Most jazz fans are familiar with Irvin Mayfield
and his tremendously successful Los Hombres Calientes
recordings and their blend of Latin and New Orleans jazz. The 28-year-old trumpeter / composer collaborated with artist Gordon Parks
in 2003. The resulting Half Past Autumn Suite
was a resounding success lifting the young musician to a new level.
In his position as director of Dillard University's department of Jazz Studies, Mayfield was commissioned to create another serious work. The result is Strange Fruit
a nine-movement epic in jazz.
Mayfield utilized the eighteen piece New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the eighty voice Dillard University Choir for the suite's debut in New Orleans and for the eventual CD release by Basin Street Records.
Blending elements of early jazz, blues, spirituals and modern jazz, the suite chronicles the story of a young interracial couple caught up in the racially troubled south of the 1920s. Beautifully narrated by Wendell Pierce
, the suite is somber and disturbing. It speaks of a period in time that many people would prefer to forget or deny.
The music is brilliantly arranged and quite complex. The choir adds a further touch of drama. The suite's title Strange Fruit
is inspired by Billie Holiday's classic song and the listener quickly realizes that a lynching is imminent. When that point arrives in the performance, the choir's incessant chanting of String him up
chills the listeners' blood. Strange Fruit is a serious work, musically wonderful, but intense in its sobering portrayal of history.