He has sold over 16 million albums and landed atop Billboard’s jazz chart more than any other performer. So if anyone could coast these days, it’s the 44-year-old, New Orleans-bred, pop-jazz singer-pianist Harry Connick Jr.
But you’d hardly know it from what he’s done in 2013. He released the rambunctious, Mardi Gras-friendly Smokey Mary in February. Then in June he released the introspective, singer-songwriterly Every Man Should Know. And now he’s in the midst of a 27-city tour—and wondering whether the universality of his latest compositions might eventually have other performers wanting to record them.
“I’m not a guy that gets his songs recorded a lot,” he says. “But it would be an honor. I don’t think people really think of me as a songwriter. I’m not sure what they think of me as.”
His uncertainty makes sense. His musical accomplishments aside, he has also starred on Broadway (The Pajama Game), on television (Will & Grace), and in film (Independence Day). And his recorded output is similarly diverse, sometimes emphasizing his New Orleans piano, sometimes his baritone crooning, and sometimes other elements of his multidimensional showmanship.
And, if Connick had had his way, his latest album would’ve been his least classifiable to date. Originally intended as an eclectic double CD, it was Sony’s idea to split the 90 minutes of music that he delivered to them into two stylistically homogeneous discs.
“The songs were supposed to be kind of mixed up,” Connick says. “But double CDs never really sell that well. So [Sony] actually had a good idea.
“The whole point of making a record,” he continues, “is to document your ideas and have people hear them. Sony and I have a great relationship because they know how to sell records. I don’t.”
Connick does, however, know how to honor his father (a former Orleans Parish district attorney) and his mother (who passed away in 1981): the former by occasionally inviting him onstage to sing, the latter by dedicating all of his albums to her.
“I love my parents,” he unabashedly admits. “My dad is worthy of a lot of respect and admiration. He’s my hero really. And my mom was a huge part of my life—and still is. I like to publicly acknowledge her because the fact that I’m a musician would’ve been a big deal for her. She always knew that that’s what I was going to do, and I feel she would’ve been really proud.”
As Every Man Should Know demonstrates, Connick also knows how to write elegant melodies and lyrics that confirm his latter-day place in the Great American Songbook tradition. “Being Alone” could become an anthem for 21st-century introverts. And “You’re a sunrise, / you’re heaven, / you’re the reason that God rested on day seven” (from the love song “One Fine Thing”) is worthy of Cole Porter.
References to God appear in several of Connick’s new compositions. A gospel choir, the gospel singer Kim Burrell, and the gospel guitarist Jonathan DuBose also make appearances. Wikipedia calls Connick a “practicing Roman Catholic.” Just how much practicing does he actually get in?
“Well, I didn’t go to church last Sunday,” he confesses, “but I try to go as much as I can. It’s given me a lot of peace of mind over the years.
“I always feel better coming out than I did when I went in.”