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Harry Connick, Jr. Biography

Last updated: 11/23/2009 11:00:00 AM

Anyone following the brilliant career of Harry Connick, Jr. knows there are many musical sides to his personality: Big Band, New Orleans funk, classic American standards, straight ahead jazz, and devilishly clever original songs all comprise the colors of Harry's palette. Now, he brings it all together on Come By Me, Harry's latest Columbia release. A seamless collection of standards and originals, the new album shows why Harry Connick, Jr. easily takes his place alongside the best of composers and performers.

Teaming as usual with producer Tracey Freeman, Harry reunited his 16-piece Big Band and brought in a full symphony orchestra to punctuate his own spectacular orchestrations and arrangements. Recorded at L.A.'s Capitol Studios last July, Come By Me is the work of a mature artist having come fully into his own voice.

The album kicks off with a pair of Connick originals, the sleek "Nowhere With Love" and "Come By Me," a rollicking New Orleans stomper. The Henry Mancini classic "Charade" is given a double-time rendition by Harry, the Big Band and strings, while on Irving Berlin's "Change Partners," Harry experiments with lush orchestration, including parts for english horn, bassoon and french horn. Harry's own "Easy For You To Say" is a sly ballad, so self-assured it could be mistaken for a Gershwin or Arlen classic. "I'm still learning," says Harry, "so a lot of my work will be based on the great songwriters of the past. They've really had an effect on me."

On "Time After Time," Harry's piano playing takes center stage, while "Next Door Blues" draws on the rich musical heritage of New Orleans. Says Harry, "That's the direction I'm headed, exploring the music I grew up with in the context of a Big Band. I'll be doing a lot more of this in the future." Leave it to Harry to take a warhorse like "There's No Business Like Show Business" and turn it into something utterly fresh and original, in this case a sly syncopated romp. Harry's own "A Moment With Me" blends Big Band and strings in a muted plea for love. The beautiful Irish air "Danny Boy" is given a reverential performance, while the classic "Cry Me A River" is transformed into a stately New Orleans funeral dirge. Harry closes the album with a red hot rendition of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale," with the full Big Band and orchestra.

Harry's acting career has continued to burgeon. In 1998, he co-starred with Sandra Bullock in the hit romantic comedy Hope Floats, which earned him a 1999 Blockbuster Award nomination for Favorite Actor-Drama/Romance. In 1995, Harry co-starred with Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver in Copycat," portraying a maniacal serial killer, and earning him some of the best reviews of his career. He also appeared in the 1996 box office champion Independence Day. This year, Harry steps into his first lead role co-starring opposite Pete Postlethwaite in Letters From A Wayward Son, due in the Fall. He will also appear in the improvisational film The Simian Line, directed by Linda Yellen and co-starring Lynn Redgrave and William Hurt, due in the Fall of 1999. Capping off what has been an extremely busy year on the movie-front, Harry lent his voice to one of the lead characters in the Warner Bros. animation feature, The Iron Giant, and the independent film My Dog Skip.

Given the many years Harry Connick, Jr. has been a fixture on the American music scene, it's stunning to realize he is only 31 years old. Of course, his love of music goes back to his earliest days. His parents, both lawyers, co-owned a record store and encouraged their son's musical interests. He first touched a piano at age three, and by six he was good enough to play at his father's swearing-in ceremony as city D.A. Before age ten, Harry made his debut with a New Orleans jazz band, and while working clubs in the French Quarter, he studied piano with Ellis Marsalis and James Booker. While at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, he won several piano competitions and played with the New Orleans Symphony.

He moved to New York at age 18 to study briefly at Hunter College and later at the Manhattan School of Music. Taking up a five-year-old offer from an acquaintance to look him up sometime, Harry called Dr. George Butler, then V.P. of Jazz at Columbia. Butler signed Harry, who recorded his self-titled debut album in one direct-to-digital session, with veteran bassist Ron Carter accompanying him on three instrumentals. Critics praised the 19-year old for his idiosyncratic style. As his fame began to spread among jazz circles, Harry became a top draw at New York clubs, like the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel. Harry's extended stint there proved to be the hottest ticket in town. His second album, 20, performed with jazz trio, introduced audiences to his magnificent voice.

