New Orleans Jazz Orchestra is not about Mayfield

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.


Mea culpa.

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.

What do you think Mayfield needs to do?



  • Maria

    So it’s fine for a zoo director to make $700 000 but an orchestra director HAS to make less than six figures?

    I think here, as usual, people are missing the big picture and attacking the sacrificial lambs.

    “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.” JR as per above

    • Joe

      These guys are not sacrificial lambs, they used money from another organization to possibly pay their own. When you are toying with public money, you can’t operate as these two have. You are over looking the fact that neither of these guys are actually qualified or have the background to serve on anything. How about earn your salary for doing something become actually these guys do nothing

      • Steve

        I don’t want to start an argument. I’m just trying to understand what’s going on in this situation. For whatever reason, these two men have been mostly quiet but if they were my sons, even if they did something wrong, I’d want someone to question the bandwagon that everyone seems to be on.

        With that being said, I have to agree with Maria on this one. What does their salary actually have to do with this story? I haven’t seen any evidence that the money from the Library Foundation was used to pay salaries. The initial report showed the 990 describing the payments were used for architectural drawings (or something similar) which sounds in line with what Markham was heard saying in the piece. With all the talk about salaries, no one has raised the question – what all has Mayfield, Markham, and NOJO done. Salaries tend to be based on the value that one adds to the institutional vision and productivity. What happens if they are actually doing good work for New Orleans and its culture and deserve a salary at that level based on all the things other people’s salaries are based on in the non-profit and for-profit world: time, effort, commitment, and skill.

        Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding was that the money in question was wasn’t public money. That all funds were private donations to a private foundation not to the city run library system.

        • Joe

          Not to argue Steve, but there is too much to look at here…Suchs as the articles of incorporation being changed and some board members have a different opinion of what they were presented. Another issue separate from the library the Jazz Orchestra also received more than $1.6 million from then-Mayor Ray Nagin through the city’s Wisner Grant program. Most of it went to have the Jazz Orchestra administer the construction of a sculpture garden in Armstrong Park featuring jazz legends Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong and others.
          The project was mired in controversy as Nagin left office, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration cut off any further payments to the orchestra for the project.
          NOJO’s public financial reports, filed with the Louisiana legislative auditor, reflect only about $6,600 spent related to that project. Gerard Schreiber, a local certified public accountant, reviewed the financial reports and said they were too shoddy to decipher.When you collect money for a specific purpose you can’t change what the purpose is.

          NOJO last reported they had a 246,000 deficit in 2014,NOJO can’t pay their salaries and you believe its ok to divert money to pay markham and mayfield’s 250,000 salaries? Salaries are based on what they set for themselves. And to answer the Question what all has Mayfield, Markham, and NOJO done….absolutely nothing to warren the type of cash flow. These guys are not famous musicians because both are mediocre, oh they would like you to believe they are its sad but this is all about mayfield and Markham. Yes Steve it is private money and the donations were for the library not the jazz market, numerous donors have voiced discontent.

          • janramsey

            This is a complicated issue, but clearly, something was amiss in the way the library foundation money was diverted to the Jazz Market–for who knows what reason? Salaries for Mayfield/Markham? Construction costs? Developer payments? Staff salaries? Whatever. The Jazz Market, I’m know, was conceived with high ideals. But almost $900,000 is a whole lot of money to call it a satellite of the New Orleans Public Library in an underserved neighborhood. BTW, the Jazz Market location is only about 13 blocks from the main branch of the library.

    • janramsey

      Who said it’s fine for a “zoo director” to make $700,000? How about the other heads of non-profits in this city? That’s a whole different issue, and it’s pretty obscene if you really dig into it. Who said that orchestra “directors” and back-of-the-house adminstrators must make less than six figures? It just seems out of proportion to the money that’s used for PROGRAMMING. One thing that anyone knows who runs a small business–which is what NOJO is–is that you recognize and give props to your team members. Typically that’s done with money (in some form), and almost as important, recognition. NOJO is not Irvin Mayfield or Ron Markham. It’s ultimately the orchestra itself, the guys in the group. The point of this piece was to mention the concept of NOJO–actually quite a good idea–is now tarnished by the actions its leadership. The vision for the orchestra is the biggest loser. That is really sad.

  • Joe

    in case no one has noticed it has always been about Irvin Mayfield….ask the band member how long it takes for them to get paid, as musicians that play at the sonesta club, which i refuse to refer to by its ridiculous name, how easy it is to get paid….seems like for the first time in his career Irvin doesn’t have anything to say….

  • Kyle

    I am mystified that anyone believes that the diversion of Library Foundation funds is the only transgression in the labyrinth of NOJO dealings. There is so much overlap between entities and so many apparent places where there could be conflicts of interest. WWL has already mentioned a number of other possibly questionable items, including the apparent rewriting of the the Library Foundation charter between the time it was voted on by the board and when it was filed with the state. Of course this doesn’t mean that there are, but on the other hand, why would there only be one instance of impropriety, one that was easily discernible from publicly available documents? Expecting an apology for this one set of acts seems like a potentially useless exercise.

    Mayfield also sat on the African American Museum board and was it’s president for a short time. A CPA filing for the Museum (available online) clearly indicates that they weren’t so slick with with their accounting either.

    “Management failed to establish and/or follow appropriate procedures to ensure that accounting records are maintained. Audit testing yielded the following internal control issues:

    • Noted that monthly reconciliations and close out procedures were not performed on a timely basis;
    • Several transactions selected for testing were not supported by proper documentation;
    • Noted that a payable was created for reimbursement of unapproved expenses;
    • 1099’s were not submitted to all contractors who performed services in 2012”

    Of course, this doesn’t say Mayfield was responsible for these lapses, but it also shows that yet another organization that Mayfield was on the board of and a president of had shoddy financials.

    Meanwhile over at UNO, Mayfield gets $63,000 a year to “teach” one or two classes a semester, give two lectures a year, and lead the NOJI, which is defined as a partnership between UNO and NOJO. A former UNO Dean, Susan Krantz, who was instrumental in getting Mayfield the Jazz Institute position, also sat on the Library Foundation board with Mayfield and Markham. Unlike other State University faculty positions, there was no national search to fill this position. When there was a search to pick an operational director for the NOJI, Mayfield determined that his NOJO operative Stephanie Maybe deserved the 45k a year job. Somehow now she works full time for the State and NOJO simultaneously – pretty sweet. Does anyone know if she actually is even on campus?

    I feel as though the best thing that could come out of all of this is that the affected organizations cut Mayfield and Markham lose and try to move forward with some potentially very great things with a leadership that is more committed to the ideas of culture and community, and not self-agrandizement and personal enrichment. Jan is correct in pointing out that the Orchestra is way more about its great players and arrangers than Mayfield’s posing.