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Harry Connick Jr. plays it off the cuff on Broadway and at Hollywood Bowl

The Bowl shows with his big band and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Friday and Saturday could include a different mix of music each night, and Connick prefers it that way.

August 12, 2010|By Barbara Isenberg, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Harry Connick Jr. and his big band will play the Hollywood Bowl on Friday and Saturday.
Harry Connick Jr. and his big band will play the Hollywood Bowl on Friday… (Palma Kolansky )

Reporting from New York — — It's coming up soon, but Harry Connick Jr. isn't exactly sure yet what program he, his big band and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are going to be performing at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday and Saturday.

Actually, he didn't much like planning in advance during his recently concluded 13-performance Broadway run either. As he told one New York reporter: "It would kill me if anyone who saw this show twice saw the same thing."

What he does know is they'll be playing some songs from his Grammy-nominated album of American classics, "Your Songs," which has propelled a world tour that has already taken the Connecticut-based entertainer to such places as Europe, the Middle East, Australia and China. At the Neil Simon Theatre, as at the Bowl, audiences just had to wait to know that night's mix of romantic ballads, big-band jazz, New Orleans funk and amusing patter.

Connick clearly likes the spontaneity. His shows here — and, presumably, at the Bowl — just started with easy listening tunes from his new album. In the show's first act here, he came out dressed in suit and tie, sometimes accompanying himself on piano as he sang sultrily with his big band and an additional string section — which will be even larger when he's accompanied by Los Angeles Philharmonic string players at the Bowl. A whole new, casually dressed Connick appeared in the second act to riff with members of his onstage band, transform an upright piano into a percussion instrument, shimmy with his musicians and schmooze with his audience.

Offstage, however, he's decidedly low energy. Casual in gray cargo pants and T-shirt, his large frame relaxed at the breakfast table, the 42-year-old recording star and matinee idol looks like just another hotel guest. Never mind that he's reportedly on the short list as an "American Idol" judge and maybe even a lead in another Broadway musical. His manner is slow and easy whether answering questions, dealing with a waiter or waving at his family as they amble by across the lobby.

"It's just me doing my show," he says, charming a reporter with his Southern gentleman's manners and Louisiana drawl, much as he charmed audiences with his excitement about doing his first Broadway concert series in 20 years. "Nothing's scripted."

At the heart of those shows — in New York and Hollywood — is his new album, released on Columbia Records last September, and conceived by Clive Davis, the celebrated record producer and music executive. It is comprised of 14 songs written by or made famous by the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole. While songs such as "All the Way" may reinforce Connick's stylistic similarities to Sinatra, others remind us of his own distinctive way with a lyric.

Davis had proposed they collaborate on a project, Connick says. "He told me he thought I should take really familiar songs that everybody knows and just be a singer," the musician says. "These are songs I normally wouldn't touch, only because they were so well done by the original artists. But the novelty of it was intriguing to me."

It was clearly intriguing to Davis. "I love Harry Connick's musicianship, persona and voice," he says. "We decided to do an album on great songwriting, and there were no limitations. It was really for him to stand for great songs, whenever written. All the music was arranged, orchestrated and conducted by Harry, and I felt it should be."

Connick has been touring pretty constantly for a year, but he says he'd go out for two weeks, then home for a week. Both onstage and in an interview, Connick makes it clear how important family is to him. On opening night, for instance, he asked his wife and three daughters to stand up in the auditorium, telling his audience, "Looking at them out there, I can't tell you what my heart does. They are not the reason I'm happy. They're the reason I'm alive."

That's how Connick talks. He uses the word "privilege" a lot and seems genuinely thankful for what fate has dealt him. That includes his wife of 16 years, model Jill Goodacre, whom he met in Los Angeles after simply admiring her from afar. The way he tells it, he was swimming in the Sunset Marquis pool when she walked by "and I said to myself, 'It's that girl!' I jumped out of the pool, introduced myself to her and asked her to have some lunch. We had lunch and that was it. That was 20 years ago. It was one of the great days of my life."

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