Marcus Samuelsson

Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Why are you head over heels about cooking?

I love the creativity of cooking and eating. Cooking is very rewarding. What I love about it is that you can cook a meal and can share it, you can share where you’ve been on a journey, you can share where you’re going, you can share what you’re excited about. It can be spiritual; you can really bring your mood into the food. But it is also something that still is both a craft and an art. I practice cooking almost every day. It’s a combination of work ethic, craftsmanship, and artistry.

When did you realize you had the knack for it?

When I was a teenager. I started to make meals for my family and everyone loved my food, even the pickiest of eaters. My grandmother helped me find that passion and my parents gave me my work ethic. Working in France showed me what it would take, and then coming to this incredible environment here in New York City pushed me even more, working with the chefs from Harlem EatUp and other local chefs, like Jonathan Waxman, Daniel Boulud and Melba Wilson. They’re the ones inspiring and pushing me every day.

Is there a difference between cooking for Americans and Europeans?

I do believe that there is. In America, you have a multicultural culinary base with a variety of different consumers, which makes it more interesting. In America, the biggest difference is we have diversity. The bigger the diversity the more you have to take into consideration. Maybe there won’t be as much pork on the menu, maybe you have to think about more vegetarian dishes. You have to think about people’s choices in order to feed a more diverse nation.

What is your favorite ingredient at the moment?

I am intrigued by seafood, even the most simple, like soft shell crab. I also like rhubarb.

Are you head over heels for a particular cookbook?

White Heat is my favorite, by chef Marco Pierre White. He showed me a different path in France. And I love Leah Chase’s And Still I Cook. She is one of my mentors.

Julia Child said careful cooking is love. Do you agree?

I completely agree. It is a way of caring. I think it applies to everything we do. Everything that I know and every place that I have been has always revolved around cooking. Whether I am breaking bread with my family in Harlem or in Ethiopia, to me it is one in the same, and I love it.

How would you tailor a menu for the ultimate date night?

The menu would have intimate, shareable food. I’d begin with oysters. I think there must be champagne, definitely some bubbles. I love something that talks about a journey a couple has shared together, like the Caribbean—for instance, grilled lobster with rice. They’d finish with strawberries and buttermilk sorbet, to bring back some childhood memories.

Editor’s Note: Marcus Samuelsson is a favorite contestant and judge on cooking competition shows, and owns Red Rooster in Harlem. He holds the distinction of being the youngest chef ever to receive a 3-Star review from the New York Times. As executive chef at Aquavit, he was named the top chef in New York City by the James Beard Foundation. Editor At Large Tracey Smith actually spent more than 5 Minutes with Marcus. Log onto edgemagonline.com to learn more about Red Rooster and his life as a celebrity chef.

Jax

Fox Broadcasting Network

Idol worship has come to New Jersey in the form of Jackie Cole, a spunky blond teenage chanteuse known to millions of music fans by her three-letter nickname, Jax. A native of East Brunswick, Jax powered her way to the finals of American Idol (Season 14) this spring, making it farther than any New Jersey singer in the show’s history. She is an original in every sense of the word—her look, her attitude and her voice—right down to the (non-permanent) trademark X on her left cheek. Tracey Smith caught Jax heading into the Final 3.

Somehow, she fell one round short of victory…but we suspect we’ll be hearing from her long after the two finalists have faded from memory.

EDGE: What kind of advice do American Idol contestants get from the judges?

JC: All three of the judges commented that I am an artistic person and to stay artistic and focus on being creative. The most inspiring advice was to stay in the moment, stay present, because you can lose yourself in a lot of other moments, instead of the one you’re actually in. In the performance, it’s important to stay in the moment.

EDGE: What goes through your head when you perform in front of millions of television viewers?

JC: It depends on the song. I often think of my parents and family members—because they’re sitting right in front of me!They are getting to watch the most incredible experience of my lifetime. Sometimes I’ll think about a guy, again, depending on the lyrics. A lot of times I’ll just think about myself.

EDGE: How far back can you trace your singing career?

JC: I have been singing since I was able to talk. And I was fortunate enough to have known my calling as an entertainer for a very long time—since I was the age of three. I’ve always wanted to sing. As far back as I can remember.

EDGE: What have your musical influences been?

