One of New Orleans' claim to fame is its influence on jazz music, and native son Irvin Mayfield is one of those people who doesn't hide the influence of the Big Easy on his art.
The Grammy and Billboard Award-winning musician and bandleader has been "trumpeting," quite literally, its praises for years.
Mayfield has many accolades to his name from co-founding the highly successful band Los Hombres Calientes to his position on the National Council on Arts after being nominated by President George W. Bush and then appointed by President Barack Obama.
Mayfield's dedication to New Orleans is clear. He is the founding Artistic Director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and is recognized as the Cultural Ambassador for the City of New Orleans. Fox 411 recently sat down with the musician where he talked about the rich culture of his beloved city, painting a vivid picture that shows the Big Easy is more than Mardi Gras.
Irvin Mayfield: New Orleans is the type of city where the culture is lived on a daily basis. You know some people work to preserve a culture, and in New Orleans we celebrate our culture. Jazz is a culture indigenous to New Orleans, it was born and created there. We call it a form of democracy. In New Orleans there are different types of democracies that have been transformed into different things. So, our jazz is heard democracy, our jumbo is tasted democracy, you'll even see dance democracy, which is our second line dance. There's no one way to do a second line dance, but there is definitely a wrong way to dance it, you have to be an individual. So, what you'll find in a lot of the New Orleans culture is that it's a lot about the individual group think, the American paradox. And I think the culture is so free and inviting to people. Young people participate, old people participate, and as a meeting in between. People dance, people eat, people playing, you think this is what you should be doing. It's not like a decision you make like I'm going to play the trumpet. It's that you saw 300 people coming down the street after somebody's funeral procession, you don't even know who died, and you get to join. And somebody reaches you something to play and somebody says you want something to eat let's stop at this person's house. That's kind of the experience in New Orleans. We don't really think of it as a profession, we look at it as a way of life.
Fox411: What sets New Orleans apart from any other city?
Mayfield: The first thing that really unique about being in New Orleans is it's really not the music, food, the architecture that's amazing, it's the people that have done it. So, if you're a jazz musician there are personalities like Louis Armstrong who really embodies what the city is about. He was down-home, yet sophisticated. He was a genius, the world's first pop star, created several things and brought it to the world. Scatting, a certain type of professional improvisation. At the same time you can think of his gravely voice right now and the kind of jolly personality that he had which was a party. I love to ask old folks that got to hang out with him about him. And they always say when he walked into a room he'd say "hello" and everybody would just turn around and start screaming. I can name a million people like that in New Orleans. There's a lot of people that have those kinds of personalities.
Fox411: Is it truly the party city it is made out to be?
Mayfield: In New Orleans we have an embarrassment of riches, of opportunities for folks to express themselves. We have great festivals. You got Mardi Gras, which is typically in February. March is just one long party. Don't let us have the Super Bowl like we did this year, then you got January, February, then March the party is getting started and then you got April. People make their own festivals, like literally, I'm not joking, There's a guy named Chaz, he created a festival called Chazfest. It was literally at his house on his street, and maybe 100,000 people go to it, go to Chazfest. They started a Pool Boy festival. It may seem like I'm really making this up, but if you don't live there. Sometimes people come to New Orleans and say, "man, this is amazing that you all put this together for us" and I'm like, "no, this is just what we're doing cause, you know, we're special and crazy here." So growing up around that you have a lot of opportunities to play. I have two music clubs, I have one in a hotel in a central business district called the IClub, in the JW Mariott and I have another one, a jazz club, called The Jazz Playhouse in Royal Sonesta Hotel which is great. We have music 365 days a year, we're the largest music employer. So, that's really cool to have small, intimate clubs in hotels. How many cities can you go into where an artist has a club? And I play at both of them at least once a week when I'm home. And so you see things like that. Just last week we played at Preservation Hall which is one of the cities most historic halls.