Multitalented Harry Connick Jr. steers his own career
By Bob Karlovits
Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Harry Connick Jr. seems perfectly capable of dealing with all the problems music has to offer.
“Right now, I'm spending all of my time visiting towns on the tour and writing arrangements for the band to keep everything moving,” he says, describing a schedule he says keeps him busy onstage and elsewhere.
Connick will be at Heinz Hall on June 27 doing a show centered on his new release, “Every Man Should Know.” It also will include the jazz and pop hits that have earned him three Grammy awards and netted him sales of 25 million albums worldwide.
But there is far more to Connick than simply singing. He is a pianist, arranger, composer and actor who has played a World War II tail-gunner (“Memphis Belle” in 1990) and a serial killer (“Copycat” in 1995) and a marine rescue doctor (“Dolphin Tale” 2011).
Music, though, and all of its challenges are his heart and soul. He says he loves writing songs that go many different directions “but are all me.” He also confesses to enjoying working with the profession's range of musicians.
For instance, he says, when he writes arrangements for an album and goes to a studio to work with high-end session players, he can mark the score with notations that will develop the finished product. It almost is a bit of musical science, he says.
But the New Orleans native also works with jazz stars such as Wynton and Branford Marsalis and guitarist Jonathan DuBose Jr., who look at music a bit differently.
“You go in and talk to them and they say, ‘So what do you want us to play?' ” Connick says. “It's all very intuitive. They want to know what you want to say.”
Connick's love and appreciation for music go back a long way. He started playing piano at 3 and was sitting in with a New Orleans jazz band at 10. He attended the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts as a teen and then went to Hunter College in New York City and the Manhattan School of Music.
At 19, he released his first album on Columbia, which started his climb to musical renown.
Singing was only part of his musical work. He recorded “25,” a collection of solo piano songs, and did the scores for the film “When Harry Met Sally” and a Broadway play, “Thou Shalt Not.” He wrote individual songs for “Godfather III” and “The Mask,” a Jim Carrey film, as well.
Besides his film acting, Connick has appeared on a number of TV shows, with recurring roles on “Will & Grace” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
His energy and success have created a recording career in which he has been able to decide the directions his albums have taken rather that have it be the business decision of a group of corporate executives.
That control has allowed him “to do the things I wanted,” he says, a freedom that shows on the new “Every Man Should Know.”
The album is filled with a wide variety of songs. There is a small-group jazz-flavor of “Being Alone” with the trumpet of Wynton Marsalis or the lovely ballad, “Let Me Stay,” with the soprano sax of Branford Marsalis. “The Greatest Love Story” beckons the Texas upbringing of his wife, Jill Goodacre, while “Time to Go” has an Appalachian-country feel. He even shows off his own Delta heritage with a second-line-flavor in “S'pposed to Be.”
“I like recording different kinds of songs,” he says, “but you have to be careful: You don't want to jar the listener.”
Besides the material for this album, Connick also has written a song called “Love Wins,” to benefit the family of saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who lost a daughter in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in 2012.
That song is available on iTunes.
Acting, composing, recording and touring create a busy schedule for Connick. He says he's grateful to have a 13-piece band with him on the road for that work.
“If I can't do it with that number of talented musicians, I need help,” he says with a laugh.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.
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