Born Joseph Harry Fowler Connick, Jr. on September 11, 1967, in New Orleans, LA; son of Harry, Sr. (a New Orleans district attorney) and Anita Connick (deceased); married Jill Goodacre (actor and former Victoria's Secret model), April 16, 1994; children: Georgia Tatom, Sara Kate. Education: Attended New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and Manhattan School of Music. Addresses: Record company--Columbia Records, P.O. Box 4450, New York, NY 10101-4450. Management--Wilkins Management Inc., 323 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139. Website--Harry Connick, Jr. Official Website: http://www.harryconnickjr.com.

Jazz pianist and singer Harry Connick, Jr. stepped onto the scene at the age of 22 with a young voice and vintage pop sound. The New Orleans-born Connick has been compared to such stars of the golden era of American pop standards as Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. But while his piano virtuosity is unquestioned, and his youth was once so obvious, Connick has proven that he has staying power with many popular and critically acclaimed records. He has caused some controversy by relying on a repertoire of great sounds from the past to make his musical statement, but he has been received by many jazz fans as a breath of fresh air and by fans the world over as a dreamboat with a Sinatra-esque voice.

While some jazz sophisticates were taking a cool, wait-and-see attitude toward Connick's upstart, those music lovers lucky enough to get a ticket to one of Connick's performances got something a little unexpected--an evening of genuine, old-time saloon jazz with a Bourbon Street accent. "At first blush," wrote Newsweek's Cathleen McGuigan, "[Connick] looks too fresh-faced to have done so much growing up in saloons. But when he starts to sing, he assumes a grown-up golden glow. With his fast fingers and slow drawl, his slicked-back hair and laid-back glamour, the New Orleans pianist has been astonishing Yankee audiences with a jazz virtuosity far beyond his years."

Right down to his snakeskin shoes, Connick is a polished showman. He has even joked that he has a more extensive wardrobe than his ex-model wife. He jokes, trades places with his drummer or bassist, does imitations, taps on his piano, and occasionally performs an impromptu soft-shoe on stage. Again, this is against the grain of modern jazz standards, which tend to call for a more sedate, laid-back style of performing. "What ever happened to a show, man?" Connick asked Rolling Stone's Rob Tannenbaum. "You go to hear Louis Armstrong, and they were jitterbugging. Armstrong was a bigger goof-off than I am on-stage. It's so staid now."

Showman, Yet Serious Musician

And behind this obvious glamour, which has won him a handful of film roles and promises still more, Connick is a very serious musician. In fact, his musical upbringing reads like a pure jazz pedigree. His parents, both music lovers, put themselves through law school by running a record store in New Orleans, where Connick's late mother eventually became a judge. Connick was a piano prodigy who started playing the family piano at age three. By the time he was five he was accomplished enough to play "The Star Spangled Banner" at his father's inauguration as the New Orleans district attorney.

It was his father's position as D.A. that got young Harry into many of the smokey saloons of Bourbon Street on weekends, where he learned to love the sounds of Dixieland, bebop, and rhythm and blues in their natural element. Many of the performers, including the legendary ragtime pianist Eubie Blake, even invited the boy wonder onstage. "Eubie was ninety-six at the time, and I was nine," Connick explained to Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune. "To be able to play with a man who was born in 1883. My Lord--I still can hardly believe I touched him." Another strong influence was the talented pianist James Booker. Many believed that Booker was bound for greatness himself, but drugs destroyed his talent and Booker eventually died in 1983. Booker became so fond of Connick that he often came around the house to tutor the boy. Booker was "the only genius I ever met," Connick told Rolling Stone, but "he'd play a tune and throw up in the middle of the song. I didn't know what was wrong. I wasn't thinking about dope when I was eight."

But Connick's most complete musical education came at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. There he was taught by Ellis Marsalis, a now-legendary jazz instructor who is also the father of current jazz stars Branford and Wynton Marsalis. By the time Connick was in high school, Wynton Marsalis had already become a star with his horn, and Connick idolized him. "I wanted to be Wynton," Connick told Time. "I wanted to be in his band. I dressed like him. I talked like him." Marsalis, too, made his mark by playing the music of the past and has also been roundly criticized for it. But Connick feels that a tip of the hat to the great masters is essential for young musicians. "It's a shame they criticize people like Wynton and me for going back, because all we're trying to do is develop our own style, and the only way you can do that is by understanding the music of your predecessors," he told the Chicago Tribune.

Connick's dream was to follow the footsteps of his friend Marsalis to stardom, and the sooner the better. He went to New York at the age of 18, telling his father that he wanted to study at the Manhattan School of Music. His real aim, however, was to sign a record deal with Marsalis' label, Columbia. After a couple of courses at the music school, Connick dropped out and began playing at churches, on street corners, and at small jazz clubs, anywhere he could play. "I'm a New Orleans performer," Connick told the Chicago Tribune, "and that means you'll do just about anything anywhere for the chance to perform, even if you have to tap dance out on the street. I simply have to perform all the time."

