Entertainment

Harry Connick, Jr.

by Lewis Whittington
Contributor
Friday Jun 28, 2013
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Harry Connick, Jr. at Verizon Hall
Harry Connick, Jr. at Verizon Hall  

Harry Connick, Jr. is on a U.S. tour with his big-band and returned to Philly to a sold-out crowd in Verizon Hall. He didn’t keep them waiting as he sauntered on the second bar of "With a Song in My Heart" belting it with such ease, immediately connecting with the audience in what he referred to as "most like his hometown New Orleans."

He joked with latecomers as he sang and, for the next two hours, he held everyone enthralled and roared with approval when he sternly busted someone in the audience for recording the show on their mobile.

Connick likes rowdiness, but with limits; meanwhile, he kept spurring his band to be even rowdier and kept returning to his musical roots, with a little NOLA funk, Memphis class and Chicago big band swing. His versatile musicians included classical violinists, five of them from Philly.

The singer was ready to cover a lot of musical ground and
he does all the concert orchestrations. Another local luminary is sax and flute virtuoso Geoff Burke, also from Philly.

In one of the concert’s most dramatic moments Connick introduced a song that will raise funds for Sandy Hook survivors. A longtime member of his band lost his 6-year-old daughter that day and Connick told the crowd he has been unable to return to wo

Musically Connick has never been more interesting. Established as a big-band crooner ala Sinatra, he can still go there as he did on this night on Jerome Kern’s "The Way You Look tonight" and "It Had To Be You" (Jones-Kahn), which Connick recorded for the "When Harry Met Sally" soundtrack. Actually, his middle-low tone is naturally Sinatra, but now he doesn’t try to phrase exactly like him, which makes his voice more his own.

And he has tons of TV fans (his stint on Will and Grace as a doctor without border hunk) his social activist and champion of all things New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina he was tireless in raising funds for relief efforts and personally helping many NOLA musicians who had no work. In one of the concert’s most emotional moments Connick introduced a song that will raise funds for Sandy Hook survivors. A longtime member of his band lost his 6-year-old daughter that day and Connick told the crowd he has been unable to return to work since.

The crooner is also now an established Broadway Baby, getting great reviews for "Pajama Game" a few years ago and striking out with "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" last year. Connick noted that the critics slaughtered his performance for that show, but he gamely (and tepidly) sang it anyway.

But on this night, Connick hitched his real star power on his New Orleans musical roots, at one point his foot beating a bass drum under his piano (which has a skyline of New Orleans painted under the lid), switching to an organ where he played gospel hinged blues, with authentic grit. He danced and vamped with legendary trombonist Lucien Barbarin.

Connick sang a few tunes from his new recording ’Every Man Should Know’ (he can get preachy) which is, like many jazz artists, a mix of genres. He absolutely brought down the house with "Come See About Me," his baleful tune about a man lost in lost love, with a lovely blues hook. In another era, this would be topping the charts.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.

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