Spirit of Mayfield

 Prof. John Willinsky rocks free sharing in music and scholarship

When John Willinsky, the Khosla Family Professor of Education, came to Stanford a decade ago from Vancouver, Canada, he brought his leadership of the Public Knowledge Project, which promotes and studies the sharing of research and scholarship as a public good.

He also brought his electric guitar. Today, Willinsky’s band Mayfield brings GSE students, staff, and faculty together in a shared and evolving love of music, just as his work in open-access publishing unites researchers worldwide in a public commons of information.

Willinsky says his twin passions are closely intertwined. “What I know about guitar playing I’ve learned strictly from 12-year-olds’ freely sharing their chops on the Internet. I’m an autodidactic player courtesy of their gifts. Which, when it comes to sharing scholars’ work, is the subject of my research.”

As a child of the 1960s, “I couldn’t be a member of my generation without carrying a guitar on my back,” says Willinsky, who directs Stanford’s undergraduate program in Science, Technology and Society as well as the GSE’s undergraduate honors program. But only when kids in the mid-1990s began posting online instruction– at first, PDFs with typescript guitar notation; later, tutorial videos – was he able to take his rock and blues playing to a band-worthy level.

“It’s hilarious watching kids slowing things down in their YouTube guitar lessons, saying, ‘Try to watch my fingers as I play this tricky bit,’” Willinsky says.

As a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, he says, he was able to “create bands with players who were very good and didn’t need any of that.” When he moved to Stanford, finding fellow musicians was high on his agenda. Mayfield’s successive iterations cross generations and draw from each member’s musical interests, ranging from “My Funny Valentine” from the 1930s to recent hits by Pharrell Williams and Rihanna.

The current lineup includes Willinsky on guitar; doctoral student Nidia Ruedas-Gracia on vocals; Rob Van Wandelen on bass; Bob Kaplan on drums; and GSE honors undergraduate An Nguyen on violin. Senior Associate Dean Geoff Cox plays trombone in guest appearances.
Willinsky’s side band, Anzini’s, honors an eponymous bar in the long-gone Mayfield Hotel on today’s El Camino Real at California Avenue.
Photo courtesy Jon Kinyon

Members practice in Willinsky’s attic in Mayfield, a formerly feisty community south of Stanford that boasted 13 saloons before being absorbed into the city of Palo Alto in 1925 and that gave the band its name.

“Our motto was ‘Lost town, new sound,’” he says. “We were originally called B&, but we had to keep explaining that it was pronounced “band,” so it didn’t last long.” 

A private Mayfield, Calif., drinking room habituated by Stanford students around the turn of the 20th century. Patrons scratched graffiti into the round tables, which were later hung along the walls.
Stanford University Archives

Mayfield has played at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meetings, at GSE student and alumni events, and most recently at the Dean’s Kickoff BBQ in September on campus.

“Graduates and STEP students have a year-end party which we’ve played,” Willinsky said. “We found the STEP students have been amazing dancers.”

There’s even a spinoff band, a jazz trio named Anzini’s, after one of the lost 13 bars of Mayfield. 

“There’s a student band that plays for the GSE undergraduate honors ceremony and they inspired the jazz trio for me,” Willinsky says. “We hope this new group of students we’ve just admitted will add some new sounds to our Mayfield lineup.”

Watch Mayfield play the Dean's Kickoff BBQ on campus in September 2017.

Watch Mayfield’s 2012 lineup perform “Come Together” featuring vocalist Nicole Tirado Strayer, PhD ’16 (DPS), now a research associate at WestEd in Oakland, and Paul Franz, MA ’10.

Browse the GSE Open Archive of work by Stanford education faculty and students.

Check out Willinsky’s book The Intellectual Properties of Learning, forthcoming in Winter 2018 from University of Chicago Press. 

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Willinsky bestows blue honor cords on education honors undergraduates Najja Kossally, Julian Jaravata, Hannah Rich and Tadeo Melean, all Class of ’13, to wear at 2013 Commencement.