Mayfield was born in Seventh Ward, one of the city’s really poor neighbourhoods, yet he has the most welcoming smile on the planet. The residents stare at us with a mixture of surprise and threat. “It’s a rough neighbourhood,” says Mayfield with classic understatement. But he waves to his former neighbours. And they wave back – suddenly friendly.
The people here are what make this place, he says: “They’re just different here.” He has difficulty explaining his love for New Orleans in words – it comes across better in his music. Whenever there was a funeral, processions of mourners would pass by Irvin’s parents’ house; he would listen to the brass bands and follow the hundreds of dancers. In the neighbouring street, he would hear Fats Domino practicing, and Irvin’s father gave his son his first trumpet for his ninth birthday. “That was my first real contact with our culture,” he recalls.
“If I hadn’t grown up here, I would never have played music. New Orleans is a magnet for musicians.” And home to the greats. Wynton Marsalis, Irvin’s friend and mentor, comes here. The Neville Brothers are school friends of his father. And Louis Armstrong was born here. But the truly great are those that play here now.