When his hometown was mowed down by the ill winds of 2005, Irvin Mayfield blew right back. The New Orleans trumpeter, officially named the city's cultural ambassador in 2003, now leads a promising young jazz orchestra designed, in part, to give new artistic gusts to the Gulf Coast.
Mayfield experienced the catastrophe up close. His father, Irvin Mayfield Sr., died in the aftermath of the worst of the storms. Mayfield Jr.'s words of encouragement to his broken native city were simple, practical, and inspired: "What people have to do is.... I play the trumpet, so I need to go back and play the trumpet. Then there are teachers; they need to go back and teach. Kids need to go back and grow up properly."
His New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), an outfit that numbers between twelve and fifteen members, benefits from a strong work ethic and abundant talent, though it's still developing its own unique voice. It's not a lack of confidence, more likely the opposite a we-can-do-this-with-our-eyes-closed approach that has limited their risk-taking in repertoire and arrangements thus far.
Nonetheless this is one fantastic-sounding group. The musicianship from the trumpet and trombone section, to the saxes, to the rhythm section is world-class. Fans of up-tempo bounce will be delighted. NOJO will have no problem filling the Carnival Center's Knight Concert Hall with old-time and contemporary wails, booms, and crashes of unbridled jazz. Positive reviews of its debut album, Strange Fruit, in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune ought to further encourage the ensemble.
Mayfield and his cohorts have been fiercely loyal to the convalescing Crescent City, helping muster interest in relief efforts and keeping the area's reputation for musical excellence alive. Andrés Solar
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