Harry Connick, Jr.’s career has been studded with awards and recognition, including several multi-platinum and gold albums, Grammy and Emmy awards, a starring role in a Tony-winning Broadway musical and much more. A true American icon, there are few artists of Harry’s stature, and fewer still with such a comprehensive span of the entire realm of entertainment.
Harry grew up in New Orleans, and it is here you will find the roots of his love for music and performing. His early talent was shaped by study with such luminaries as James Booker and Ellis Marsalis, and he was but five years old when he began performing. Harry appeared on his first jazz recording at age ten, and left New Orleans for the Big Apple at 18. Within a year he released his self-titled major label debut for Columbia Records. His second album, 20, introduced audiences to his magnificent voice, and there was no turning back - Harry was on his way.
Harry’s first widespread success as a musician came when director Rob Reiner asked him to contribute the score to the 1989 smash film, When Harry Met Sally. The film’s success led to Harry’s first multi-platinum album, an accomplishment made even more impressive by the fact that it was also Harry’s first Big Band recording.
The full scope of Harry’s artistry emerged in the ‘90s. His groundbreaking albums from this time are a diverse mix of his many musical talents: original instrumentals and vocals on Lofty’s Roach Souffle and We are in Love, Funk exploration on She and Star Turtle, Romantic balladry on To See You. As a fitting cap to this vibrantly successful decade, Harry seamlessly wove his talents together in the Big Band tour de force, Come by Me. The San Francisco Chronicle deemed the album, “…easily the crowning achievement of his career.” Come by Me debuted at Number One on the Billboard Jazz Chart and reigned there for several months.
Harry also made his film debut in 1990, opposite Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz and John Lithgow in the drama Memphis Belle. The following year he appeared in Jodie Foster’s directorial debut, Little Man Tate, a project the Washington Post recognized as “…intrinsically poignant.” Harry changed tunes for his next film role, portraying a homicidal sociopath in 1995’s Copycat. The critics took notice, with the New York Times dubbing him, “…scarily effective,” and the Tampa Tribune naming him “most memorable” in a cast that included Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver. Next for Harry was a memorable role in the 1996 blockbuster, Independence Day, one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.
As he did musically, in the realm of film Harry ended the ‘90s with a big bang. Cast alongside Sandra Bullock in 1999’s Hope Floats, Harry earned a Blockbuster Award nomination for Favorite Actor - Drama/Romance. The L.A. Times agreed, proclaiming there to be “…no doubting Connick’s impact.” Harry then lent his voiceover talents to the critically acclaimed feature, My Dog Skip and the animated, The Iron Giant. Harry conquered yet another film genre with Linda Yellen’s improvisational film, The Simian Line. Variety found his performance with costar Lynn Redgrave to be, “…achingly honest.” Harry was nurturing an acting talent that seemed limitless - and unstoppable.
With vast success on the jazz charts, great crossover success on the pop charts and a growing roster of impressive film credits, the new millennium dawned bright for Harry. As an actor, he continued to have a major impact in theater, film, and television. In 2001, Harry filmed Life Without Dick, a dark romantic comedy costarring Sarah Jessica Parker, and co-starred opposite Glenn Close in the ABC production of South Pacific, then took his success on the small screen even further with a recurring role on NBC’s Will & Grace.
Harry’s triumphant trend continued in the musical realm as well. After exploring the wonders of childhood on Songs I Heard, a Grammy-winning reflection on favorite music of his youth, Harry released the jazz quartet album, Other Hours, an instrumental collection of songs Harry composed for the Broadway musical Thou Shalt Not. Working alongside choreographer and director Susan Stroman, Thou Shalt Not marked Harry’s debut as a composer/arranger and lyricist for live theatre for which he was recognized with a Tony nomination. Instrumental quartet performances of the music formed the first in a Connick on Piano series released by Marsalis Music, and Thou Shalt Not debuted on Broadway in 2001.
In the spring of 2003, Harry entered the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood and applied his diverse skills as vocalist, pianist, composer, arranger and orchestrator for three diverse projects featuring his singing and playing (the latter on the piano once graced by Nat King Cole), his Big Band and a full string orchestra. First, he channeled the spirit of Christmas in a second blockbuster holiday album, Harry for the Holidays, which spawned a hugely successful US tour in 2003 and was broadcast as an NBC television special and later released as a DVD. Then Harry changed his tune to one of romance on his collection of ballads, Only You, which proved to be another blockbuster hit. The PBS special Only You in Concert garnered an Emmy in 2004, and later went Platinum as a DVD. Harry also found time to feature the members of his big band in a program of instrumental originals and standards inspired by his native New Orleans that became the 2007 Marsalis Music release Chanson du Vieux Carrre. “It’s all music,” he said in explaining the challenge, “and a matter of subtly switching gears.”
Harry took on a new challenge in February 2006, when he made his Broadway debut as an actor in the revival of The Pajama Game. His starring turn as Sid Sorokin led to sold-out audiences, rave reviews and nominations for Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, while the production received the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival. The production was documented in a cast album that formed half of the 2006 two-disc release Harry on Broadway Act I, with a second disc of songs from Thou Shalt Not performed by Harry and his Pajama Game co-star Kelli O’Hara.