Fox Broadcasting Network

JC: I love all kinds of music. When I say that, I really mean it. I love music from the 40’s and on! I think my number-one inspiration was probably Janis Joplin. It’s pretty cool to perform her songs.  I’m influenced by all women of power, like Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks, who I actually just saw live with Fleetwood Mac, which was insane. I like Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. I like Haley Williams a lot. And Lady Gaga. But I also like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel. And whatever is new on pop radio. In terms of mentors, I have my vocal coach. He’s incredible. I go to vocal lessons once a week in the city. With the amount of singing I do, there is no choice but to keep going and improving.c

Fox Broadcasting Network

EDGE: Of the people the contestants worked with on the show, who were the most memorable?

JC: We learned something different from every one of them. I think that maybe the most enjoyment I got out of mentorship was with Kelly Clarkson, because she was a former contestant. There’s nobody who could relate to us any more than she could, in that sense. But yeah, everybody brought something different to the table. I loved Boy George, Florida Georgia Line, Nile Rodgers, everyone was really great. But Kelly Clarkson was truly the most relatable.

Fox Broadcasting Network

EDGE: As you move forward in the American Idol competition, how do you deal with the inevitable highs and lows?

JC: It’s not easy. It’s really important to find a balance between those things, because if you don’t, then you can wind up in either of those two dangerous extremes. For example, I try to stay away from comments in blogs for the most part, because if they’re really great or really awful, either way they are likely to affect my mindset.  It’s like when a football team thinks way ahead in the season and ruins the actual next game they have to play. That’s what I meant before about just having to stay in each moment.

EDGE: You know, there was a famous football coach named Bear Bryant who used to tell his players, “Show class, have pride, and display character—if you do, winning takes care of itself.”

JC: It’s true. You should be your own worst critic, you should compete with yourself and learn from your mistakes. It’s important to give off that kind of class. And I think it’s important to inspire people, to show the world that this is a beautiful thing, a beautiful process, and that however American Idol ends, we’re all just trying to leave our mark on this planet. Presenting yourself in that kind of way really shows the honesty of the process.

EDGE: And if you do win?

JC: The first thing I’m going to do is celebrate with my family and [laughs] go get some Taco Bell!

EDGE: You came into this competition as a Jersey Girl. Are you ready to spread your wings a little more?

JC: I love my hometown and New York and everything, but I want to travel. Part of my job and purpose is to touch people in as many places as I can. I am really ready to branch off.

EDGE: So have you named your first CD yet?

JC: The Undefined Variable with an X [laughs]. No, it would definitely be a pop record, but with more of a rock edge…something a little darker than your usual pop record. I want to make an honest pop record.

EDGE: What was it like to hear yourself on iTunes for the first time?

JC: It was surreal. It’s, like, people can actually pay for my recordings. I don’t even know how to feel about it. I actually bought my own recording on iTunes [laughs] and felt guilty about it. Then again, it’s really great to hear what we worked on in the studio.

 

Al Jarreau

Two decades before Al Jarreau gained international fame with his joyous theme from the hit TV series Moonlighting, he was moonlighting as a singer with the George Duke Trio in San Francisco. Jarreau was busy putting his Master’s degree to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor when he found his stride on stage…or vocal thumbprint, as he likes to call it. Needless to say, he’s never looked back. Editor at Large Tracey Smith asked the six-time Grammy winner to look back—at his musical family, his early influences, and the unexpected twists and turns in a professional career that is now in its sixth decade.

EDGE: What kind of impact did Moonlighting have for you?

AJ: People heard me who had never heard me before. People who were unlikely to go to Tower Records and search through the jazz bin and find this singer named Al Jarreau—who was singing Chick Corea and Dave Brubeck, who was doing this really eclectic form of music that had a mixture of styles. I mention Tower Records because that’s the time period covered by Moonlighting, when we had brick and mortar stores to go into.

Picturemaker Productions/ABC Circle Films

EDGE: Moonlighting had an international audience.

AJ: That’s an important point. People in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Oslo, Norway found out about Al Jarreau by hearing [singing] Some walk by night, some walk by day. Moonlighting strangers, who just met…on the way. It was a very wonderful introduction to people, who went out and found my music. And [laughs] guess what? Listening to me they learned about Dave Brubeck and Chick Corea and found that music, and got their lives enriched some more.

EDGE: How did you get that job?

AJ: The writer called me and he mentioned he was doing music for a pilot show that would star Cybill Shepherd and—I could hear papers rattling…he was looking for Bruce Willis’s name and he finds it—Bruce Willis, this young actor. Who knew!

EDGE: What did you want to be when you grew up?

