Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Harry Connick, Jr. appreciates his musical upbringing


Harry Connick, Jr., 43, will appear on PBS's 'Great Performances' for the third time at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Enlarge

PASADENA, Calif. -- For performer Harry Connick, Jr., success is sweeter the further he gets into his career.

"You want all this great stuff to happen, and when it happens it's not that you're ungrateful, but there's a lot of momentum when you're a new artist," he said. "And I just grew up, man."

Connick, 43, headlines PBS's 90-minute Great Performances (9:30 p.m. Wednesday) with "Harry Connick, Jr. in Concert on Broadway," recorded last July at the Neil Simon Theater.

"I think you start to appreciate things a little bit as you grow a little older and you realize, man, this is not an effort by myself," Connick said at a January PBS news conference. "I'm so thankful to have people in my corner, man. It's really a big deal."

This is Connick's third Great Performances show, following appearances on the program in 1990 and 2004. He sings standards, original music, and performs New Orleans street music in the latest special, backed by a band and 12-piece string section. Songs featured on this week's Great Performances include "We Are in Love," "All the Way," "Bourbon Street Parade," and "Mardi Gras in New Orleans."

Connick said he grew up on New Orleans music with his parents taking him and his sister to the French Quarter from the time he was 3 years old.

"They knew I wanted to play piano because I would play around the house and practice 'When the Saints Go Marching In' or songs like that," he said. "And when I was about 6, I started sitting in [with veteran musicians]. They'd see me sitting here, and they'd say, 'Harry, you want to come up and play?,' because that's sort of a New Orleans tradition, to have young musicians sit in.

"I did that till I was about 14, when I started actually working down there and getting hired as the piano player at a lot of those traditional gigs."

Looking back, Connick said it took time for him to grow up and realize how fortunate he was to be around that music and have older musicians take an interest in nurturing his talent.

"Some of these guys played with Louis Armstrong back in the '30s when the music was really being invented," he said. "I got a chance to play with a lot of those guys. It was incredible."

And it fit his personality. Connick said he had to be the center of attention, recalling a story his father tells about a time Harry was in fifth grade. His dad came to check on Harry in class because of some past disciplinary issues and found his boy in the back of the classroom at a table with just a few other students. The teacher explained, "He won't listen to me, so I've just decided to let him do his own thing back there."

But Connick learned over time that a desire to be in the spotlight was not a universal trait among the musicians he admired.

"When you have the kind of tutelage that I had, like Ellis Marsalis and James Booker and those kinds of people, they don't care about being the center of attention," he said. "All they care about is that you're the best at your craft. So the problem occurs when you are the center of attention and you don't know what you're doing."

In addition to music, Connick is known for his acting, including a recurring role on the sitcom Will & Grace. His next acting project is a movie called Dolphin Tale that's due in theaters this fall. It's based on the true story of a dolphin that was given a prosthetic tail. Connick plays a veterinarian in the movie, which also stars Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson, and Ashley Judd.

With all these pursuits, what does Connick consider his primary vocation?

"Really, I'm a piano player and a singer. That's kind of what I came to the dance with, but everything else, to me, is the same," he said. "If you really boil it down, if you have the personality to get up on stage and perform in front of people, there's a decent chance that you would have that ability to get in front of the camera. And if you're a singer, all you do is spend your time either writing or trying to interpret what other people are saying. And as an actor, you do the same thing. So they're really not that different."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen writes for the Post-Gazette.

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