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Bring on the beignets: Orchestra announces jazz lineup

Irvin Mayfield
Courtesy of Orchestra Hall
Irvin Mayfield will be curating, performing, mentoring and premiering some work during his first season as the Minnesota Orchestra’s artistic director of jazz.

Irvin Mayfield’s appointment in July as the Minnesota Orchestra’s first artistic director of jazz was such big news that it was reported in the national press and by Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, Europe’s largest public research archive on jazz.

Ever since, jazz watchers have wondered what Mayfield would actually do in his new post.

Now we know, and it seems that Mayfield will need an apartment and a place to buy beignets. During his one-year appointment, he will play several roles: programmer, performer, composer, curator, program host, educator, mentor.

The programming part is done and three new jazz dates are on the Orchestra Hall calendar.

Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009: “A Minneapolis Mardi Gras”:
The Rebirth Brass Band starts the show, followed by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra All-Stars featuring Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans.

The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) was founded by Mayfield, who also serves as its artistic director and lead trumpet. In addition to Mayfield, the All-Stars on the schedule for this concert (these things can change) are Evan Christopher (clarinet), Vincent Gardner (trombone), Don Vappie (guitar), David Torkanowsky (piano), Neal Caine (bass) and Jaz Sawyer (drums).

Thursday, July 23, 2009: “The Art of Passion”:
The name of the program is also the title of a newly commissioned work by Mayfield that will receive its premiere on this night.

The working description of “The Art of Passion” is “a radical encounter between jazz and classical music,” with “four movements dedicated to the themes that matter to the music: love, passion, truth and adventure.” Sommerfest Artistic Director (and jazz fan) Andrew Litton will conduct the Irvin Mayfield Quintet and the Minnesota Orchestra.

This is the performance with the orchestra that Mayfield promised back in July, saying, “We want to be the first institution that really makes the marriage between jazz and classical music.” He also said, “My personal mission is to inspire people through love” and characterized his role with the Minnesota Orchestra as “part of one big thing: Passion. Love.”

Mayfield will host the evening, so it seems reasonable to expect he’ll tell us about his new work.

Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009: “Singin’ the Blues with the Ramsey Lewis Trio”: In words and music from his extensive catalog, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis will explore how blues has shaped jazz and his own career as composer and performer. Vocalist Bruce Henry will open the program. Mayfield will curate and act as co-host with Lewis.

This choice came as a surprise. Lewis came to town earlier this year as part of the Northrop Jazz Series. His “Gospel According to Ramsey Lewis” program wasn’t entirely successful. No one can argue with Lewis’ status or significance to jazz, but the evening never really gelled. So this is a wait-and-see.

Two more jazz events already scheduled when Mayfield’s appointment was announced have been wrapped into the Jazz at Orchestra Hall series led by Mayfield: a Friday, March 6 performance, “The Music of Thelonious Monk,” featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, and a Thursday, April 30 performance by the McCoy Tyner Quartet.

It’s a bit confusing, but another Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert scheduled for Saturday, March 7 is not part of the series. Nor will it focus on Monk.

Mentorship program
The Minnesota Orchestra has also announced an ambitious jazz education initiative. Mayfield will lead a yearlong mentorship program with St. Paul’s Central High School Jazz Ensemble, visiting the school throughout the season to work with the students.

Central was chosen as the mentorship site because the orchestra already has a relationship with the St. Paul schools through its UPbeat community outreach program and has partnered with the Central High’s jazz band director Matt Oyen in the past.

“The music program in general, and the jazz program in particular, are well respected,” explained Jim Bartsch, the orchestra’s director of education. “We liked the idea of having the pilot year be with a true urban, inner-city school, which also happens to be situated very near Orchestra Hall.”

On Friday, March 6, up to five high school or college jazz ensembles from Minnesota and Wisconsin will have the opportunity to perform onstage at Orchestra Hall, be critiqued by members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and participate in clinics with the musicians. Details and an application are available online.

Mayfield will also serve as this year’s guest artist for the third edition of the Dakota Combo, an elite ensemble of student jazz artists chosen by audition and directed by trumpeter and MacPhail jazz educator Kelly Rossum. Mayfield and the Combo will perform at the Dakota on Dec. 6.

So, which downtown café will step up with the beignets?

Upcoming picks

JazzMN Big Band Presents “The Latin Side of Trombonist Conrad Herwig”: Minnesota’s own big band launches its 10th season with guest trombonist Conrad Herwig and guest vocalist Charmin Michelle. Herwig, based in New York City, has recorded 17 albums as a leader including two Grammy nominees. Michelle is a local treasure. JazzMN has found a good home in the 900-seat Performing Arts Center at Hopkins High School. 2400 Lindbergh Drive, Hopkins; free parking. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 ($27/$25 at the door, $10 student rush, or through Ticketworks).

Artists’ Quarter “Lucky 13” Anniversary Party:
In October 1995, the AQ moved from Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. Thirteen years later, it’s still there, still featuring live jazz almost every night, still pouring reasonably priced drinks, still providing that shelter-from-the-storm-of-life, basement-jazz-club ambience. Davis Wilson will take your money at the door and dispense reams of jazz lore if you care to chat — but on Sunday, snag your table first. Many area musicians are coming to play and a full house is expected. The lineup is a jazz lover’s dream: George Avaloz, Pete Whitman, Phil Hey, Carole Martin, How Birds Work, Dave Karr, Brian Grivna, Gary Berg, Dean Magraw. The Artists’ Quarter, 5 p.m.-midnight, Sunday, Oct. 19 ($10).

Framework: Drummer Jay Epstein, guitarist Chris Olson and bassist Chris Bates play the music of John Scofield, Dave Holland, Chick Corea and their own inventive compositions. Sounds like the perfect way to end a Tuesday. Kitty Cat Club, 10 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21. No cover.

Find jazz calendars online at Jazz Police. Click on Twin Cities, MN in the black menu bar at the top.

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