Signed with Columbia

Eventually, the talent scouts at Columbia did take notice, and Connick's first major-label album, a self-titled jazz collection, was followed by a second record titled 20 for Connick's age at the time. This second record featured Connick's Sinatra-style vocals, which he refers to as "swing." Connick's third collection was the immensely successful soundtrack to the 1989 hit film When Harry Met Sally ..., which featured Connick on vocals, solo piano, and performing with a big band.

Despite his early success, Connick had no illusions about either the reasons for it or his place among the jazz elite. Referring to his record deal with Columbia, about which he expressed some guilt due to the lack of attention some of his friends in the industry have gotten, Connick knows that part of his appeal is his novelty. "I sing, and I'm young, and I wear baggy suits, and I play jazz, and I'm white," he told Rolling Stone's Tannenbaum during his early career. "The sounds that come out of me shouldn't be coming out of someone so young. That's why I got signed." And when jazz critics begin to point out that Connick's playing is derivative of such legends as Ellington, Thelonius Monk, and Erroll Garner, Connick is quick to agree. "Shoot man, I'm twenty-one years old. Of course, I don't have a style."

Following the explosive beginning to his career, Connick spent the next ten years creating hit great records. Lofty's Roach Souffle, an all-instrumental album, started the decade. In 1991, Blue Light, Red Light became a successful big band album with the music written and orchestrated by Connick. In 1992, Connick simultaneously released both 25--a jazz and pop standards album played on solo piano--and 11, a collection of Connick singing the classics at age 11, with an ensemble of New Orleans jazz masters.

Connick released his wildy successful Christmas album, When My Heart Finds Christmas in 1993, and in 1994, he started his exploration of New Orleans funk with She. Star Turtle was released in 1996 and failed to connect to an audience. In 1997, Connick embarked on a world tour with the release of To See You, a release of all-original love songs. The album features both a jazz quartet and 65-piece orchestra. On it Connick "wrote all the songs, played piano, sang lead vocals, arranged every track and conducted the musicians." according to People's Marisa Sandora. 1999 and 2000 ushered in two big band releases, Come By Me and Songs I Heard, the latter a disc of Hollywood film and showtunes. On Come By Me, Connick reunited his 16-piece big band plus a full orchestra, filling out well his own orchestrations and arrangements. Closing the decade, Connick released 30 in 2001. Connick was now a musician, singer, conductor, composer, and writer with over ten years of popularity and critical acclaim under his belt and hardly the green musician critics were criticizing in 1990.

Budding Actor

Not only was Connick making splashes on the music scene, but he was moving into other fields as well. He made his acting debut in Memphis Belle in 1990, and later got a part in Little Man Tate. In 1995, Connick costarred with Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver as a chilling serial killer in Copycat. In 1998, Connick landed a lead roll beside Sandra Bullock in the romantic comedy Hope Floats. He also appeared in the blockbuster Independence Day, and landed voice work in both My Dog Skip and The Iron Giant. And, as if that weren't enough, he appeared on Broadway, provided music for Thou Shalt Not--a Broadway musical--and guested on the television sitcom Cheers. He also sang Godfather III's "Promise Me You'll Remember," and received both a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for it. Connick filmed Basic with Hollywood heavyweights John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in 2002.

Connick has come full-circle since his arrival on the music scene during the 1980s. He has earned three multiplatinum albums--Lofty's Roach Souffle, Blue Light, Red Light, and When My Heart Finds Christmas. And when an album--usually instrumental--doesn't garner sales, it still causes waves in the jazz community and is smiled upon by jazz connoisseurs. Connick is known throughout the music community, and Hollywood, as a promising talent with credentials to prove it.

by David Collins

Harry Connick, Jr.'s Career

Began playing with professional musicians on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, age six; studied under jazz pianist James Booker as a teen; studied under Ellis Marsalis at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts; moved to New York, studied briefly at Manhattan School of Music, age 18; performed at clubs and churches in New York City; signed recording contract with Columbia Records, 1986; performed music for film When Harry Met Sally ..., 1989; released the multiplatinum-selling and Grammy Award-winning album We Are in Love, 1990; other multiplatinum-selling releases include Blue Light, Red Light, 1991, and When My Heart Finds Christmas, 1993; released She, 1994, To See You, 1997, Come By Me, 1999, as welll as 30 and the Grammy Award-winning Songs I Heard, 2001; actor in films Memphis Belle, 1990, Copycat, 1995, and Hope Floats, 1998.

Harry Connick, Jr.'s Awards

Grammy Awards, Best Jazz Vocal Performance for When Harry Met Sally, 1989; Best Jazz Vocal Performance for We Are in Love, 1990; Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Songs I Heard, 2002.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

July 15, 2003: Connick's album, Other Hours, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921977661, July 16, 2003.

September 11, 2004: Connick won the Creative Arts Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Director, for the PBS special, "Harry Connick Jr: 'Only You' in Concert," on Great Performances. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, September 14, 2004.

Further Reading

Sources

BooksPeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 9 years ago

A living legend of the music scene. Influenced? Obviously, original? 100%. Since I first got a hold of She, Harry has been a role model for me and my vocals, I could never begin to play an instrument like the legend, but some of the best joy I've had is boppin' and singing along to the greates jazz/big band performer alive. Cheers for the happiness from the years! And star turtle? What a shame no one embraced, probably my favourite album of all time...