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Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008 04:49 am

Frank Parker also makes music in the kitchen

Jazz trumpeter brings taste of Big Easy to the capital city

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Untitled Document Frank Parker is not a tall man — but the minute he starts blowing his trumpet, it seems as if he’s 10 feet tall. He’s no slouch in the kitchen, either. Since 1986, Springfield has been fortunate to be home to this outstanding professional jazz trumpeter, who moved here because of wife Molly’s job. The list of people Parker has played with reads like a who’s-who of musicians, including Irma Thomas and Dr. John. He’s been part of the opening act for Bill Cosby. “If you want to call Jimmy Buffett, I’ve got his number,” Parker tells me, his eyes twinkling. He’s played at the Apollo Theater in New York City and tours frequently in both the U.S and Europe. Actually, Parker calls two cities home: He spends part of each year in his native New Orleans. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was personal for Parker. Several members of his family, including his daughter, lost their homes to Katrina. Before that terrible tragedy, he spent as much as six months a year there, playing in various clubs and at the annual jazz festival, but in the storm’s aftermath jobs for professional musicians evaporated. Since Katrina he’s only been in New Orleans about three months a year. Things are improving, however, and Parker expects to be spending more time in his hometown in the future. “I really should be down there right now,” he says. Parker’s reputation for Louisiana cooking is almost as stellar as his reputation for trumpet playing. “Everybody in my family cooked,” he says. “Seems like it was more common for men to cook down there than up here. Here, a lot of the time, men just grill. My mom cooked, but so did my dad and my uncles.” As often as not, when Parker’s not on the road he can be found in the kitchen. “I have to eat out all the time when I’m on the road,” Parker says, “so when I get home I almost never go to restaurants.” Asked whether he ever cooks on the road, he shakes his head ruefully: “The only times I could’ve, I wasn’t the cook. I’ve done a lot of tours with Fats Domino. He’s got it in all his contracts that every place he stays has to have a kitchen. Fats has stuff flown in like shrimp and andouille [a sausage similar to a very spicy Polish sausage], and he does the cooking.”
I’ve known Parker for years, and more than once we’ve talked about food and recipes when he’s been on break between sets at local venues. I’d never tasted his cooking, though, until I went to a party at the Alamo in 2002 to celebrate a CD release by Frank Parker and Friends, a band he put together with other local jazz musicians. Parker and a friend had made food for the party, and it was quite a spread: gumbo, red beans and rice, and jambalaya. Everything was fantastic, as good as, if not better than, renditions of those classics I’d had in restaurants — even restaurants in Louisiana. Parker used to be in New Orleans every year for Mardi Gras. In 2004, however, he and Kate Hawkes, owner of the Trout Lily Café, put on a Mardi Gras celebration here in Springfield. The festivities, which began on a shoestring budget, continue to grow, and organizers this year have formed a not-for-profit organization. A kickoff fundraising event, held at the Brewhaus on Jan. 13, was a huge success, drawing more than 100 people.
Like so many outstanding home cooks, Parker rarely measures out the ingredients for the dishes he makes, such as his red beans and rice, a Louisiana staple. In earlier times, red beans and rice was made on wash day — usually a Monday — because it could be put together in the morning and left to cook all day while the laborious and time-consuming task of washing and ironing occupied the household. These days, red beans and rice can be enjoyed anytime. As with most long-simmered dishes, it’s even better the next day.  

Contact Julianne at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
Frank Parker’s Red Beans and Rice

1 pound red kidney beans One large smoked ham shank One large onion, chopped Three or four celery stalks, chopped Six to eight garlic cloves, chopped One whole carrot Two to four bay leaves Salt and pepper Creole/Cajun seasoning (Paul Prudhomme’s Magic,  
  Emeril’s Essence, or any other good brand)
Butter (optional) Cooked rice
Put the ham shank in a 6-quart pot. Add the onion, celery, garlic, carrot, and bay leaves. (Make a note of how many bay leaves you’ve used so that you’ll be sure to take them all out later. Bay leaves remain stiff even after long cooking, and their sharp edges can cut the mouth or throat if a leaf is eaten.) Cover the contents of the pot with cold water, about 4 quarts. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer; cover the pot and cook until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. This will take two hours or longer. Remove the shank from the pot. When the meat is cool enough to handle, shred and reserve it. Remove the carrot from the pot and discard it. Return the bones to the pot. Wash the beans in a sieve and check to make sure there are no small stones, then put them in the pot and return it to the stove. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer, and cook until the beans are tender, about two hours. Remove the pot from the stove and put it in a sink of cold water that comes just below the top of the pot. Stir occasionally until the beans have cooled to room temperature. Remove the bones and bay leaves from the pot and season the beans to taste with salt, pepper, and Creole seasoning. The beans may be reheated and eaten at this point, but they are even better the next day, and excess fat can be removed. Refrigerate the beans if you’re not eating them immediately. Serve them — Parker likes to add a dollop of butter — over cooked rice.
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