Hold a conversation about Harry Connick Jr. and chances are that sooner or later the term “Renaissance man” will pop up. Singer, musician, songwriter, arranger, composer, stage, screen and television actor, humanitarian, activist. And he’s got three Grammys and an Emmy on his mantle—what doesn’t this guy do?
Asked the proverbial “desert island” question: If you had to choose just one thing,Harry, what would it be? “Playing the piano is probably what I would choose,” he says in his deep, laconic New Orleans drawl.
He started playing the ivories at the tender age of 3 and was playing in a jazz band at age 10. “My parents had a piano in the house,” Connick recalls. “They were big music fans but didn’t really play.” The couple happily encouraged and supported their son’s passion for the art, however. He attended the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts—fellow alumni include Terence Blanchard, Trombone Shorty, the Marsalis Brothers and Nicholas Payton—before decamping for New York’s Hunter College and the Manhattan School of Music.
Connick found fame early in life when director Rob Reiner chose Connick to write the score and sing a few songs for his 1989 smash hit When Harry Met Sally. The soundtrack went multi-platinum and handsome Harry was on his way up. The 1990s belonged to this guy. He was everywhere. Furthering his musical career, he released eight albums—all gold and five platinum—and winning his first Grammy with 1990’s We Are in Love.
Because of his early musical stylistic resemblance to Frank Sinatra, the media pegged Connick with the sobriquet “The Vice Chairman of the Board.” He didn’t seem to mind the comparison. He made an auspicious, critically and popularly successful film debut as B-17 tail-gunner Clay Busby in Memphis Belle with Matthew Modine and Eric Stolz. This is also the decade in which he met and married his wife, former model Jill Goodacre. The couple now has three daughters and resides in Connecticut.
Not that he’s resting on his laurels. Far from it; 2010 is a very busy year for Connick. He continues an aggressive touring schedule kicked off in the fall of 2009 in support of his latest recording, Your Songs. By the time he appears on the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Jimmy Lyons Stage on Sunday, Sept. 19, the singer and his big band will have crisscrossed the United States and played sold-out dates in New Zealand, Australia, France, Abu Dhabi, Turkey and Morocco. Asked why a highly successful artist would embark on such an ambitious tour, Connick replies: “When we go out, we go out and work hard. If I’m going to have to be away from my family, I might as well work.”
That schedule also includes a series of eleven July performances at the Neil Simon Theater on 52nd Street in Manhattan. It was to be his first Broadway performance since appearing in a revival of The Pajama Game in 2006. “I really like the idea of playing a series of concerts in the same venue,” Connick notes. “It will give me and the band a chance to stretch out and really dig into the music.”
This past May, he also put in highly lauded appearances on Fox Television’s “American Idol,” sparking rumors of the possibility of his replacing über-judge Simon Cowell. At press time those were still just rumors.
Would he do it? “I might. I’d give it a lot of thought—I had a good time,” Connick says. “But frankly, I haven’t been asked.”
That last quote perhaps holds the key to the Harry Connick Jr. work philosophy—I had a good time. “I do things because I want to do ’em,” the performer said recently.”If I’m not into it, forget it.” So what’s he into lately? One project that’s near and dear to his Big Easy heart is the Musician’s Village. Connick and fellow New Orleanian Branford Marsalis conceived this ambitious project following the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “Branford and I were talking about how we could help as long-time citizens of this city,” the singer recalls. “And we thought ‘maybe we should help the people we know the best—the music community.'”
The New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity had plans for an eight-acre parcel of land in the devastated Upper Ninth Ward and quickly and wholeheartedly embraced the Musician’s Village concept. Today, 80 residences have been constructed and work is underway for the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, the crown jewel, literally and figuratively at the heart of the project. An homage to the legendary pianist and educator—and patriarch of the Marsalis clan—the Center will be dedicated to preserving and passing on the rich, unique musical heritage of The Crescent City. Connick is proud of what they’ve achieved: “If you build a strong neighborhood as opposed to one or two houses,” he says, “that’s gonna influence all the adjacent neighborhoods and bring the whole area up. This is an oasis and I’m really proud of what has been accomplished here.”
Connick’s new release, Your Songs, is a compilation of 14 cover tunes ranging from Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” to the Elvis Presley staple “Can’t Help Fallin’ in Love With You” to “Besame Mucho (Kiss me Much).” The latter, incidentally, is a favorite of the performer’s dad, Harry Connick Sr. The album also features songs by Lennon and McCartney (“And I Love Her”), Elton John (“Your Song”), and Nat “King” Cole (“Mona Lisa”). Asked why he chose to perform such iconic, well-known—and well loved— songs, Connick replied: “I don’t think that anyone’s version of a great song, however classic, should preclude my singing it.”
He has complete respect for the originals, but believes there is room for another interpretation. And besides, people already know the words: “This new record was made specifically for people to sing along to,” Connick says. And if there is such a thing as a CD that has something for everyone, Your Songs is definitely it.
To learn more about Harry Connick Jr., visit