New ventures for Crawford and Mayfield in NYC and NOLa
25th July 2011 · 1 Comment
By Geraldine Wyckoff
For trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford, opening a new music venue means more than displaying their names above a door; it’s about bringing one’s unique artistic vision to the endeavor that is reflected not only in the music but the atmosphere. On July 27, Mayfield debuts his I Club (pronounced “eye”) in New Orleans’ JW Marriott Hotel and on August 11, Crawford introduces Davell Underground at the Kiosk in Harlem.
“When musicians become proprietors, we get to come up with creative ideas,” says Mayfield who opened Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta just two years ago. “We come from a purely artistic standpoint — the music for us is first. It’s kind of like a testament to what happened when chefs became restauranteurs — they became the idea people. I think that’s the reason the culinary industry has done so well.”
A major difference between Mayfield’s I Club and his Jazz Playhouse is that the new spot will present a variety of genres rather than focusing on jazz. That is indicated in its first week’s schedule. The I Club kicks off on Wednesday, July 27, with a by invitation-only party featuring Crawford and up-and-coming vocalist Mia Borders. Everyone’s welcome for the next three nights when Mayfield and his musical partner and percussionist Bill Summers lead their award-winning ensemble Los Hombres Calientes. Joining the group — as well as doing their own thing — will be zydeco man Rockin’ Dopsie, bassist extraordinaire George Porter and soulful guitarist and vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington, on Thursday through Saturday respectively. Other upcoming artists performing at the Club I, which, unlike the Playhouse, will have a cover charge ranging from $8 to $25, include Cyril Neville, Amanda Shaw and Kristin Diable.
“I’ve been very frustrated in not having the opportunity or a vehicle to play with musicians who don’t play jazz,” Mayfield laments. “In New Orleans everybody plays everything, that’s how you grow up. That’s something that we do very well here. I’m starstruck with Porter and Wolfman so it also serves a purpose in that I’ll get to hang out with musicians like them. That’s the great thing about the Los Hombres gig, it’s the perfect framework where anybody can get up and do something with us.”
Mayfield believes there remains a great demand for good music in New Orleans. “If you look at last year, we had eight million visitors and we would say that 90 percent of them want to know where to go to hear great music,” he states. “Clearly we know that seven million people did not go hear great music while they were here. We don’t even have enough venues to service that many people. Although we think of New Orleans as being a real music town, we can’t really say it’s been a town where a tremendous investment has been made in it.”
Another commonality between Mayfield and Crawford is the importance they place on using their talents to help others. In late August the two talented New Orleans natives will perform together at the I Club in a “super band” created by Mayfield that will share a double bill with New York trumpet great Roy Hargrove’s band in a four-day benefit event called “Love Moments.”
In late November, Mayfield heads to Harlem to perform at Crawford’s nightspot. The visit emphasizes a New Orleans/New York connection that seems to be growing in breadth.
“That’s the idea,” Mayfield expresses with enthusiasm.
Crawford Underground and All Around
On the brink of Davell Crawford opening his new music room in Harlem, Davell Underground at the Kiosk, the Crown Prince of New Orleans Piano has been performing more in his hometown than he has in decades. Since arriving here from his adopted New York City home on July 11, he totally ripped it up headlining several shows at Snug Harbor and substituting on piano for two of Charmaine Neville’s Monday night gigs at the Frenchmen Street club. The marathon continues with the master R&B, jazz and gospel vocalist and pianist being featured for the opening night of Irvin Mayfield’s new club. He’ll also be performing several free, daytime events for senior citizens, a population that has benefited from Crawford’s interest and activism, at Snug Harbor and will return there on August 4 with featured artist, trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown. As part of the Satchmo Club Strut on August 5, the dynamic pianist and vocalist will led his band at the event’s new outdoor stage dubbed Jane Alley. In other words, Crawford has been and will be omnipresent.
“It feels right now,” says Crawford recalling that when he was a teenager he’d play Thursdays at Snug, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Crescent City Brewhouse and also at the Steak Knife. “I stopped that a long time ago,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t play Jazz Fest this year and a lot of people were disappointed… and even angry, so I guess I’m making up for that.”
Having performed at Snug Harbor since childhood, Crawford has long considered the club his “living room,” a place where he wasn’t limited by musical restrictions. He hopes to create a similar atmosphere at Davell Underground, which opens on August 11 and where many New Orleans musicians already fill the schedule. “It will be my New York living room,” he says of the performance space — “don’t call it a club,” he warns — that occupies an area below a Moroccan restaurant, Kiosk, owned by Crawford’s business partner chef Mounir Jajd.
“It first started out as just a place where I would play if I felt like it,” Crawford explains. “I’d call my friends and say ‘C’mon out. I’m playing next Friday and some cats from New Orleans or Chicago or Atlanta are going to be here and I’m just going to jam.’”
After he told noted New York flautist and vocalist Bobbi Humphrey, who will grace the Underground’s stage during its opening days, about the goings-on, word spread and calls poured in from Crawford’s many music friends wanting to play.
“My partner had been saying for about two years that he wanted to create a space for me to play and do what I want,” Crawford says, adding that he never intended to have it evolve as it has. “I said to him, ‘Okay, if you really want to do this, I’ll bring some jazz and blues in as a treat to you and the people of New York.”
Crawford likens Davell Underground, which is located “smack dab in the middle of Harlem,” to a speakeasy with music. Stairs take you down to an area that seats approximately 70 to 80 people and is equipped with a bar and a piano he transported from New Orleans. Food will also be served in the room. He says that even though he perhaps should see the venture as a way to heighten his name recognition and exposure, that’s not his purpose. Like Mayfield, it’s about the music.
“At the end of the day, I want my partner to be happy. I want the musicians who are coming up to expand their audiences and be happy and feel free to play good music. I want the people who spend the money to come in to leave like the audience left Snug Harbor Saturday night — happy. That’s why I’m a musician. That’s why I’m here on Earth.”
“Ecstatic” would be a better word to describe the crowd’s reaction to Crawford’s recent mind-blowing performance. The explosive sets included the likes of his grandfather’s, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, signature “Jock-A-Mo,” a stunning version of the late, great Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” and his self-penned “I’m a Creole Man.”
“I wrote that a long while ago in testament to my heritage, my roots in Lafayette, my family. It talks about all of us here in Louisiana, the Indian blood and the African soil,” Crawford explains before speaking the lyrics: ‘I make you sing and waltz awhile — I come from foreign lands.’”
Crawford says he’ll be on hand at the Underground most nights even when he’s not performing. “Hell, these are my friends, I’m comin’ to see them play,” he says of the line-up that features such New Orleans artists as saxophonist Donald Harrison and electric violinist Michael Ward, those locals who’ve moved to New York including pianist Henry Butler and trumpeter Antoine Drye, plus New York and Moroccan musicians and more. “Musicians just want to play,” Crawford states, “especially in a place with a good vibe. What could be better than good music, good food and good people. Oh and hookahs! And hookahs!”
This article was originally published in the July 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper