A city tour with musical accompaniment.
The home of jazz, Mardi Gras, perhaps even of music itself. The Mercedes-Maybach S 600 appears to glide through the streets of the French Quarter, the Disneyland of New Orleans, where each day thousands of tourists flock to seek out the soul of the city on the Mississippi. On this occasion, however, the main attraction in Bourbon Street is not Preservation Hall, the pulsating heart of traditional New Orleans jazz, but the person sitting inside the impressive black car.
Mercedes-Maybach S 600: Fuel consumption combined: 11.7 l/100 km; CO2 emissions combined: 274 g/km (440 g/mi)*
Irvin Mayfield laughs.
As a true native of the city, the Grammy award-winner is both its official cultural ambassador and one of the world’s finest trumpeters. “By the way,” he asks, giving a friendly wave to inquisitive passers-by, “do you know how the whole jazz thing started?” We take a moment to enjoy the hustle and bustle out on the street from the luxurious, climate-controlled environment in the rear of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class. Outside, the temperature is still 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) and evening humidity levels have risen above 90 percent. By contrast, the Maybach’s temperature gauge shows a pleasant 21 degrees (70°F) inside. While the tourists sweat in their flip flops and shorts, I let my feet sink into the deep pile of the Mercedes-Maybach carpets. Wellness for the soles of your feet. Lean back and try the massage function in the seats, I suggest. With bare feet. Mayfield pushes the button and stretches out his legs. The car is five and a half meters (18 ft) of pure luxury and power. The exquisite Burmester sound system is playing Mayfield’s “Angola”, a smooth track from his CD/book project New Orleans Jazz Playhouse.
That sure is impressive.
“When I mix my music,” says Mayfield, forming an invisible sphere with his hands in front of his face, “then I want to have the music right here, like I can grab hold of it.”
And his music really is right here where he wants it. “This luxury sedan has 24 built-in speakers,” I point out to him, “the Burmester High-End 3D Surround-Soundsystem, 1,140 watts with an additional 400 watts for the subwoofer in the trunk, plus speakers in the roof liner.” “That sure is impressive,” he replies.
There is not a sound from outside in the brief gap between Mayfield’s tracks, even though we’re driving over the cobbles of the noisy French Quarter. The Mercedes-Maybach soaks up the knee-deep potholes without so much as flinching. But with all the tourists in the city, the car’s 12-cylinder bi-turbo engine with 390 kW barely gets a chance to shine. Perhaps we need to get out of here.
Home to the greats.
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.
The true heart of the music scene.
Irvin and I drive up Frenchmen Street, to the true heart of the music scene. Miss Sophie Lee is singing the blues in the Spotted Cat. In the bar across the road, the black funk band dba is playing the kind of music that gets even non-dancers like me on their feet. On a street corner, a group of kids armed with trumpets, trombones, drums and tuba are improvising the best street jazz I’ve heard since Cuba. “New Orleans is the only city where people with nothing react to a tuba and drums as if it was magic, as if it was the hottest thing around,” says Mayfield. He seems to know every musician here personally. He greets a doorman, before continuing: “We still dance to jazz, we eat to jazz, we celebrate parties to jazz. We play jazz at birthdays and at funerals.”
Nowhere in America does a city’s heart beat as loudly as in New Orleans.
Well, I think to myself, if you’re going to die, then it might as well be here. Where every door leads to music, where behind every steamed-up bar window there is more talent on show than in all the hip clubs put together. Nowhere in America does a city’s heart beat as loudly as in New Orleans. When it celebrates Mardi Gras, Rio and Cologne are envious. This was “sin city” long before any white man set foot in the desert of Nevada. Louisiana’s largest metropolis is steamy and sexy. Around here, anything goes.
Like a modern-day magic carpet.
The Mercedes-Maybach glides like a modern-day magic carpet along Jackson Square. A stereo camera scans the street and presets the suspension for any bumps in the road. It is as if we are floating – past the grand old mansions to Bourbon Street and back to Irvin’s club, Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse. As usual, his gig there is a sell-out sensation. The saxophonist celebrates the news that he is to become a father. The whole place joins in. But I can’t help thinking that the sound from the Burmester is pretty good too.