debut CD for Basin Street records in 1999, and local icons such as Harry Connick, Terence Blanchard, Nicolas Payton, and Delfeayo’s brothers Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Mayfield, who lost his father to Katrina, is working to help reconstruct the washed-out psychic as well as physical scene in the post-Katrina New Orleans jazz community.

“Our job is to make recommendations about how to spend the appropriations passed," he said. “We say, ‘Hey, this is what you should give money to.’ And we are using big-vision, not small-vision. A lot of times we don’t think big enough for jazz. We will have an iconic jazz space where jazz is done 24 hours a day; with a record store, radio station, clubs, orchestras. Big-time."

Although the funding is lagging, Mayfield, who also directs the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, is confident: “We will do this in the warehouse district, which is right next to the French Quarter. It’s going to happen. We have already chosen the location."

The January issue of the magazine Jazztimes detected an upside to the Katrina disaster: “Institutional racism, bureaucratic ineptitude, political corruption – these were things that needed to be dredged up and exposed." The magazine said that there were “impassioned performances of everything from John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ to a classic rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘New Orleans’" at the Snug Harbor club in November, and that there has been continuing action in other clubs as well. Sometimes it has even been hard to find parking spaces.

Jazz in New Orleans has long been a center of gravity of its own. Local musicians who did not move to New York did not necessarily find themselves defined as “local." Those who did move, however, were perceived, according to Mayfield, “like we thought we were hot stuff - like we were better, or something."

There was that perception. New Orleans musicians dominated the world of jazz in the 1980s and 1990s, and they could be clannish. “A lot of people would benefit from knowing more about the New Orleans scene," he said. “There’s a lot more going on than tourist parades and Preservation Hall. Music is more than just music in New Orleans - it’s life. We eat a certain way, we talk a certain way, we dance a certain way, and we make a certain kind of music.

“In a way, we are just another poor little Caribbean island. Like Cuba and Jamaica - they got their own cultures too."