- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Bourbon Street may be better known for drunken carousing and strip clubs than culture and class, but New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield says it’s still the perfect place for jazz.

New Orleans jazz belongs on the streets, especially the city’s most famous street, just as much as in the concert halls and dapper clubs of places like New York and Chicago, he said.

That’s why Saturday night, across from a row of strip joints and sports bars, he will add to the French Quarter’s music offerings by opening Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse. The club will offer live performances by New Orleans musicians in a cozy environment that he hopes will appeal to locals and tourists alike.

“Jazz belongs on Bourbon,” said Mayfield, 31, sipping coffee at a bistro table in the club, which is just a few steps inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel. The hotel asked Mayfield to be a partner and lend his name to the club, which was formerly a music and burlesque venue called The Mystick.

Redecorated, it is a plush and sophisticated room with a bar, couches and bistro tables. French doors open to a lush courtyard where patrons _ and music _ can spill out onto an outdoor patio.

The club is in a room that has offered live music since the Sonesta first opened in 1969. It has high ceilings and a slightly raised stage. Famed New Orleans musicians Fats Domino and trumpeter-bandleader Al Hirt have performed there, Mayfield said.

The room’s smallish size and wood floors with carpeting enhance what Mayfield called great acoustics. “They can just come in and play” without speakers and microphones.

Mayfield said he recognizes that many locals and those who frequent the city like the mysterious, “hidden treasure” aspect of New Orleans and its best-kept-secret clubs. And he says he’s not trying to change that.

“We just also want to offer that quality authentic experience to all the visitors who come here, and we want to make it as accessible and as easy to find as possible,” he said.

There are clubs on Bourbon Street that offer jazz, such as Fritzel’s and Maison Bourbon Jazz Club, the place where Harry Connick Jr. got his start.

But Mayfield said there is both room and need for more.

“Visitors are looking for jazz when they come to New Orleans, and a majority go to Bourbon Street,” he said. “It’s the street they go to, and they make the assumption that jazz, that all New Orleans’ assets will be ready and available there.”

The Jazz Playhouse launches Saturday with a second-line march led by musicians down Bourbon Street and a ribbon-cutting ceremony with one of the city’s oldest jazz trumpet players, 97-year-old Lionel Ferbos.

Mayfield will perform opening night with friends Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, pianist Ronald Markham, bassist Neal Caine and others.

This is the latest in a string of projects for Mayfield. Besides leading the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and serving as the Minnesota Orchestra’s artistic director of jazz, Mayfield hosts his own local radio show, is chairman of the New Orleans Public Library Board of Directors and was recently named to the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority board.

Briefly, Mayfield was a consulting partner for a nightclub at the top of the World Trade Center, which overlooked the Mississippi River. He said he didn’t like certain aspects of the club’s operation and pulled out just before Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I’m a trumpet player first,” he said. “Music is at the core of what I do, what I love.”

To start, the Jazz Playhouse will offer live shows three nights a week, Thursdays through Saturdays. In April, Monday and Wednesday night performances will be added. There will be no cover charge, except during special events such as cabaret and burlesque shows, he said.

The club will also serve food, from traditional New Orleans eats such as gumbo and red beans and rice to the not-so-conventional for a nightclub _ milk and cookies.

“Who doesn’t love milk and cookies?” Mayfield said with a laugh.

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