Irvin Mayfield: New Orleans libraries makeover

March 18, 2008 10:06:51 AM PDT
Jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield has traveled the world playing for audiences in smoky bars and buttoned-up concert halls, and he knows the sounds, tastes and sights of this city are unlike those anywhere else.

So, he says, the city's library system should be just as unique.

Mayfield intends to unveil a plan Tuesday for a multimillion-dollar library system that reflects the city's identity. It would start with a jazz-themed branch housing early recordings and reviews.

"We don't just want to have a library system," said Mayfield. "We want it to be us. We want it to be our style, our identity."

Other branches planned for the next five to 10 years, he said, include a culinary branch based on the city's unique cuisine, and an architecture branch that pays homage to the city's woodworkers and ironworkers.

The plan will be spread over more than two decades but will begin in the next two years with the construction of the jazz branch, which will cost about $10 million, $2 million of which will come from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, Mayfield said.

The rest of the money will come from private donations and fundraisers, as well as storm recovery money from the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city and the state, he said.

When Katrina struck in August 2005, nine of the library system's 13 branches were damaged. Although all branches are again in operation, some are in portable trailers or makeshift branches set up in temporary venues.

Mayfield, chairman of the board of the New Orleans Public Library System, said jazz libraries and music aren't all that different. "A library is democracy inside four walls, the freedom to information," he said. "Jazz is democracy we hear."

Mayfield says music continues to help him deal with the loss of his father, Irvin Mayfield, Sr., who drowned during Katrina, and has kept him positive through an exhaustingly slow recovery for the city.

On April 1, he will release an album that he started recording with jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra before Katrina struck, flooding out the Basin Street Records recording studio. The opening track is titled "Yesterday."

"Going through Hurricane Katrina teaches you something about yesterday," he said. "Every moment becomes yesterday."

Still, Mayfield said it's important to look at what has gone right since the storm. For one, at almost any school in the city - no matter how dilapidated - the students are playing music, he said. He says music is still in every part of the city, from the clubs, to the streets to the universities, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be part of the city's library system.

"A library is the only place that brings everybody together," he said. "An immigrant can go there. Homeless people can go there. Anyone from any age can go there and they can all receive what they're looking for."