Art Works Blog

Mayfield and Dworkin and Carnegie Hall, oh my!

October 18. 2012

Irvin Mayfield takes a solo during his gig with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Photo by Josh Goleman, courtesy of New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

In what may have been a first for the NEA, earlier this month, National Council on the Arts members Irvin Mayfield and Aaron Dworkin took the stage at New York City's historic Carnegie Hall (it's been a performing arts venue since 1891!) for back-to-back performances. Mayfield performed with his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) on Monday, October 8, to celebrate the group's 10th anniversary, while Dworkin's Sphinx Organization presented a concert featuring the Sphinx Virtuosi the following evening. Making the concerts even more special, the Sphinx Virtuosi "sat in" with Mayfield and NOJO for the Vernon Duke standard "Autumn in New York" on Monday night, while Mayfield returned the favor during Tuesday's performance. Naturally, it seemed the perfect time to get both Mayfield and Dworkin to answer that age-old question, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

The Sphnix Virtuosi take the stage at Carnegie Hall. Photo by Josh Goleman, courtesy of New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

NEA: What's your earliest memory of Carnegie Hall as a venue for a performer to aspire to play?

IRVIN MAYFIELD: I'm not sure what my earliest memory is, to be honest. However, there are recordings available of a legendary performance there with Benny Goodman's band from the late 1930s---a time when the notion of jazz in Carnegie Hall was unheard of. That concept is inspiring: playing on the same stage as the revolutionary jazz greats that paved the way for musicians like myself and organizations like New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO).

AARON DWORKIN: One of my earliest memories is that of the legendary Isaac Stern performing on that amazing stage. As a seven-year-old boy, I was mesmerized by the sounds, his incredibly effortless, joyous stage presence. At that moment, I dreamed of being able to experience the sounds of my own violin on that stage.

NEA: To paraphrase the old joke, how did you get to Carnegie Hall?

MAYFIELD: Practice, practice, practice! For us, our performance at Carnegie celebrated 10 years of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra as a performing-arts organization and as an institution for jazz in the city of its birth. It definitely took a lot of work and passion to get there.

DWORKIN: Without a question, through relentlessly consistent hard work of our artists, their dedication to our revered art form and unwavering commitment to the mission of transforming lives through diverse programming.

NEA: What was it like to perform from/on such an iconic stage?

MAYFIELD: For us it's all about the music. Being able to perform our music on such an iconic stage was a pleasure and an honor, although I consider it an honor to play jazz music on any day and anywhere.

DWORKIN: The opportunity to perform at Carnegie is a dream for any artist. The privilege of sharing this experience with our artists and, literally, witnessing the sense of awe on their faces, is absolutely priceless to me. What is deeply meaningful is the chance to share works by composers of color with audiences of all backgrounds who come to experience the Sphinx Virtuosi because of the impact that their mission has on our entire society.

NEA: Can you give us some highlights from the performance?

MAYFIELD: Well, that was quite a night; for me it was one long highlight. However, it was definitely fun to second-line down the stairs and through the audience during our finale. That caught a few people by surprise!

DWORKIN: While the evening offered several memorable highlights, including the collaboration with the legendary Irvin Mayfield, the one that stands out most in my mind is the joy of presenting the audience with an encore. “Star-burst” is a work written by Jessie Montgomery, a violinist in our Catalyst Quartet, who lead the Sphinx Virtuosi.

NEA: What did you want the audience to take away from the performance?

MAYFIELD: First and foremost, hopefully the audience left with a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experience. I hope they also left with an understanding of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and our goals for the future, including enhanced education programs and two buildings dedicated to and created for jazz in the city of New Orleans.

DWORKIN: A sense of learning something new and understanding that composers of color throughout the history of classical music have created wonderful volumes of deserving works. More importantly, I hope that the young people in the audience may look on stage as well as around them and be able to see themselves. We hope to make classical music relevant to people of all ages and backgrounds.

NEA: What's another iconic venue that's on your wish list and why?

MAYFIELD: I joke with my team a lot about planning performances at the Great Wall of China, or maybe on the moon. At least they think I'm kidding! I think that a performance at Royal Albert Hall in London would be amazing; also Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona. They are both breathtaking spaces with so much history of great art.

DWORKIN: It was a dream for us to be able to perform at Kennedy Center, due to its legendary place in history of the performing arts. I am pleased to share that the dream came true for the Sphinx Virtuosi this year, and we were thrilled to have been received with such warmth and enthusiasm.

Stay tuned for more from the National Council on the Arts, including interviews with two new members and the live webcast on of the Friday, October 26 public session of the fall NCA meeting.


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