With a couple of inches of fresh snow on the ground, Tuesday must not have felt much like Mardi Gras to Irvin Mayfield. But the trumpeter/bandleader did his best to bring the warmth of his native New Orleans to the Kimmel Center, with a raucous performance that was equal parts traditional and irreverent.
Mayfield follows in the footsteps of fellow New Orleanian Wynton Marsalis in his efforts to marry jazz performance with education and outreach. The 37-year-old established the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans in 2008, has opened two venues in the city, and was named by President Obama to the National Council on the Arts. His 18-piece New Orleans Jazz Orchestra marries a boisterous Bourbon Street spirit with Jazz at Lincoln Center virtuosity.
The mood for the evening was set early on by the arrival of a bottle of tequila on stage, which Mayfield promised would be doled out to the band by the end of the night. "You'll never see the Philadelphia Orchestra do something crazy like that," he said. "We missed out on the greatest free show on Earth to come up here and celebrate with y'all."
Festivities kicked off with a full-bodied rendition of Louis Prima's familiar "Sing, Sing, Sing," followed by Mayfield's promise that the entire program would be a New Orleans program.
That proved true more in approach than in material. While the set list included occasional favorites like "I've Got the World on a String" and "What a Wonderful World" (both sung by lanky, sweet-voiced trombonist Michael Watson), it also featured Creole-spiced reimaginings of the Beatles' "Come Together," two Queen songs, and Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me," from the Toy Story soundtrack - the latter rendered in a Louis Armstrong growl by tuba player James Williams.
The tightly arranged pieces shone the spotlight on several of the band's skilled members, including an acrobatic kazoo solo by Watson and a gut-busting showstopper from saxophonist Ed "Sweetbread" Petersen. Mayfield himself essayed a moving solo cadenza on the traditional funeral dirge "May His Soul Rest in Peace," which swerved into "We Will Rock You" to bring the audience to its feet, before the band paraded into the aisles to end the evening, naturally, with "When the Saints Go Marching In."