Oct 10, 2012
Irvin Mayfield's Opening Remarks at The Ford Foundation, 10/9/12
Lunch and Live Jazz with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
Irvin Mayfield's Opening Remarks
New York, NY
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Good afternoon. Throughout our preparations for the Carnegie Hall performance and the Ford Foundation visit, I kept thinking how we could say thank you. By “we” I’m not just talking about the musicians, administrators, faculty and patrons that comprise the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the New Orleans Jazz Institute. By “we” I mean New Orleans. As one of New Orleans’ Cultural Ambassadors, I feel that I can convey the entire New Orleans metro area’s appreciation for all your philanthropic efforts.
First I'd like to thank Luis Ubiñas of the Ford Foundation. Ford has been a partner of New Orleans for decades. However, Ford’s response to the devastation and disruption caused by Katrina revealed its commitment to that partnership. The Ford-New Orleans relationship is a civic union like no other.
As many of you know, there is seemingly a never-ending battle to include the arts in our common understanding of societal growth. To that end, I’m a proud board member of the National Endowment for the Arts. My fearlessly creative chairman, Rocco Landesman is here as well as Rachel Goslins, who is the executive director of the committee on the arts. Thank you for expanding access to the arts to all Americans. In particular, the NEA has been instrumental in contextualizing New Orleans and Jazz as central to the American story.
I also thank Soledad O’Brien for all she does. New Orleanians especially know how Soledad courageously presents news and truth in ways that lead to justice. Her bravery is also exemplified by her decision to work with me as a board member for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. It was not that long ago when you, Luis and I talked about putting this event together. I am the inaugural chairman of her family foundation. The Soledad O’Brien and Brad Raymond Foundation is in line with the Ford Foundation’s efforts to uplift young minds. I have seen first-hand how her initiatives, media programs and community service translate into individual and societal renewal.
In addition, I thank Peter Fos, President of the University of New Orleans, for sharing our vision and helping to bring it into view. His presence here today is emblematic of his commitment to our goals.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu sends his regards. But I want to publically thank the Mayor for all his efforts on behalf of the City of New Orleans. Scott Hutcheson, the Mayor’s Advisor on the Cultural Economy, is in attendance. Scott is a critical member of Mayor Landrieu’s team. Thank you for helping to get the city in tune.
The NOJO staff has worked diligently with the City and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to acquire the bricks and mortar to actualize much of our vision. Jeff Hebert, Executive Director of NORA, is here today. Thank you Jeff for your continued support. Without the City’s investments, our objectives would be unattainable. Mayor Landrieu prioritizes art and culture, and we benefit from his steadfastness. As Artistic Director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute at UNO and President of the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, I extend thanks as an artist and as an educator. But again, it’s as a New Orleanian I send my deepest appreciation.
However, let’s remember what John F. Kennedy once said. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” We share the Ford Foundation’s belief that “all people should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to society, and have voice in the decisions that affect them.” Jazz has been and is a voice for New Orleans. What you will hear today is our vision to help New Orleanians reach their full potentials.
When I was living with the great Wynton Marsalis after my time as a student at UNO, Wynton challenged me. He challenged me to find deeper, more sustaining aspects of Jazz. He believed, as do I, that a philosophy of Jazz is democratic and innovative in nature. If we bring Jazz to life in areas where it is not readily available, we simultaneously raise the quality of life among its listeners.
Jazz propelled Louis Armstrong to his appropriate role as Ambassador for an entire country. Louis Armstrong, who was a son of a prostitute, a thief, thug and run of the mill juvenile delinquent, was eventually described by the New York Times “America’s secret weapon [in the Cold War] is a blue note in a minor key.”
It wasn’t until after police arrested an eleven year-old Louis for shooting a firearm, that he engaged with organized music. Authorities placed Armstrong in the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, now known as the Milne Boys Home. Immediately upon arrival, Master Armstrong wanted desperately to join the Waif’s Home Brass Band. After weeks of fiddling with instruments left straggled by members, officials allowed Armstrong to join the band. My fellow NEA board member Terry Teachout describes in his book, Pops, how a young Armstrong started on the “tambourine, then drums, then alto horn. Eventually he became the band’s first-chair cornetist” (p. 36).
We have thousands of Louis Armstrong's needing to be introduced to Jazz. This year, the Greater New Orleans Data Center reported that the New Orleans metro has approximately 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working. Armstrong’s legacy illustrates the absence of, and need for, Jazz in our communities. The city must take bolder steps towards realizing a Jazz society. Today we announce those bolder steps.
There are reasons why we have not tried to replicate the Armstrong story. We take for granted the stabilizing force behind New Orleans’ culture, entertainment and industry. Jazz is as ubiquitous as gravity. New Orleans’ improvisational and multicultural style is directly linked to the way we interact, cook, worship, celebrate and morn. Jazz provides the City’s character. You simply cannot think about New Orleans without hearing music.
Armstrong exemplified and set the standard for how art, culture and community improvise to make harmony. Aside from being an ambassador, Armstrong provided the soundtrack for urban renewal. The industrial age and urban expansion paralleled Armstrong’s creative works. He gave birth to innovative harmonies and rhythms within a traditional structure. Armstrong’s contributions eventually stretched the tradition. Consequently, Americans re-imagined cities as Armstrong and others re-imagined music.
We should not view this as a coincidence. New Orleans art literally set a tone for a new urban world. Jazz and urban renewal are synonymous. Architects, musicians, educators, developers and philanthropists must be in concert.
If we are to strengthen democratic values in New Orleans, we must strengthen Jazz. If we are to reduce poverty and injustice, we must reinforce Jazz. If we are to promote international cooperation, we must promote Jazz. If we are to advance human achievement, we must advance Jazz. As represented here today, the various sectors of the city are syncopated towards these ends. We view Jazz as a wonderful conductor.
In New Orleans and around the world, Jazz music and its artists help uplift the most challenging areas of the city. Jazz raises money every year through the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra's Love Sessions: A Festival of Giving – 11 Nights of Music, 11 Nights of Giving. The concert series benefits a different non-profit organization each night. We raise funds for AIDS eradication, homelessness, schools, libraries, Haitian relief as well as music. Our efforts speak to the importance of Jazz as a giver. In this regard, Jazz is seen as ever-present, ever flowing and indestructible.
We know that nothing is maintained without sustenance. New Orleans is the home for Jazz. However, Jazz also needs real places to develop, grow and thrive in New Orleans.
The vision for the Jazz Market on O.C. Haley Blvd. and a building for our Center for Jazz at the University of New Orleans started 10 years ago. I’m pleased to announce that we are coming closer to realizing that vision. From receiving a Grammy to playing Carnegie Hall; from the establishment of free Saturday music classes for youth to opening summer music camps; from a complete redesign of Jazz at the university level to developing a music curriculum; we've done a lot. However, these were all achieved in temporary support structures. The two projects we're embarking upon now will secure the future of Jazz and anchor Jazz programs in the New Orleans community.
I’m ashamed to say that in spite of all that Jazz has done, the New Orleans community has not built physical structures to institutionalize its importance in the City. Again, art should be a central part of urban renewal. That is why we brought together a team of individuals who represent the people who will work in concert to build upon the shoulders of Armstrong.
In addition to those who have been mentioned, I want to thank other friends and partners in this endeavor (please stand as I say your name): Thank you Charles Brown, of New Orleans Public Library, Andre Perry of Loyola University New Orleans as well as the Prudential Foundation for showing that New Orleans is a Jazz band committed to the growth of the City.