Jazz trumpeter leads New Orleans' cultural rebirth

Fri Apr 4, 2008 11:17pm EDT
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By Larry Blumenfeld

NEW YORK (Billboard) - New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's brand-new album nearly didn't see the light of day.

Hurricane Katrina left the tapes damaged beyond repair; the album, "Love Songs, Ballads and Standards," was mastered from Mayfield's iPod downloads of the tracks.

Mayfield, whose father drowned in Katrina's aftermath, is focused on recovering much more than studio takes these days.

The 30-year-old holds board seats at the Louisiana State University Psychiatric Assn., the New Orleans Arts Council, Unity (an organization working on issues of homelessness), and the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation.

And when his trumpet isn't pressed to his lips, Mayfield is pressing the issue of libraries. Last month, as board chairman for the New Orleans Public Library, he unveiled a 25-year plan to restore and redevelop a system in need of repair. Although all 13 branches are again in operation, some are in portable trailers or makeshift venues.

He thinks that, in both metaphor and practical action, music can seed a broader recovery. "Around the country, art is considered secondary or tertiary," he says. "People don't really see how that's the biggest centerpiece we have to rebuilding. Culture defines this city."

Mayfield envisions a library system that highlights the "sights, sounds and tastes" of New Orleans by developing holdings and programs focused on the city's distinctive architecture, music and cuisine.

The plan will begin in the next two years with the construction of the jazz-themed branch, housing early recordings and other artifacts. It will cost about $10 million, $2 million of which will come from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, founded by former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The rest of the money will be drawn from private donations and fund-raisers, as well as the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city and the state, Mayfield says.


<p>Jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield performs during a reception at the White House, January 28, 2008, before the State of the Union address by President George W. Bush. REUTERS/Chris Greenberg /The White House/Handout</p>