The mood for the evening is sensuous. I'm sitting in cosy Amis du Jazz in Sonya listening to trumpeter Kevin Clark, pianist Peter Hill and bass player Ka-Cheong Lu play the kind of New Orleans jazz that's so seductive it makes you want to do things you shouldn't. Old standards that transport you to a space where you just have to sway and tap with welcome familiarity. Comfort food for the ears.
What I didn't expect was comfort food for my eyes, nose and taste buds, too. An accomplished cook as well as musician, Kevin is treating the audience to a sampling of the New Orleans Jazz Brunch he offers every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Top of the Senator. Each week, the recipe he orchestrates is part of the chef's brunch menu.
Between numbers and during the other musicians' solos tonight, Kevin takes us through the steps of making Jambalaya using a hotplate and his grandmother's skillets, and shares some of his background.
This evening, Clark introduces us to his captivating musical style peppered with influences from the greats, including Al Hirt and George Girard, the 1950's New Orleans jazz musician who died of cancer at age 27.
Then Kevin chops onions, celery and garlic and tosses them into sizzling oil, and I discover the ecstasy of stimuli invading the neural pathways through the eyes, ears and nose.
"The appeal of the show is that it attacks all the senses on a base level," says Clark, who grew up in Florida and lived in New Orleans for many years. "I learned to cook from my grandma and the chefs in the Louisiana clubs and restaurants, where there's always a pot of food simmering. I'm a musician first and foremost, but I want to offer people this kind of experience."
Kevin turns over the limelight to Ka-Cheong, who uses the bass as both a string and percussion instrument. Our trumpeter/chef chops bell peppers with practiced skill.
"I remember playing this spiritual song with the great clarinetist Pete Fountain when I toured with him," Clark says.
He glides the knife through chicken breasts, smoked sausage and mushrooms, and stirs them with tomatoes into the pot. Who says men can't multitask?
Kevin takes a break from this stylized melody to add chicken broth, parsley, thyme and red pepper flakes.
"As a child, I played on stage at church functions with my family's band. I studied classical music at Stetson University in Florida, then went more commercial with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus Band. From there, I spent 12 years playing in the Walt Disney World Band."
Clark rests his trumpet again as Peter coaxes the piano keys till they practically weep. The musician/chef pours water into the Jambalaya along with a few handfuls of rice.
"My career led me to New Orleans to play with the Dukes of Dixieland, and I met my Toronto-born wife Meaghan on one of our riverboat gigs. We have two kids, a daughter Cyre, 4 , and a son Keller, 1. Meaghan really missed Toronto, so we moved here last fall."
During intermission we taste the delicious Jambalaya, and Clark starts preparations for Bananas Foster for dessert.
Audience members enjoy the fruit accompanied by a flambeed brown-sugar-rum sauce. Clark has worked with 30 major acts in his career, and he's thorough in both his cooking and presentation of early jazz.
"In Toronto, I've played with traditional and contemporary jazz bands, including NOJO, Climax, Ragweed and Hot 5 Jazzmakers, plus Alex Pangman, Laura Hubert and other vocalists. I've also put together two bands."
His latest CD, called New Orleans Jazz Brunch, includes recipes on it, and is available at HMV or through his Web site, www.kclarkjazz.com
He wipes his hands and picks up the trumpet once again. "Just as jazz begets jazz, so is the art of food passed down from generation to generation. It's a perfect match."
(Dorothea Helms (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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