In the early 20th century, New Orleans musicians migrated to Chicago and briefly turned the city into the undisputed capital of jazz. Nearly 90 years later, the devastation of New Orleans has brought a new crop of Crescent City jazzmen to our shores, and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield knows why. “Chicago is one of the few places where everyone kind of gets it,” says the 30-year-old virtuoso.
Mayfield brings his trumpet to Chicago often and is sometimes joined by his rambunctious big band, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. But he still refuses to call anywhere but New Orleans home, despite losing his 65-year-old father (Irvin Sr.) in the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina. Ever since, Mayfield has been part of a vocal group of artists working to rebuild. He officially serves as the city’s cultural ambassador, a reflection of his extramusical political savvy (another example: his attendance-as Laura Bush’s guest-at this year’s State of the Union address). He serves on the Arts Council of New Orleans, he works in the LSU psychiatry department-“There are people looking into using music therapy for mental wellness”-and he is chairman of the New Orleans Public Library. “When you’re talking about the recovery of neighborhoods, libraries are a major piece of the plan,” he says.
Reflecting upon the death of his father, a Vietnam vet and postal worker, Mayfield says now: “I don’t have any anger about it. It makes the work I’m trying to do more important. I have to do what I do: playing this music at the highestlevel I can, supporting what this country is about, and putting my dad in the context of that, to make sure that the tragedy of Katrina hasn’t been in vain.” A Mayfield leads his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra April 11th at Symphony Center (220 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-294-3000, cso.org).
Photography: Jeff Strout, Courtesy of Basin Street Records