Bookminded

books, art, culture, and other things I love

Category: popular culture

Bookminded Recommends: Harry Connick Jr.

The first time I was introduced to Harry Connick Jr., I was a teenager. My friend S. had cassette tapes of the albums 20 (1987), the When Harry Met Sally (1989) soundtrack, and We Are In Love (1990), which she brought back after a trip to her father’s house in Pennsylvania. This was during our high-school self study of the ‘Great American Songbook’—inspired, no doubt by our choir director’s predilection for Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, and Bernstein.

We favored female vocalists like Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone. We listened for hours to Mahalia Jackson—and even performed our own rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” one sleepy Sunday morning in our small Cape Cod town.

But Harry Connick Jr. also made the cut—fitting into our preference for vocal delivery that was never forced—i.e. not the overworked vibrato that punctuated the performances of many of our teenaged choir peers—and always original.

Over the years, my admiration for Connick’s talent and musicality never waned—and in fact, given his prodigious output of albums, I can chart the course of my adult life thus far alongside his musical soundtrack. Some albums hold a special place in my heart—like 1994’s She, Connick’s exploration of New Orleans funk music—which I played on my Discman walking back and forth to class. Or Songs I Heard (2001), a wonderful collection of classic songs from film and stage, that was on repeat during the first two years of my son’s life and is an album that we still listen to often as a family. When I was writing my dissertation, I loved to listen to Oh, My NOLA (2007) as I pecked away at my laptop. (In retrospect, it could have been the metaphor provided by “Working in the Coalmine” that I identified with!)

So given all of this, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see Connick perform at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall earlier this month. What a show he put on! In addition to his mastery of the piano, he also jammed on the trumpet—holding his own alongside Lucien Barbarin on the trombone. Though he covered many standards, like the Cole Porter classic “I Concentrate On You” popularized by Frank Sinatra, he also threw in some originals—like “City Beneath the Sea” from Star Turtle (1996) and even serenaded wife Jill (seated in the front row) with “One Fine Thing” from Every Man Should Know (2013). But perhaps my favorite moment of the evening was when Connick offered a joyful and nuanced rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”
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What a talent and what a night! Although there is now a new generation of fans introduced to Connick through his success as a judge on American Idol, this is a musician and performer with a rich and varied archive of work that proves he has staying power—for sure.

Photos/videos were prohibited (and honestly, it made for a much more enjoyable concert experience, not having people waving their phones around obscuring the view) but I did sneak just this one toward the end. Note: HC is in the far left of the frame.

Photos/videos were prohibited (and honestly, it made for a much more enjoyable concert experience, not having people waving their phones around obscuring the view) but I did sneak just this one toward the end. Note: HC is in the far left of the frame. 😉

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SJP: Then and Now.

In my first year of grad school, I met and became fast friends with K. That I appreciated her intellect and fashion sense went without saying–but I especially loved the fact that she also shared an abiding interest in pop culture past and present. We were in most of the same seminar classes and I remember one night during the second semester she came to class and handed me a bag. I peered inside and this is what I found.

Yes, they were VHS tapes! (This was the 90s, people.)

Yes, they were VHS tapes! (This was the 90s, people.)

I trusted her recommendation that this show, based on Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name, was “going to be big.” That weekend, I cued up my VCR (!) and watched the first season of Sex and the City. I was hooked. Before the start of the next season, I added HBO to my basic cable package so I could watch new episodes every Sunday night. And ever the devoted fan, when the first Sex and the City movie was released in 2008, I saw it in Italian at a theater in Rome. 🙂 Perhaps the biggest appeal of the show for me was its narrator and leading lady, Sarah Jessica Parker. I loved that her character Carrie Bradshaw was a writer and fashionista living in one of my favorite cities–and that the city figured large as a character in the show. I also adored the actress herself–having first encountered her in the 80s sitcom Square Pegs. Over the years, I have followed SJP’s life and career with interest. Who can forget, for example, this 2014 Vogue video “73 Things You Never Knew About Sarah Jessica” featuring a tour of her fabulous West Village brownstone? (Not me.)

This week, Alec Baldwin, host of one of my fave podcasts–WNYC’s “Here’s the Thing”–interviews SJP herself. It is a great episode, full of interesting insights and tidbits from the actress, producer, shoe designer, and mother. Listen here.

My favorite SJP hair look.

My favorite SJP hair look.