Channeling the New Orleans spirit in Beaver Creek |

Channeling the New Orleans spirit in Beaver Creek

Sarah Mausolf
Beaver Creek CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Shortly after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, city jazz musician Irvin Mayfield performed in the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert in New York.

“At that point my dad was still missing from Hurricane Katrina, and that was kinda the national moment that I announced, ‘He’s missing and we’re dealing with real issues here in the city still,'” Mayfield said in a phone interview.

The day after the concert, authorities confirmed that Mayfield’s father had indeed drowned in the flood.

“It was a very challenging time,” Mayfield recalled. “Everyone in life at some point goes through the loss of a parent experience. It’s a rite of passage in one sense, but other than that, something like Hurricane Katrina, it’s hard to put into words the magnitude of the situation.”

So he didn’t put it into words. He put it into music. Some critics hailed Mayfield’s performance of “All the Saints” at the hurricane relief benefit as the cultural re-opening of the city.

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“Art generally plays the same role it’s always played in hard times,” Mayfield said. “It’s history. You can document a topical thing. What’s more important is to capture the will of the people. You capture great moments, people coming together, which are things you really want to remember as opposed to a hurricane or something.”

Mayfield, 31, performs with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra Monday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. The line-up includes a piece about the financial crisis titled “Richie Can Count.”

“It’s about a 4-year-old who can count better than the guys on Wall Street,” Mayfield said. “It’s about this group of numbers … They work really hard but one of the numbers falls asleep on public transportation and ends up on this weird street called ‘Wall Street’ and the numbers kind of do what they want there: They don’t wear socks, they listen to gangster rap.”

Mayfield founded the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra in 2002. At the time, he was a professor at Dillard University, where he oversaw a program focusing on jazz as a medium for exploring social issues and literature.

“I realized we didn’t have an institute in the city that just did jazz 24 hours a day,” Mayfield recalled.

Most recently, the 17-piece orchestra has been touring the country performing “New Orleans: Then and Now.”

Members are working on their first commercial album as well, which is due out in late spring or early fall, Mayfield said. The orchestra has done a number of commissioned pieces in the past. “Strange Fruit” was an opus about a black man who was lynched for a crime he did not commit, based on a photography exhibit titled “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.” Mayfield said the topic resonated with him.

“I’m black. I’m from New Orleans. It didn’t take very long for me to write the music or come up with the concept,” he said. “I was familiar with it. I had read a lot of material. My mom and dad had experienced issues with it. I didn’t have to dig down deep. It was something that was inside of me.”

Mayfield said it is hard to define his style of jazz. It is neither 1920s revival nor Glenn Miller Big band.

“If this is the kind of concert where you want to sit down and really be quiet and cross your fingers and not interact with the band, this is the wrong concert for you,” Mayfield said. “If you want to get a taste of what New Orleans is all about and you want to have a good time, you want to feel like dancing and feel like you can enjoy yourself, this is the perfect concert to go to.”

Vail area jazz musician Tony Gulizia met Mayfield in New Orleans and owns a recording of Mayfield’s performance at the hurricane relief benefit.

“Irvin Mayfield did an incredible, tear-jerking rendition of the traditional New Orleans tune ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee,'” Gulizia said. “It was an incredible performance and one of my favorite recordings.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

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