It’s been a little over a week since it was first brought to light that close to $900,000 was funneled to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and its project, the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market. Since the story aired, a firestorm was unleashed in local media, the music community through social media, and in the national blogosphere too, with stories by Jason Berry and by New York Times contributor Larry Blumenfeld.
The mayor has called for a total separation of the Library Foundation and NOJO, called for the bylaws to be rewritten, and has required that all monies be returned to the Library Foundation. The NOJO Board–headed by Audubon Institute’s Rob Forman and other local moneyed luminaries–has publicly said that all money will be returned, but that it will have to be raised from private sources. Ronald Markham resigned from the Library Foundation. Irvin Mayfield has been totally mum on the whole affair.
I suggest that both Mayfield and Markham scale down their personal wealth expectations to maybe a five-figure salary, regain focus on what’s important, and begin to operate in a way that can re-establish their credibility in the community, with their board, with local musicians and the public in general.
I truly feel sorry for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, in which many very fine local musicians have played. One thing that’s a bit glaring is that the only person one ever hears about when NOJO is mentioned is Irvin Mayfield. What about the actual orchestra? Who’s in it? Who plays on a regular basis? Do they get any credit for actually being the orchestra? Who and what exactly is the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, anyway? Is NOJO only Irvin Mayfield and Ronald Markham?
Mayfield has said many times that his model and mentor has been Wynton Marsalis, who leads the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. But if you go to their web site, every musician in the orchestra is featured . Wynton may lead, but he makes sure that the musicians in his orchestra get their applause too.
Who are the musicians in the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra? Surely they deserve some credit. Obviously they didn’t play any part in the Library Foundation debacle; the musicians didn’t have any part in that. But they’re the ones for whom NOJO is named, and no one really hears anything about them. Interestingly, when OffBeat photographer Elsa Hahne did a photo shoot for our April issue with Mayfield on our cover, we wanted to include photos of all the orchestra members in the piece. In fact, Hahne took photos of the musicians (who seemed thrilled at the attention), but Hahne was told that OffBeat could not use the photos and that Mayfield was the only person who could be featured.
I’m really puzzled by this, and I’m wondering why the various and sundry foundations and donors to NOJO haven’t pondered this as well. I think it’s unfair to the musicians and the concept of an “orchestra.” No one can do anything alone…and an orchestra isn’t a sole human being. I am hoping that the NOJO “guys”—Mayfield and Markham—have been humbled by this glitch in their ambitious plans and have learned a lesson. I think that they both are extremely bright guys with ambitious plans who unfortunately lost their way and did some things they should not have done. As they say: there’s some serious attitude adjustment needed here.
Without the support of the people who actually make the music, that is, the musicians in the orchestra—and not just their celebrity connections and donors (who by the way, received lots of public kudos from Mayfield and Markham)—there would be no NOJO, no New Orleans Jazz Institute, no programming, nothing. The jazz musicians make the thing happen. The vision is about the music, which is made by musicians. There would also be no Peoples’ Health Jazz “Market” either; jazz is inherently not made by one person alone; it’s a collaboration. I think the attention has been focused too heavily on Mayfield, and despite his obvious need to be in the spotlight, a little public humbling up might do him, his reputation and his visionary projects a world of good. I’m waiting to hear him say something like: “Mea culpa: I’ve been wrong, and I’m sorry. Now I intend to do right for our community and musicians and focus my attention on everything other than myself.” And then he should man up, focus on community good, rather than himself.
I’m waiting with bated breath. Go ahead Irvin, I have faith that you can do it, and do the right thing.