Grammy Award-Winner Irvin Mayfield's "New Orleans as Discourse" Class Starts with a Visit from the President
Having a Grammy Award-winning musician on campus has its perks, especially when that musician is famed trumpeter Irvin Mayfield Jr.
Mayfield, who is a professor of professional practice in the University's esteemed Music Department, teaches a course called "New Orleans as Discourse," that is structured similarly to the television program "Inside the Actors Studio." Mayfield interviews each guest about his or her background, experience, profession, inspirations and relation to New Orleans culture. Students in the class participate through Q and A sessions and insightful personal blogs prepared on assignment after each speaker visit. Each interview is recorded for viewing and posted on the University website—and is discussed on the class blog.
Past guests have included Soledad O'Brien, Chef John Besh, political correspondents Mary Matalin and James Carville, David Simon of HBO's Treme, Saints owner Rita Benson Leblanc, artist George Rodrigue, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, Dr. Corey Hebert, former mayor Ray Nagin, Chef Susan Spicer, writer Lolis Eric Elie and many more.
This semester Mayfield starts his class with a visit from University President Peter J. Fos. The campus community is welcomed and encouraged to attend and learn more about the UNO leader, said Stephanie Mayne, chief of staff at New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, where Mayfield is director.
"Every class is a bit different. Although Irvin typically asks the Proust Questionnaire questions from 'Inside the Actors Studio' toward the end of each interview, the actual conversation could include everything from childhood to university plans to his favorite food...all depends on how the conversation develops in the interview," said Mayne. "Typically they cover both personal and professional elements, however."
The class is important, Mayne said, "because it brings critical cultural leaders to UNO's campus and allows students the opportunity to meet them, to learn about what they do and how they became who they are, and to understand about important past, present and future aspects of the city.
"We've had several students get internships and jobs with professionals whom they may have never met otherwise, and students also leave the class with a comprehensive understanding of culture. In a city this rich with culture, I think that is a vital part of being involved in this community."
Biannual Lecture: "The Courage to Create"
In addition to teaching "New Orleans as Discourse" and a Jazz Studies Composition Class at UNO, Mayfield also serves as director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute (NOJI), "a partnership between NOJO and UNO that links UNO's strengths in Jazz education with NOJO's professional and performance expertise," said Mayne in a recent press release.
The organization provides year-round music education and training for children ages 8-17, and strives to promote creative excellence and "best practices in jazz composition, performance, scholarship, importation, exportation and education," she said.
A founder and leader of the Afro-Cuban jazz group Los Hombres Calientes since 1998, Mayfield has released 10 albums. Since 2003, he has served as cultural ambassador of the city of New Orleans and state of Louisiana. With every opportunity, he trumpets the city as the birthplace and home of jazz.
Mayfield hosts a biannual lecture at the University designed to heighten conversation and thought on the current state of the arts, both locally and internationally. The talks are designed to inform, educate and entertain, while luring audiences to serve as better cultural ambassadors themselves.
Last year's show-stopping talk was entitled "Advancing the Conversation on Artistic Literacy." The talk tied images used by media and politicians around the November presidential elections to Hurricane Katrina and cultural symbols of tradition and community to philosophical thought by the likes of Aristotle.
8th Annual NOJI Masters' Series at UNO
Beginning in October, NOJI will launch its 8th Annual NOJI Masters' Series with the help of the University. Each semester, NOJI commissions UNO Jazz Studies professors to create new Jazz music based on certain themes, said Mayne.
Steve Masakowski, the University's Coca-Cola Endowed Chair and director of the University's Jazz Studies program, together with NOJO members Victor Atkins, graduate coordinator of the Department of Music and Danny Barker Endowed Professor, and Edward Petersen, associate chair of the Department of Music and coordinator of Jazz Studies, create the music.
This fall, commissions will be based on poetry. Each professor will be paired with a poet and will create music based on that poet's works.
Masakowski is an internationally renowned jazz guitarist who has performed with most of the city's greatest musicians including Alvin "Red" Tyler, Ellis Marsalis, Danny Barker, Earl Turbinton and James Black. He has also performed with Grammy Award-winning artists Bobby McFerrin, Nicholas Payton, Allen Toussaint, Dianne Reeves and others at major festivals around the world, according to his bio. As a recording artist, Masakowski has released numerous CDs, including two on the prestigious Blue Note Records label. He has been an active member of, and composer for the award winning New Orleans jazz group, Astral Project.
He has twice been voted "Best Guitarist," and won "Best Contemporary Jazz Group" three times by Gambit Weekly and Offbeat magazine in their annual reader's polls.
Atkins, who is known as "Red," is a jazz pianist with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and sought-after arranger. Atkins' style of piano has been described as "infectious, unconventional, tasteful, and powerful," said Missy Bowen, Music Department spokeswoman. He has toured and performed with an impressive list of artists including Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Aaron Neville, Nnenna Freelon, Brian Blade, Lalah Hathaway, and Nicholas Payton. One of his most recent projects was collaborating and performing with Delfeayo Marsalis on his re-working of Duke Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder," a tribute to William Shakespeare. Atkins is also well-known for his work with the Grammy-winning, New Orleans-based Los Hombres Calientes, which produced an innovative brand of Latin jazz.
"His adaptations of works by Bach and other classical composers are brilliant examples of the fluidity of jazz and the breaking down of musical barriers," reads a bio on the University on the website."
Petersen, whose nickname on set is "Sweetbread," is a jazz saxophonist and multiple Grammy nominee. His recent 2011 release, "The Mission," is gaining critical acclaim and includes members of his band, The Test.
The UNO professors will compose and perform music based on the poetry of United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, State of Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Leavell Haymon and The Poetry Foundation's Children's Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt.