Irvin Mayfield's Address to the Contributions Council
At the end of the 19th century in New Orleans, night would have just been lit by electricity. This innovation was timed with the birth of another power, a music named Jazz. If you lived in this neighborhood at that time and visited the site where we are hosting you today, you would have experienced the Dryades Market. Perhaps – while buying fresh fruit here – you would have seen the legendary trumpeter Buddy Bolden. He was known as “King Bolden” because he was the first great Jazz musician. Legend says that people could hear Bolden play from miles away. When they did, they would come by the thousands to witness greatness. At that time in New Orleans, access to brass instruments for black people was an advancement that would change the future of music around the world. One would imagine that you had to live in the moment then because there was no way to retain sound for future listening. The technological advancement of recording would later create an even more significant global disturbance through the world’s first pop star, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong’s journey is a model for any organization trying to create a sustainable, measurable effect that scales with time. His success and impact resulted from a combination of imagination, technology and love. Although equal in social status to Bolden, Armstrong had access to newer, better technology and married it to his passion, breaking down barriers that would try to restrict him because of his race while leveling the playing field in his industry.
Jazz is not just music but is also a vehicle for leveling the playing field in our own community and across the world. At the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Jazz is our philosophy; when married with other tools, Jazz allows individuals to actualize their dreams, just like Armstrong. At one time I did not understand why an arts organization should write a mission statement. I thought mission statements were just another way organizations could waste time and money. Also, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra’s purpose seemed clear to me by name alone. Nonetheless, we constructed our first mission statement. It read as follows: “To inspire freedom and culture in the individual and the global community by creating authentic, engaging Jazz experiences while celebrating the origins and transforming the future of Jazz.”
Years later, our President and Chief Executive Officer Ronald Markham attacked this mission statement during a staff retreat. Through detailed discussion, we then developed a tool that would clearly assist us in following our passion unlike ever before. Our current mission statement reads as follows: “NOJO creates Jazz to enhance life, transform place and elevate spirit through the tenets of truth, love and beauty.” Through that process, I recognized that a mission statement is indeed a useful tool. Sometimes what is lacking in a tool is not the idea; it is the misunderstanding of how to make it successful. We as an organization needed to rethink our tools to expand and grow; we recognized a gap we needed to close. I realize that – for practical foundation people – this sounds like the musings of a dreamer and lacks measurable outcomes, and – for cultural bearers – this sounds like yet another arts organization co-opted by corporate/non-arts leaders. This is a common gap felt between funders and those seeking support. Just a few weeks ago, we commissioned a group of 50 musicians, visual artists, social activists and writers around the theme of the Black Lives Matter movement. Collectively, they expressed belief in a significant separation between those on the ground in our communities and those who occupy roles within administrative or corporate structures. This is a challenge we attempt to eradicate daily.
The Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market, NOJO’s official home since April 2015, allows us to have consistency in this effort. Here we have the opportunity to use Jazz as our philosophy and the ultimate equalizer. So what is Jazz? You can play Jazz. You can taste Jazz. You can see Jazz. Jazz is the vehicle for our three tenets: Truth, Love and Beauty. Let’s start with Truth. Going through and searching for the unknown is not unusual for Jazz musicians. Charlie Parker was kicked off stage with Joe Jones’ cymbal flying at his head, but later he returned to the stage a hero when he ushered in a new Jazz style called “bebop.”
Clarinetist Benny Goodman challenged social norms of his time by hiring an integrated quartet to support him. New Orleans born visual artist John Scott, recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, considered his artistic approach as “Jazz thinking.” Even Kendrick Lamar, who is currently nominated for 11 Grammy Awards, speaks of Jazz as the adventurous addition to his music. I love the notion that Jazz is adventurous inside and outside the construct of music. Jazz is adventure as music, as well as philosophy. Truth for us is about expanding a knowledge base. We have nurtured the idea of Jazz being a metaphor for people experiencing the world. Jazz married to technology is a democratic way to broaden the knowledge base across the globe; it’s not just the wealthy who should be influential or exposed. Technology also plays a major role in the discovery process because it allows thoughts to connect quicker than ever.
The Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market’s digital Jazz archive offers experiences such as the first review of Jazz, music scores, audio clips and digital streaming, as well as virtual reality experiences ranging from Jazz concerts to moon explorations. We are excited for you to try out a few of these options for yourselves. No longer is moon travel reserved for astronauts nor conducting for master musicians; through Jazz and applied technology, everyone is welcome.
Our second tenet is Beauty. Nothing is beautiful in isolation; beauty relies on relationships. Relationships that create beauty require communication and collaboration. This neighborhood did not look beautiful when we chose the location, and it had not for a half of a century. It was ignored and forgotten about, like so many for minority populations in other cities. We wanted specifically to be a part of this community. We wanted to create something valuable for this neighborhood. Through collaboration, we were able to do so. Communities void of beautiful experiences are riddled with high crime rates and impoverished surroundings, and often lack the ability to imagine anything else. Unfortunately no person, company or organization can solve that issue alone; a comprehensive approach is necessary. We believe it’s crucial for artists of all kinds to understand and be thoughtful about the tools they have, create and share. By utilizing tools intelligently, relationships with great partners like Prudential, Goldman Sachs, Google, AT&T, and others creates an immediate impact for all involved.
NOJO’s programming is based on a belief in beauty ricocheting from our home to the rest of the world. During the past nine months, we toured four continents and 40 countries. We are excited to launch our regional concert season in fall 2016, which will feature eight performances in up to eight cities per year. From Dallas, to Atlanta, to Memphis, we look forward to deepening our relationship with the southern United States.
This brings us to our final tenet – Love. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Music is the only art form to occupy the same space as emotion. Jazz music evokes emotion and feeling; it directly affects the human spirit. The most transformative emotion we can feel is love. No Jazz musician plays Jazz out of obligation or as a means to an end; they play it because they love it. The human spirit can be high or low regardless of what one has or doesn’t have in life. For those with low spirits, Jazz is the perfect medicine. You feel better after you play it and hear it.Truthful, beautiful and loving moments cannot be stolen nor taken away once they have been experienced. Concepts like social entrepreneurship, art-based placemaking and sustainable development are important, but we believe love is more powerful.
Great organizations are the ones that have employees who love them. Great cities are those with citizens who love them. It is one thing to build a space; it is an entirely different thing to feel love for it. Regardless of whether someone is a listener, performer or otherwise, we want to ignite a fire in people. Very few vision or mission statements include the word “love” in them. Maybe we’re the crazy ones, but we truly believe that Jazz gives us an opportunity to demonstrate love through social activism, community engagement, and technology, so that we can change the world for the better.
Thank you for being here and for your efforts to change the world through your love and your time.