Minn. Orch's jazz director still calls New Orleans homeby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minneapolis revelers looking to add some New Orleans spice to an otherwise chilly New Years Eve will likely head to the Dakota jazz club tonight, where trumpeter Irvin Mayfield is performing with his quintet, part of a national New Year's Eve concert broadcast.
Mayfield isn't a household name, but he's becoming familiar in these parts - he performs regularly with the Minnesota Orchestra, where he's the artistic director of jazz.
Mayfield remembers he was 9 years old, and his best friend Jeff had this new thing with buttons in a case. The new thing was a trumpet.
"Smart guy, he got straight A's, all the girls liked him, so everything Jeff did I wanted to do," Mayfield said.
Mayfield talked his father into going to the music store to buy one. Mayfield said he put the trumpet to his lips, blew and nothing came out.
"He takes [it] and he starts playing it and obviously he looked like a god to me because he could play this thing," he said.
Irvin Mayfield's father, an Army drill sergeant, had never told his son that he played trumpet in high school and in the Army for ten years. But as Mayfield soon discovered, his father the drill sergeant and now music instructor taught by rote.
Mayfield tired of playing the same thing, over and over and over.
"It's not fun for a kid to learn that way, so I spent the majority of my childhood waiting to quit playing the trumpet," he said.
However, from birth Mayfield was immersed in music. New Orleans is a place where in some neighborhoods music is part of everyday life. One of his earliest musical memories is from when he was five watching musicians parade past his house.
"I'd see these guys coming down our street with a tuba and a snare drum and a bass drum and a trombone, and you see 200 people following behind them randomly at two o' clock on a Sunday," he said.
New Orleans, Mayfield said, is a town where people attend school with the Neville brothers, with the Marsalis family members. Family patriarch Ellis Marsalis and Mayfield would become teacher and student, interchangeably, as the years passed.
The two collaborated on an album of standards with Marsalis on piano and Mayfield on trumpet.
Besides marching band, Mayfield said, his musical instincts were fed at age 14 playing Dixieland in Germany. He calls himself less than a mediocre trumpet player at the time, and he was doing poorly in his high school arts classes.
Even so, he was assigned along with a student trombonist to travel to Germany. Europeans love jazz, and Mayfield said being born in the same city as jazz legends gave him star status.
"Strictly because Louis Armstrong was so great, not because I was so great, because the city of New Orleans was so great," he said.
Mayfield said that's when he decided to apply himself to music. The payoff was the offer of a full-ride scholarship to Juilliard, the prestigious school of music.
He turned the offer down.
Mayfield decided instead he'd study jazz at the University of New Orleans.
He dropped out to compose and perform.
Irvin Mayfield said he has no regrets. At age 32, he is the Minnesota Orchestra's first artistic director of jazz, which brings him here for performances several times a year.
His most recent achievement is a Grammy nomination for his new CD called Book One, with the 15-member New Orleans Jazz Orchestra Mayfield created and leads.
Book One, commissioned by the Episcopal Church, grows out of Katrina, the hurricane that killed Mayfield's father and out of the recession. Tunes include "Richie Can Count," featuring Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown singing.
The title is from Mayfield's 4-year-old son's ability to string together numbers and from the bailout of the nation's banks.
Besides music Mayfield is deeply involved in helping New Orleans recover from hurricane Katrina. He chairs the public library board, sits on commissions to restore the city and doesn't rule out a run for public office.
Irvin Mayfield and his quintet play in Minneapolis Thursday night at the Dakota for New Year's Eve.