Irvin Mayfield: Keeping Dad Close While Moving On

New Orleans jazz musician Irvin Mayfield lost his father in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. He talks about preseving the memory of a fun-loving, chess-cheating father, while letting go of his public role as a grieving son.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

In the chaos following Hurricane Katrina, more than 5,000 people were reported missing, including a 65-year-old postal worker name Irvin Mayfield, Sr. His family searched for three months before they found him in a morgue miles away. Mr. Mayfield's son, trumpet player Irvin Mayfield, Jr., is director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

Reporters Heather Smith and Samantha Grant spoke with him. And on this Father's Day weekend they bring us a story about holding on and letting go.

Mr. IRVIN MAYFIELD, JR. (Director, New Orleans Jazz Orchestra): My dad, he had a very good sense of humor. He was a true New Orleanean. You know, he loved red beans. He loved to eat. And he loved music.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. MAYFIELD: We had an ongoing chess game. And I like to say that the last game we played, he tried to cheat me, because I was winning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MAYFIELD: Yeah, we had an ongoing chess game. Yeah.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. MAYFIELD: The storm came. It passed. My mother talked to him on the phone and said everything is fine, the storm is cool, roof still is on the house, see you when you get back. Two hours later, the levees broke. And obviously there was no more communications; we didn't have a cell phone.

Until he was identified at the morgue, which is in Saint Gabriel, every night we dedicated this song to him just to remind people that, you know, hey, it's not like we're just out here playing music. People are dealing with real issues and tragedies. The song is called Just A Closer Walk To Thee, which the first song that he ever taught me how to play. It goes...

(Singing) Dah, dee, dee, do, dee, dee, dee. Dee, dee, dee, do, dee, dee, dee, dee. Dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee.

(Soundbite of trumpet)

Mr. MAYFIELD: We did a service with the governor and the mayor and the lieutenant governor at the SuperDome. And, you know, they asked me to play the song. And I said, at this point, I just wouldn't play it. I did want to memorialize him, but I felt that people only want to get caught up in the story of, okay, here was a guy, he died, look how painful this is. A famous son, he's going to play this song. Oh my God, it's painful. I mean, you know, he's my dad, you know.

When you celebrate, it's something that happens as a group. But when you mourn, sorrow is something that you handle as an individual. That's partially what jazz teaches us about. I mean, jazz deals with the fact that you're required to be an individual and a group at the same time.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: