Harry Connick Jr. to perform Tuscaloosa’s first gig

Even in a career as rich as that of Harry Connick Jr., who has performed and sang professionally with symphonies and jazz groups since his teenage years, scoring on Broadway, television and film as well as selling double albums. platinum of standards and originals. , there is still room for a first.

As in, Friday’s concert will be his first at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, and as far as he and the internet can tell, his first concert in Tuscaloosa.

“I don’t remember,” Connick said in a telephone interview. “I guess this is the first time.”

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Tracing 104 pages of his previous concert listings, dating back to 1982, shows that Connick had seven performances in Birmingham, the first in 1995, the most recent in 2010, with shows at the Saenger Theater in Mobile in 2016, and a couple at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville. , but not from Druid City.

It’s no surprise that he hasn’t hit every city in the world yet, not because he’s not a hard worker, but because Connick is spreading his art far and wide.

After years as a child prodigy, growing up in New Orleans, tapping into this gumbo of influences, in one year he went from playing with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra on the “Piano Concerto No. ° 3 Opus 37 “by Beethoven to a duet with the legendary Eubie Blake at the Royal Orleans Esplanade Lounge on Blake’s composition” I’m Just Wild About Harry “. This performance was recorded for a documentary called “Jazz Around the World”.

Harry Connick Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett in Alcon Entertainment's Family Adventure

Soon after, Connick was recording with a jazz band, which cut the live instrument “Dixieland Plus” in 1977, mixing standards such as “St. James Infirmary”, “St. Louis Blues” and “When the Saints” Go Marching In “with one written by him titled” Bommer’s Boogie “.

This little bit of road took up a large part of Connick’s professional life between the ages of 9 and 10, and no, there are no numbers missing from this reference.

Drawing on professors such as Ellis Marsalis Jr. and James Booker, Connick traveled to New York to study at Hunter College and the Manhattan School of Music, where he signed with Columbia Records, releasing an eponymous instrumental LP. in 1987, with works by the Gershwins, Thelonious Monk and Ron Carter, as well as four of his own compositions.

The following year, he engraved the album “20” – his age at the time – drawing inspiration from standards such as “Stars Fell on Alabama”, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” and ” If I Only Had a Brain. ” Notably, it was his first recording with vocals, on six of the 11 tracks.

When Harry meets Sally

Her vocals gained momentum on her next record, the double platinum soundtrack to Rob Reiner’s comedy “When Harry Met Sally …” showcasing her golden tones on classics such as “It Had to Be You “,” Autumn in New York “and” Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off “, winning Connick his first Grammy, for best male vocal performance in jazz. Jazz-rock drummer Bobby Colomby had drawn Connick’s attention to his mate Reiner, who was struck by how well Connick sounded like a young Frank Sinatra.

Widely viewed videos featuring a glamorous Connick helped him become a superstar. He quickly began to appear on camera, acting in the 1990 war drama “Memphis Belle”, leading to romantic comedies, thrillers and more, such as “Independence Day”, “Hope Floats”, “South Pacific. “and” PS I love you. ” He played Grace’s husband on the groundbreaking sitcom “Will and Grace”, hosted the talk show “Harry”, was a judge and mentor on “American Idol” and was a guest on “Cheers” shows at ” Sesame Street “. ”

Not content with the conquered worlds of music, film and television, he wrote the score for Susan Stroman’s Broadway musical “Thou Shalt Not”, winning Tony nominations, and starred in the 2002 revival. of “The Pajama Game”. Connick has won two Emmys for television specials and continues to compose and record.

He has sold over 28 million albums worldwide, with 10 No.1 jazz albums, more than any other American artist, the best selling among which his “When My Heart Finds Christmas” of 1993 and “Only You “from 2004.

So how does he keep all those pins in the air?

“Compartmentalize,” Connick said. “It also goes into the way I live my life. The only thing that matters to me right now is talking to you.

“I consider it a real gift, to be able to focus on the present. I give everything I do 100%. I think it’s important to eliminate all distractions… then move on.

“When I go on tour, my only concern is to entertain these people.”

He was on a mini-tour, with his tribute to Cole Porter, when the pandemic hit. Connick cut “True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter” in October 2019, then presented the limited-edition Broadway multimedia show “Harry Connick Jr. – A Celebration of Cole Porter” in December.

Harry Connick Jr., shown in this May 2, 2013 file photo originally released by Fox, is scheduled to perform on August 27 at a concert at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.  (AP Photo / Fox, Frank Micelotta, File)

“I was on the road, we were in the middle of a tour, and the whole world stopped,” he said, “so I focused on different things.”

Some of these different things include writing a new set of songs, while you’re in Connecticut with the family, then playing all the instruments and layering all the vocals for “Alone With My Faith,” released in March. . In addition to Connick’s new songs, there are staple renditions such as “Amazing Grace”, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art”.

“I was at home and I knew there really was no end in sight.… It was a real test of faith, and I thought a lot, I thought a lot about things,” he said. he declares. “As therapeutic as the project was for me to record, I thought, well, the songs were helping me through this difficult time, so maybe they could be of use to others that way.”

For such a diverse artist, it’s probably not surprising to learn that at 53, he accomplished much more than just playing the piano.

“They’re not garage-band instruments; they’re trumpets and cellos, steel pedal guitars and acoustic drums.… It’s a fun challenge, sure. It takes time when you add 20 or more. 30 vocal parts. But it’s actually going a lot faster than you might think, “said Connick.

“I’m better at some than others. I’ve been doing this for a very long time.”

Time to play

As the concert window started to clear up earlier this year, Connick spoke to his manager and found a location for a month of live dates, which Tuscaloosa was lucky enough to book. The tour is entitled, rightly for a comeback after more than a year of absence: “Time to Play”.

At the time of this interview, he hadn’t rehearsed with his band yet, but since they’re all pros he’s played with for many years, Connick doesn’t care about finding the groove.

“We should be able to come back right away,” he said. The show was heralded as a throwback to its roots in New Orleans, but he said the selection lists remain wide open.

“We will be playing different tunes, some that I may not have recorded,” he said. “The shows will be very varied, from one evening to the next.

“We could play some of the same songs, but I think it’s important to create something unique for the people you’re playing for that night.”

“Since a lot of the music we play is jazz, it lends itself very well to stretching and improvising. I could start playing a tune that no one else (on stage) does. knows, but they will understand it right away. “

Return to compartmentalization: It is especially crucial, as a jazz player, to stay fully alive in the moment.

“I don’t really have a diet,” he said.

“I wake up and say ‘What am I doing today?’ “

In this image released by Fox, the judges, left to right, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. appear on the set of "American Idol," in Los Angeles.  (Ray Mickshaw / FOX via AP)

That’s not to say his manager, who Connick has worked with for 35 years, doesn’t keep him on a schedule. For example, in October and November, he’ll be working on the “Annie” show on NBC Live, playing Daddy Warbucks – no, he’s not sure yet if he’ll shave that wavy mane or wear a bald head. cap.

“She blocks down time so I can accomplish whatever I need to accomplish,” he said. “She’s always 10 steps ahead, on the same day.”

When asked what it was to be so cool, Connick hesitated, seemingly surprised, then laughed.

“You should ask my wife,” he said, referring to actress, director and former Victoria’s Secret model Jill Goodacre Connick, mother of their three daughters. “She’s the coolest of the two of us. If I could just emulate her, I’d be cool.

“People who know me know I’m not really cool,” he said.

Connick and his group of seven will perform the entire evening show Friday, starting at 8 p.m. costs. For more information, see www.tuscaloosaamphitheater.com.

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