Other activities in recent years have included a series of tours that have taken Harry and his Big Band to Europe, Australia and Asia, as well as across North America; a collaboration with saxophonist Branford Marsalis that yielded the Marsalis Music CD Occasion and A Duo Occasion (DVD), the latter documenting their performance at the 2005 Ottowa Jazz Festival; acting roles in theatrical films with Oscar winners Hillary Swank in P.S. I Love You and Renee Zellweger in New in Town, and as UCLA breast cancer researcher Dr. Dennis Slamon in the Lifetime Television movie Living Proof; the adaptation of The Happy Elf, a song from Harry for the Holidays, into both an animated NBC holiday special and a theatrical family musical; the production of a third smash holiday CD, What a Night! A Christmas Album; and such prestigious performances as the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium in April 2008 and the singing of the National Anthem at the opening game of the NFL season in September 2009.
Harry will quickly acknowledge, however, than none of his efforts have been more important than his unstinting work to help his hometown and the entire Gulf region recover from the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One of the first to visit those displaced citizens who had taken shelter at the Super Bowl and in Houston after the tragedy, Harry was named Honorary Chairman of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity’s Operation Home Delivery in September 2005, and testified on the city’s needs before the US Senate Finance Committee the following month. Together with his friend Branford Marsalis, Harry conceived Musicians Village, a community in the Upper Ninth Ward that will consist of hundreds of single-family homes and elder-friendly duplexes in the Upper Ninth Ward for musicians and other qualifying homeowner families, as well as the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, a performance, instruction and recording center (go to www.nolamusiciansvillage.org for more details.) Oh, My NOLA, an album of New Orleans-inspired vocals, was released in January of 2007, after the pre-release of the benefit single All These People.
Harry’s most recent project, the CD Your Songs, was released in 2009. It marks the first time in which he has teamed with an outside producer, the legendary Clive Davis, and features his arrangements for big band and string orchestra of fourteen contemporary standards identified with a range of iconic artists including Elvis Presley, Elton John, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles. Lifelong friends Branford and Wynton Marsalis and bluegrass guitar virtuoso Bryan Sutton make guest appearances. While reflecting Davis’ strong pop sensibilities, the album also charts Harry’s evolution as both an imaginative musician and a singer capable of putting his own stamp on classic material.
Named after the famed New Orleans Mardi Gras parade float, Smokey Mary (2013) is singer/pianist Harry Connick, Jr.’s 2013 studio album. The release of the album coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Krewe of Orpheus, the Mardi Gras super krewe which Connick co-founded in 1993. Included on the album is the song, “Smokey Mary Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train,” which Connick penned in homage to the krewe’s signature float.
In the world of contemporary entertainment, Harry Connick, Jr. exercises a creative energy that is undeniably unique. Despite the stunning pace of his work and the extent of his accomplishments, Harry is still finding new ways to express himself artistically. “Right now, I’m just taking my time to keep learning my craft,” he says.
Harry Connick, Jr. has built a reputation for musical and
emotional honesty. Never one to rest on his ever-growing list of laurels,
Connick exposes his feelings as never before on Every Man Should Know (2013). The new CD contains twelve original
songs for which Connick wrote music, lyrics and arrangements.
“No rules, no limits,” is how the multi-talented artist
describes the songs in his liner notes for the new collection. “I don t recall
ever reaching quite as deeply or confidently into my inhibition pool.”
The title track is indicative of how anecdote and
imagination yield inspired results. “I was building a workbench with a
carpenter friend,” Connick explains, “and my lack of any knowledge about
carpentry left me feeling so inadequate. It led me to think about other things
that every man should know, like how to change a tire. Then I began thinking
about what everybody should know how to do, and that’s to love.”
“‘Come See About Me’ is a song about a guy who’s heartbroken
that was inspired by a line Kim Burrell sang on ‘All These People’ (a song
about the abandoned Katrina victims from Connick’s 2007 CD Oh, My NOLA). It was tough for me to sing, because the thought
of watching the one you love move on is so painful. Just the idea of it hurts,
and it took me a few tries just to figure out how to sing it.”
More immediately personal feelings underscore “The Greatest
Love Story,” a song for Connick’s wife Jill that includes both “inside”
allusions (“Jill’s from Texas, which is why the pedal steel guitar is in there”)
and a direct reference to Connick’s late mother, Anita.
Connick is quick to credit his collaborators, including
guest soloists Branford Marsalis (whose soprano sax enriches “Let Me Stay”) and
Wynton Marsalis (extending the reflective mood of “Being Alone” with his
trumpet) and longtime Band regulars Jerry Weldon on tenor sax and old friend
Jonathan DuBose, Jr. on guitar on “I Love Her.” He gives special credit to
guitarist Brian Sutton and the Nashville musicians assembled for several
tracks. “Those Nashville guys are deep,” Connick marvels. “Before they play a
note, they ask, ‘What are we playing about?’ And they like to play with you
when you sing rather than laying down tracks before you sing, because they want
to understand the sentiment of each song. They really helped me capture ‘Love
My Life Away,’ a song about a guy dying from a disease who is facing the
plodding nature of his life.”
The range of these songs is vast, touching upon love and
loss, celebration and sorrow, tragedy and hope. With Every Man Should Know, Harry Connick, Jr. triumphs once again, with
a depth of feeling that signals another milestone for one of the music world’s
most multi-faceted artists.
His accomplishments speak for themselves: album sales of over 25 million; endless accolades in the music, film, television, and theater worlds; and a growing profile as a responsive public citizen who is making a significant difference. There simply is no stopping the marvel that is Harry Connick, Jr.