News Column

Connick gets personal on new album

July 11, 2013

YellowBrix

July 11--On the title song of his new album, "Every Man Should Know," Harry Connick Jr. sings, "Not every man can write a love song to sing to the one he holds so true."

The singer, pianist and actor certainly can write a love song. "Every Man Should Know" features several of his finest examples, including the title song, "Greatest Love Story" and "Love My Life Away."

In news materials for the album, Connick says his writing for the album is some of the most personal of his career.

"I think, in essence, they're all personal, but it's like an evolution, and this CD is the next one in line," he says by telephone from New Jersey during a tour that includes Sunday's performance at the Morris. "I don't want to do the same thing every time, and you start looking for different ideas, not for the sake of being different, but you get bored doing the same thing. I wanted to explore things that were closer to home."

Connick released "Every Man Should Know" in June; on the same day, he also released the non-album single "Love Wins," another personal song for him.

He wrote "Love Wins" in response to the Dec. 14 shooting massacre at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults.

One of the victims, 6-year-old Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, was the daughter of tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, a former member of Connick's big band, and the song takes its title from one of her favorite phrases, is dedicated to her and features Greene with a soulful sax solo.

"That was devastating, that whole time," Connick says about the shooting. "The song was kind of a knee-jerk response to help Jimmy's family. It's something I wanted to do as quickly as possible for him."

Arranged as a gospel song, the recording also features Kim Burrell, Doobie Powell, Nikki Ross and Jonathan Dubose Jr.

"Jimmy loves gospel," Connick says. "I love gospel. It was based on a phrase used at the funeral that was literally from the Gospel. It's very Christian-based in its message. Jimmy's a very devout Christian, as am I and everybody involved in the recording. We just thought it would be the appropriate genre to pay tribute to her."

Born Sept. 11, 1967, in New Orleans, Connick has crafted a Renaissance career for himself in the entertainment industry.

Beginning with 1990's "Memphis Belle," he has starred or co-starred in 21 films, including "Little Man Tate," "Independence Day," "Hope Floats," "Bug" and "New in Town." On television, he appeared in 23 episodes of "Will and Grace" between 2002 and 2006 as Grace Adler's boyfriend and husband, Leo, and in four episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in 2012 as an assistant district attorney. Other television appearances include guest appearances on "American Idol" in 2010 and this year.

He also wrote the music for the 2001 Broadway musical "Thou Shalt Not" and starred in the 2006 Broadway production of "The Pajama Game" and the 2011-12 Broadway production of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."

"Those are so different, all three of those things," he says about music, film and theater. "I guess the connection would be they all require you to use your interpretive skills. One is the macro version, the songs, because each one is its own entity. A film is like doing a line from a song over and over. By its nature, you discover things that aren't as fleeting because you have more time. Doing a Broadway musical is a strange combination of both because, unlike a concert, I'm playing a character."

Sunday's concert is Connick's sixth at the Morris since 2000, and each previous one has been a master class in showmanship and musicianship that, however well-choreographed, exuded a sense of spontaneity -- his humorous, usually self-deprecating monologues, for instance, or when he performed an impromptu rendition of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" for two young girls in the second row in 2004.

Backed by a band of first-call musicians that averages 15 members, Connick's performances showcase both his vocal and instrumental skills and his band's, infusing warmth into the romantic ballads and hard-driving abandon into jazz workouts.

Chief among Connick's band members is trombonist Lucien Barbarin, who acts as Connick's dance partner and comic foil when he's not turning in solos that can vary from straight-ahead jazz to slinky R&B.

"He has the ability to do things that seem extremely easy but are in fact very, very rare," Connick says about Barbarin, with whom he's played since 1990. "He has the ability to command an audience, communicate with them, make them feel at ease in an effortless, improvisatory way. I subscribe to a lot of the same performing philosophies. We don't plan a lot. And we're very, very close. ... The onstage relationship is very like the off-stage relationship."

And each tour brings a new set -- a 1940s nightclub in 2000, a New Orleans street scene for the Crescent City native's post-Katrina 2007 tour -- that's always one of the pleasures of seeing him live.

"I take a lot of pleasure in doing stuff that's not only noticed by the audience but also not noticed, from writing the arrangements to designing the sets," he says. "Those are things I like to do. I spend a lot of time on the visual aspect because that's as much a part of the concert experience as the music. ... Plus, I think it presents the musicians in an elegant way as opposed to sticking them up there on risers. I think that looks cheap."

For this tour, Connick says, the set has an industrial look.

"It's kind of even more clean and high-tech than the last ones," he says. "Everything's black and white, based on the piano keyboard. Everybody wears black and white and the set is black and white."

Connick's desire to change sets each tour mirrors his use of a wide variety of musical styles.

Although the breakout success of Connick's third album, the soundtrack for the 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally ...," appeared at the time to cement his position as heir to Frank Sinatra and the other crooners of the 1940s, he's plumbed other genres ever since.

The multiple forms of jazz remain the foundation to Connick's music, but his albums have incorporated R&B, funk, soul, blues, pop and even country. Remarkably, his fans have allowed him to explore all the forms of music that appeal to him where other musicians often get punished for doing so.

"I grew up playing all these different styles," he says. "In New Orleans, there's so many different genres. You can show up to a gig and not know what style you'd play. We were kind of trained to play different styles. Maybe it's that I'm not trying to reinvent myself. I'm doing stuff I love, and I think people can sense that it's authentic."

IN CONCERT

Harry Connick Jr. performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Morris Performing Arts Center, 211 N. Michigan St., South Bend. Tickets are $125-$36. For more information, call 574-235-9190 or 800-537-6415 or visit the website morriscenter.org.

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(c)2013 South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

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