Irvin Mayfield leads the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra — Photo courtesy of New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
The Jazz Market in New Orleans is more than just a gorgeous music venue acoustically engineered for jazz; the permanent home for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra is also a symbol of reinvestment into an area of the city that's been neglected for a long time.
Jazz orchestra leader Irvin Mayfield is used to fielding questions about why the $10 million Jazz Market is in Central City. The Jazz Market is a beacon of redevelopment along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, next to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, both formerly part of the Dryads Market.
Art spaces, eateries and shops are popping up along Oretha Castle Haley like mushrooms, although the city’s beleaguered Central swathe is still struggling on many fronts.
“The funny thing is, I find myself addressing concerns from both sides,” says Mayfield, the Grammy-winning trumpet player who serves as both the city’s and the state’s cultural ambassador. “Folks who live in the neighborhood talk about gentrification. On the other side, you have folks saying you could have put this $10 million project anywhere – why not somewhere that has already reached its tipping point.”
The new Jazz Market is open on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard — Photo courtesy of New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
A fervent promoter of jazz in the city since Katrina, Mayfield sees the chance to embrace change as the only way for the city to move forward.
"I lost my father in Katrina. I wanted things to be the way they were, the city not to be flooded, everything back to normal. But that’s not how it works. Change happens, and we have to embrace it," Mayfield says.
Taking a proactive stance to help the neighborhood grow is risky business.
"We make tipping points happen. It’s not 'these people.' I’m a part of this community," he adds. "The intent is to add a lot of love to this place. This is real New Orleans, and the people who visit don’t want to stay in a few-block radius of downtown. They want to experience the life here."
For the orchestra, which Mayfield founded in 2002, the Jazz Market is a game changer.
“It allows the orchestra to go to the next artistic level. The musicians have a place to research, to keep their things, a place where the orchestra can sound like itself, refine our sound," Mayfield says. "I see a difference in just the last few weeks. We’ve turned a corner.”
Both locals and visitors can experience performances most weekends in the 360-seat jewel box performance space, a sleek and versatile venue wrapped in acoustically advantageous planking. Concerts started in March, although April 2 is the official ribbon cutting.
There’s also a small performance space in the lobby facing Bolden Bar, dedicated to the spirit of pioneering jazz cornet player Buddy Bolden, who long ago called Central City home.
Bolden Bar commands center stage in the market's lobby, with its lofty ceilings and sleek design. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the changing face of Oretha Castle Haley, a work in progress in a city that isn't afraid of change.