Jazz is the heart and soul of New Orleans. The city has given the world some of its greatest jazz musicians. This piece looks at the life of one of the city’s most talented artists, Irvin Mayfield.

If you ask anyone on the streets of New Orleans to define the city in one word, you are most likely going to hear “jazz” as a response. The city has given rise to some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians. These individuals exhibit a passion for music that is unrivaled and a skill with instruments that has to be heard to be believed. Irvin Mayfield has become one of this generation’s most notable jazz trumpeters, and today serves as a Cultural Ambassador for both the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana.

Meet the Man Behind the Trumpet

Irvin Mayfield Jr. was born December 23, 1977 in New Orleans, LA. He was the youngest of Joyce Alsanders and Irvin Mayfield Sr.’s five boys. Joyce was a school teacher in the city’s Ninth Ward, and Irvin Sr. was a drill sergeant in the United States Army and a boxer. Irvin didn’t come from a musical family, but growing up in New Orleans you are never too far removed from someone with musical talent.

When he was in fourth grade, Irvin felt jazz tug at his soul for the first time. However, while many musicians are drawn to their art form by rhythm or harmony, Irvin was drawn in for a different reason. He had the following to say on his discovery of the trumpet:

And with that inspiration, Irvin’s musical career began. His father, who had played the trumpet for a brief time in high school, got him his own instrument. It wouldn’t take long for Irvin to hone his skills with the trumpet. From a young age he played with the Algiers Brass Band, a local street act in New Orleans. His musical career has consisted of numerous collaborations since then. He formed the group Los Hombres Calientes in 1998 with several other musicians, some of whom were acquaintances. Additional endeavours include founding The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra in 2002 and being appointed Artistic Director of Jazz at Orchestra Hall for the Minnesota Orchestra.

Irvin Mayfield.

Irvin Mayfield.
Photo: Emily Fredrickson

Inspired by Life and Creativity

Irvin is nothing if not humble about his musical pursuits. Although he picked up the trumpet at age nine and has become a supremely gifted musician, he admits that he started playing in the first place purely because his friend played too. There is no created backstory to explain, and he’s not shy in admitting that.

Pinpointing his inspiration today as a musician remains difficult. Irvin views himself as a creative soul, and he believes that ignoring that life should serve as inspiration in any pursuit. In his own words, his inspiration is best described as follows:

While many of today’s pop superstars live the life of a Hollywood legend, behaving as someone above the rest of society, Irvin retains a down-to-Earth mentality about his life that is refreshing from an individual with global fame. The life of a musician can be a frantic one, with countless hours spent working on music and weeks on the road performing. But Irvin doesn’t see his life as being more or less difficult than others. Politicians, writers, and poets all have equally stressful jobs that place high demands on them.

As Irvin sees it, people should follow their passions and realize that there is the romantic notion of their job, and the technical notion. Still, he admits that it’s hard to beat doing an artistic, creative job. As his mother says, “blessed is he who gets paid for what he would do for free.”

Current and Future Endeavours

Irvin is a busy man these days. From the moment his musical career started with the Algiers Brass Band, he hasn’t slowed down. He has opened two jazz clubs in his native New Orleans. In 2009, Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse opened at the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Two years later, Irvin Mayfield’s I Club opened at the JW Marriot. His mission in opening both venues was to fortify jazz through live performances, audience building, musical education, and cultural rebirth. Irvin can be found performing at his clubs on Wednesday nights whenever he is home in New Orleans.

More recently, he has traveled overseas to spread the love of jazz throughout Europe. He has already concluded an eight-week run in Moscow, during which he performed on a TV show there called “Voice Your Jazz.” His most recent visit to Russia was in December 2014.

As his career continues, Irvin strives to maintain a focus on the important things in his life: pursuing his passions and sharing jazz with others. Life is all about creativity for Irvin. As long as he is embracing creativity in his life, he is happy. It is his view that the embracing of creativity is the path to happiness, but how people embrace their passion and creativity. For example, he relates the story of a 92-year-old chef in his home town. Although in the twilight of her life, she still cooks every day. She has a restaurant and continues to create through food. He recalls one of her favorite sayings as a great guiding light: “Everyone you meet leaves you with something, but what you’re going to do with it is strictly up to you.”