Irvin Mayfield, Jr., can lay claim to the post-James Brown title as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.
Or at least in jazz.
In addition to his own recording career, the New Orleans trumpeter is the founder and artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. He's a designated Cultural Ambassador for the city of New Orleans and chairman of the board at the New Orleans Public Library. He's a spokesman for Unity For New Orleans, a homeless organization, the artistic director of the Chandler Jazz Festival in Arizona and is working on establishing a National Jazz Center in the Crescent City.
And, oh yeah -- he's only 30 years old.
"I don't necessarily worry about my position or my stature," says Mayfield, who's bringing the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra to Detroit's Orchestra Hall this week. "I'm trying to just make sure I give back the same opportunities I had. I had some really great opportunities, and not just from people but from the city itself.
"I'm just trying to make sure I show a certain amount of gratitude for what I've been given. My mother has a great saying -- 'Blessed is he who gets paid for doing what he would do for free.' That's how I feel about the music, and the music is what lets me do all these other things."
The son of a school teacher mother and a military father who died during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mayfield was raised mostly in New Orleans' Upper Ninth Ward and started off playing music in church. But a trumpet-playing best friend inspired him to take up the instrument when he was in fourth grade.
"He was cute, girls liked him, he got straight A's," Mayfield recalls with a laugh. "I wanted to do everything he did, so I got a trumpet like him."
Playing didn't become Mayfield's life's passion, however, until a two-week visit to Germany as an exchange student when he was 14 years old.
"That changed my life," he says. "I realized, 'Hey this is not an opportunity 'cause I'm such a great musician. This is an opportunity 'cause people can appreciate New Orleans, people can appreciate jazz and they want it.
"If that could give me an opportunity to communicate with people so far away, it blew my mind. I decided it was something I wanted to do forever."
After spending high school at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and playing in the streets with the Algiers Brass Band, Mayfield turned down a scholarship offer from the Juilliard School of Music in New York to study at the University of New Orleans mentor Ellis Marsalis -- with whom Mayfield recorded his latest album, "Love Songs, Ballads and Standards." After graduating he helped form Los Hombres Calientes, which is still active, and in 2002 the Institute of Jazz Culture at Dillard University, just a few months before launching the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.
"Our vision is to enhance every day of life with jazz," explains Mayfield, who's married and has one child. "Jazz can be adventurous. It can be stylish. Jazz can be introspective. It's an opportunity and the question is how are you going to take that opportunity, and what aspects of that opportunity are you going to take?"
In performance, Mayfield says he and the NOJO don't think about songs and repertoire, per se. "We don't like to think about music as notes," he explains. "We approach it for its emotional content. We hope people can smell the French water. We hope that people can taste the dancing that we do to New Orleans music. We hope people can visually [i]see[/i] the jazz.
"The other thing," he adds, "is if you're expecting to see a concert that's mundane, that you're not a part of, this is not the concert for you. If you're looking for a party, this [i]is[/i] the concert for you."
The playing also gives Mayfield a bit of a respite from his myriad activities. But thanks to what he calls "a good team" around him, he contends that he's never overwhelmed by his tasks.
"A lot of the things I'm doing," Mayfield notes, "I don't feel like there's very much difference from what I do on stage, which is problem-solving and taking opportunities and daydreaming. Being a jazz musician, when you get on stage the first thing you want to do is something you can never do -- but you figure out a way to do it. I've found that's been a really helpful insight.
"See, you can't beat a big dream. You just can't beat it. A big dream is the thing that helps get other things done."
Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra perform at 8 p.m. Thursday (April 24) at Orchestra Hall in the Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.Tickets are $19-$62. Call (313) 576-5111 or visit www.detroitsymphony.com.
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