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.”
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.