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Connick combines charm, humor, and great music

By Lisa Leigh ParneyStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 28, 2000



Do you ever sing songs in the shower?" Harry Connick Jr. asks a sold-out crowd in Boston. "I might sing this one two or three times," he says, jumping into the Rodgers and Hart tune "With a Song in My Heart."

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On tour with his 16-piece big band, the two-time Grammy-winning singer and pianist kept the music flowing for two hours at the Wang Theatre last week.

In addition to dazzling audiences with his masterly piano playing and Frank Sinatra-like singing, Connick danced, snapped his fingers, casually conducted his band, and even hopped on top of the piano in an improvised moment.

Dressed in black pants and a silky button-down black shirt, Connick looked at ease on stage as he performed songs from "Come By Me," his latest album (nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance category) and his previous big-band albums from the '90s. He put a fresh spin on tunes from Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and sang his own originals. He even threw in some Mardi Gras music.

It's no surprise that the New Orleans native has been compared to Sinatra. His striking good looks, smooth voice, and jazzy big-band sound are reminiscent of Ol' Blue Eyes and the 1940s. Also like Sinatra, Connick already has appeared in a number of movies, like "Hope Floats" and "Copycat." This year, he stars in "Wayward Son," which will premire at the Toronto Film Festival in September prior to its general release.

On stage, Connick displays a goofy charm. The charismatic and humble entertainer shares stories, tells jokes, and keeps the audience laughing. "I can't believe anyone came in this [snowy] weather," he tells the Boston audience. He waves hello to fans in the balcony and then imitates audience members in the front row: "They're looking back at the people in the balcony and saying, 'Peasants!' "

Later, he shares a story that occurred a few hours before the concert. Apparently, Connick was badly in need of a haircut, so a hair stylist came to the theater. He had no idea who Connick was, and proudly said, "I'm going to make you look famous."

Connick, who has performed at the White House and Windsor Castle, started taking piano lessons when he was five years old, and studied at Hunter College in New York City and the Manhattan School of Music. His parents, both lawyers, co-owned a record store and encouraged their son's musical career. On his first self-titled album for Columbia, he sang and played solo piano.

"It's all about rhythm, and the feel of New Orleans," he tells the Boston audience before making up a song on the spot. "I'm going to play a tune and see where it goes.... " He starts the beat by thumping on the piano's foot pads and then strokes the keys in a bluesy rhythm. He then jumps up to dance on top of the piano, saying, "Don't worry, I own this piano.

"People ask me how I pick tunes for a concert, and I just look through a Cole Porter book because his songs are so great," he says. "I would pick songs from today, but no one writes like Cole Porter does.

"I feel like I'm in my living room, ladies and gentlemen," he says as he sits on the edge of the stage with his feet hanging down. "In fact, this is my living room," he adds, sarcastically commenting on the "exit" signs and fleurs-de-lis on the ceiling.

For a brief moment, the intimate talk transforms the auditorium into Connick's living room. What a thrill.

*Harry Connick Jr. is on a six-month tour of the United States, Europe, Japan, and Australia. For tour dates and information, click onto www.hconnickjr.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society