As our regular readers know, OffBeat has been very supportive over the years of Mayfield and of Ronald Markham, Mayfield’s longtime friend and partner, and their vision for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), the New Orleans Jazz Market, the New Orleans Jazz Institute, and just about all the projects with which they’ve been involved. However, when the news struck about Mayfield and Markham’s involvement in moving almost $900,000 from the New Orleans Public Library to the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market project (as a result of the investigative work of David Hammer and WWL-TV), we felt obligated to respond editorially in print (I had blogged about this in early May 2015, when the incident was reported in WWL). We also wanted to address the letters we received from our readers.
(Full disclosure: My husband—and OffBeat Managing Editor—Joseph Irrera and I have been friends with Mayfield since he was in his 20s, and have personally and professionally supported his efforts to take New Orleans “jazz” to a higher level through myriad projects. Ditto Markham. Some years ago, Mayfield and Markham [M&M] approached OffBeat about possibly selling the magazine to them. They never made a solid proposal and the idea was dropped—although I am still getting queries from the local music community who think OffBeat had “sold” to Mayfield. It should be noted that when negotiations began, I cautioned M&M that any of our discussions were not to be discussed outside of our meetings in any way. I do know that the word was leaked out—for whatever reason—but not by anyone at OffBeat).
When OffBeat‘s July 2015 issue hit the street, both Mayfield and Markham called our office and spoke to my husband Joseph (not to me), infuriated over what we published. They both claimed that we should have called them before we published the letters and the editorial comment. I agree with that. I could have contacted them and given them a heads-up that article was going to be published, but frankly, my commentary had been online since early May (I guess they never read my blogs), and I had never heard a word from either of them. Moreover, they told Joseph that OffBeat would not be welcome in the Jazz Market, and that Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta would no longer be advertising in OffBeat.
These kinds of comments and threats to pull advertising have never influenced our editorial opinions in almost 30 years of being in business, and they never will. I posted this exchange onto my personal Facebook page, and was barraged with a lot of commentary.
I’m writing this to let our readers know that while OffBeat has demonstrably shown 100 percent of Mayfield’s vision, we do not support the means (taking Library Foundation money via a bylaws revision that gave Mayfield full charge to transfer money to NOJO). I’m not surprised by them being upset by criticism—anyone who is criticized in the media is usually upset. I have offered to let M&M respond to our editorial commentary in the July issue in their own words. To date, neither has forwarded a response. The offer is out there. I really would like to understand their side of the story, and why what happened should not have been subject to a critique from OffBeat.
What I fear is that because of this scandal–which involved the support of many of the city’s non-music movers and shakers—it could be difficult for jazz to achieve serious credibility with a community of people who typically view most musicians as mere performers, who don’t have a real impact on out city’s cultural status worldwide. Unless we can seriously accept that corruption and inside deals are part and parcel of how we do business in this city (can we?), the impact on soliciting support to finance a vision to elevate jazz to the level it deserves could be in peril.
Mayfield and Markham may not have done anything that could be considered blatantly illegal. But it sure didn’t pass the “sniff” test. Ambition and vision are admirable, but you need honesty and integrity to garner respect for music as a whole to and give fruition to a vision that truly upholds an ideal. Irvin has great vision, charisma, and intellect, and sure has been good at raising money for himself and his projects. But perhaps his ego needs to be tamped down a bit and replaced with more humility and appreciation that NOJO isn’t just Irvin Mayfield. Not being able to recognize that getting what you want by any means possible without considering the effect it has on your own reputation—or those of your fellow musicians (just who, other than Irvin, is in the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra anyway?)—just really isn’t smart at all. And it’s not serving the city’s music and musicians very well, either.
My two cents.