Jazzman and entrepreneur Irvin Mayfield will perform at the Joy Theater this Friday night, in a show dedicated to “the music of New Orleans Jazz Masters.” Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra will unveil newly-written arrangements of classic material by Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste and James Black. Marsalis will be present as special guest, as will artist George Rodrigue, creator of the beloved Blue Dog. The show will feature the “Rodrigue Steinway,” a piano handpainted by the artist.
The patriarch of the Marsalis jazz dynasty, pianist/composer Ellis Marsalis is also a mentor to an entire generation of jazz players including Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton. While the late ‘60s found him playing frequently at local jazz clubs, he began teaching at Xavier University in 1967 and has since taught at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and in 1989 inaugurated the Chair of Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans. Since his retirement in 2001 he’s won numerous awards including the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters award. He still makes recordings (2012’s Pure Pleasure for the Piano, with the Makoto Ozone Trio, is the latest) and performs most Fridays at Snug Harbor.
Composer/arranger Harold Battiste was behind a slew of great records starting with Sam Cooke’s soul classic “You Send Me” which he arranged in 1957. In 1961 he founded the first black musician-owned record label, AFO, which released now-classic sides by Barbara George and Prince La La. After that ended in 1963 he he continued working with Mac Rebennack; for a time the two shared a lucrative gig arranging and producing Sonny & Cher records (yes, including “I Got You Babe”), which wind up financing the first Dr. John albums. As a jazzman Battiste played with Ornette Coleman and all the Marsalises; more recently he’s taught at jazz studies at UNO. His memoir Unfinished Blues…Memories of a New Orleans Music Man was published in 2010.
A cornerstone drummer of New Orleans funk, James Black is perhaps best known for the spare and slinky intro to Eddie Bo’s classic “Hook & Sling.” As Bo told OffBeat years later, “James was one of the most talented drummers I ever worked with and James was way out there. Not many folks could play that many rhythms at one time. And then he was spaced out and he would go further with his drums. James never did stay on this planet.” One of his early bands, the Knicknacks, included Charles Neville and James Booker. Also a superb jazz composer, Black wrote with Nat and Cannonball Adderly, and later contributed “Monkey Puzzle” and “Magnolia Triangle” to Ellis Marsalis’ repertoire. He drummed with Marsalis and a young Harry Connick Jr. until his death in 1988.
Along with this music, the night will include a raffle for a limited Rodrigue print. Proceeds will benefit the educational programs of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the Rodrigue Foundation.
[Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra in concert 8pm Friday night, June 21 at the Joy Theater, 1200 Canal St. Tickets $25 and $35, available here].