AJ: My Dad was a preacher, a Seventh Day Adventist Minister—four years of school, ordained ministry, not somebody who read the bible a few times and decided to open a church on 3rd and Vine. So I wanted to be a preacher until I was 13 or 14 years old [laughs]. But then I figured out that probably was not for me. My older brothers had brought jazz and stuff into the house. They sang the Mills Brothers, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine—they called themselves The Counts of Rhythm. I was knee high to them looking up in total wonderment. That was the heaven I wanted to go to, where they do this kind of music. Impactful! Greatly impactful.

EDGE: When did you start singing?

AJ: When I was four years old. It was a wonderful thing to stand there and open your mouth and something comes out that makes people smile. I got it. Whatever I did, my folks were big on education, so I knew that I would stay in school, graduate from high school and go on to college somewhere. I didn’t know what my vocation would be, but I knew that more education was in my future, and that I would be doing music all the way through. And that’s exactly what happened. All through high school, I sang in the a capella choir, solos that I rehearsed for and looked forward to, doing the sacred music of Bach, the show music of Broadway, singing doo-wop music on the street corner and in the bathroom with three other guys [laughs], because there was good echoing off the tile. I rehearsed with quartets that only sang a couple of nights a year at Lincoln High School—we got together to laugh and smile and make this music we could make with these four people.

Photo by Helmut Riedl

EDGE: Did your father sing?

AJ: My dad sang his butt off! He sang in a quartet that traveled all the states of the Union doing church music. They were all students at Oakwood College and becoming ministers within the faith. My dad was a brilliant singer, an Irish tenor type of voice. My mother was a pianist and she could sing, too. But her main thing was to play the piano, and she played for the choir and with the soloists that sang during most of the years of my upbringing in church.

EDGE: When did you know you shared that gift for music?

AJ: At five or six I knew. I knew I had it—that early! The dream began then to do music in whatever situation I could.

EDGE: How did you establish your voice and perfect your craft?

AJ: Simply by doing it. When you do it over and over, you find yourself. We all begin trying to sound like somebody that we admire and that’s good, but if you do it long enough, you’ll find your own voice. There’s a thumbprint inside you, inside your mind, inside your throat, that is only you, that nobody else has. If you have time to research and look for it, you find your own thumbprint. Don’t nobody sound like Ray Charles or Joe Cocker or Celine Dion.

EDGE: Who did you emulate at first?

AJ: When I started out, I wanted to sound like Johnny Mathis…and Jon Hendricks. Pound for pound, Hendricks is one of the best jazz singers that ever walked the face of the earth.  He’s 95  and still doing it. Go and find Lambert, Hendricks & Ross—I wanted to sing like those guys. Most singers who sing jazz don’t sing complex stuff like Take Five, or scat like I do. But I started out wanting to be like Jon Hendricks.

EDGE: When did you start writing your own music?

AJ: I really started writing my own music in about 1969 or ’70, about five years before I recorded We Got By, my first album. It was rather frightening for me. When you listen to Bob Dylan, when you listen to Joni Mitchell, when you listen to Janis Ian—those singer/songwriters who were writing at such a high level, it’s intimidating. So, it took me a while to find my own voice as a writer. I’m still struggling as a lyricist, writing in that way. Musically, it comes out a little more easily for me. But I don’t think I’m a great music writer—I mean, the melody and the chord changes for the melody I do okay. And when I collaborate, that really lifts it to a different level musically.  But in terms of the message and the lyrics and all of that…if you read poetry, you see how some people put together words in a way that just [laughs] scares the crap out of you if you’re going to start messing with words!

EDGE: Talk about your history with George Duke. Last year you recorded a tribute album to him, My Old Friend.

Concord Records

AJ: [laughs] George and I go back to when we were puppies. I was 24 or 25 and George was 19.  There’s a record called Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio Live at the Half Note 1965. George was not even old enough to be in the Half Note Club! I was doing jazz standards, American Songbook standards and some Broadway music, but George was swinging like Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Kelly—at age 19. I walked in on a Sunday afternoon, which was a “Matinee Sunday,” and stood in line with five horn players and a guitar player, waiting to get up and play with this wonderful trio that was led by George. That started a three-year run with George and me at the Half Note, in San Francisco. His mother would come to the club and shake her finger at the owner, Warren, and tell him to get her son home immediately when he was done performing, because he had to play for church the following Sunday morning. We did a lot of great George Duke music on My Old Friend, with Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Boney James, Jeffrey Osbourne, Dianne Reeves and a bunch of people who came and played on this record. It’s been out there since last August, and its doing great…we’re on the charts since that time and we’ve got numbers, and I’m tickled to death to be doing this summer’s tour with that record under my arms, presenting it basically to the rest of the world. He was one of the most important music people in this sector of the universe during the last one hundred years.