Director Rob Reiner asked Harry to contribute the score to his 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally, in which Harry sang several American classics. The success of the film led to Connick's first multi-platinum album. In addition to solo piano and trio numbers, When Harry Met Sally marked the first time he recorded with a Big Band. His next two albums, Lofty's Roach Souffle and the multi-platinum We Are In Love, released simultaneously in July 1990, topped jazz charts and scored high on the pop charts as well. Both featured Harry's own songs, revealing his dramatic evolution as a songwriter.

His gold-certified home video, Singin' & Swingin', was released in 1990, the year he made his acting debut in Memphis Belle. In November 1990, Harry made his Broadway debut with a three-week engagement at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater. He sang "Promise Me You'll Remember," the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated song from The Godfather Part III, on the 1991 Oscar telecast. A PBS special, taped live for the "Great Performances" series, resulted in a 1991 Emmy nomination for Best Performance in a Variety Special. The concert is available on home video as Swingin' Out Live, now certified platinum. A 1991 home video, The New York Big Band Concert, was filmed during his record-breaking 15-night engagement at the Paramount Theater, and will be released on DVD in June 1999.

In February 1991, Harry earned a Best Jazz Vocal Performance Grammy for We Are In Love, which he performed live on the Grammy telecast. In July of 1991, Harry gave a command performance at Windsor Castle for Prince Phillip's 70th birthday, and later that year returned to the big screen with a role in Jodie Foster's Little Man Tate. He also made a memorable appearance on the small screen with a guest starring role on "Cheers."

Simply Mad About The Mouse, the Buena Vista Home Video and Columbia Records collection of classic Disney songs performed by contemporary stars, featured Harry singing "Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book. Later in 1991, Harry released Blue Light, Red Light, a Big Band album with music written and orchestrated by Connick. It, too, turned into a jazz and pop smash, becoming multi-platinum, and proving beyond a doubt that Harry Connick, Jr. was one of the most versatile and talented figures in contemporary music.

1992's 25 was a moving collection of jazz and pop standards performed on solo piano, while 11, released at the same time, was a rare set of traditional classics originally recorded with an ensemble of New Orleans Jazz masters, and Connick at the tender age of eleven. In late 1993, Harry released the multi-platinum When My Heart Finds Christmas, to which he contributed four original holiday songs, as well as orchestral and choir arrangements. The album proved to be the best-selling holiday album of the season. His CBS-TV Christmas special also emerged a ratings winner. With the release of the platinum-selling She in 1994, Harry began his exploration of the New Orleans funk music he grew up with. His 1996 album Star Turtle pushed Harry's New Orleans funk sound to new creative heights.

In 1997, Harry released the ravishing To See You, a seventy-five minute set of original love songs. That fall and winter, Harry toured the nation with a full symphony orchestra to perform the music from the album. In addition, PBS presented Harry Connick, Jr.: Romance In Paris in 1998, an "In The Spotlight" special. Featuring his seven-piece band and a Parisian orchestra, Harry brought his songs of love to the romance capital of the world, as well as to every household in America. All told, Harry has racked up one Gold, three Platinum, and four multi-Platinum albums, two Grammies, scores of sold-out concerts and millions of enraptured fans worldwide.

Harry remains very much the family man, with his wife Jill and two children. "That's why I'm here," he says. "I love music, I love acting, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is home and family." The months ahead will find Harry back on the road performing the music from the new album on an extensive world tour. But despite the many accolades and awards he's received, Harry finds his ultimate artistic goals still elusive. "Music is difficult," he says. "It takes a long time to figure it out. Right now, I'm just taking my time to keep learning my craft." If Come By Me is any indication, he hasn't far to go.