A word with Harry Connick, Jr

Ahead of his gig in Abu Dhabi next week, the jazz genius, actor and all-round good egg talks determination, fame and being starstruck with James Wilkinson

Music feature
Music feature

‘I had this feeling inside that I was going to do something, I just didn’t know what it was. But I was determined that I would make it happen. I willed it to happen.’ On the page, words like those may come across as a little strong – arrogant, even – but in the laid-back Louisiana drawl of Harry Connick, Jr they sound more like casual statements of fact. The man, frankly, radiates chilled vibes.

Yet that relaxed attitude hides a steely, determined nature – one that has carried Harry from club shows in New York to performances all around the world, including a show at Adnec in Abu Dhabi next week. And while he long ago ‘made it’ – his work on the soundtrack of 1989’s When Harry Met Sally catapulted him to international fame – his determination to excel has never left him.

‘These days I don’t have to worry about paying utility bills or sending the drums to the gig because my manager deals with all that, but it’s still hard work because I use all the free time I didn’t have before to think about my art. The more time I spend singing and playing and practising, the more I improve because I have to keep doing new things to stop me from getting bored of myself.’

Harry is so determined to keep changing things that he doesn’t even know what he’ll be playing in Abu Dhabi. ‘We change the show every night. Circuses are based on timing and routine because of physical safety, you know? We don’t have to worry about that so it’s a big improv session – we change the songs so each show’s completely unique.’ So he won’t be doing any trapeze work out here, we wonder? ‘Man, I hope not,’ he chuckles. ‘But if they have one I’ll swing from it!’

Harry is so laid-back in his delivery, we can almost believe it. Even when he talks about performing for Barack Obama he’s the epitome of cool. But when the topic moves onto classic rock stars of yesteryear it’s
a different story.

‘I met [Queen’s] Brian May and shook his hand,’ says Harry, his voice electric. ‘I couldn’t believe it. This man’s music has taken me to such amazing places all my life – he’s more than a human to me, you know?
He shouldn’t even exist, and yet there he is! Or Steve Perry from Journey. You idolise these people so much you want them to be inside your brain so they can appreciate how much you love them, you know? And they look at you, like, “Thank you, thank you”, and you go, “No, you don’t understand – I love you!”’

Carry on Harry

The many facets of his career.

The musician
Harry is best known as a singer. He has released 26 albums since 1977, clocking in more number ones than any other jazz musician in US history, and has won multiple Grammy awards. He has also performed and written music for films since 1989’s When Harry Met Sally.

The actor
As an actor, Harry’s best-known role is as Dr Leo Markus in sitcom Will & Grace, but our favourite was his friendly beatnick, Dean (below), in The Iron Giant.

The inventor
Harry’s ever-changing sets used to make it hard for his band – who had all their music on sheets – to keep up. Realising this, he designed and developed a computer prompter that could be worked using the musician’s foot. He now owns US patent #6,348,648, adding ‘inventor’ to his stupendous CV.

The defender of equality
In October last year, Harry was judging Aussie talent show Hey Hey It’s Saturday when one of the acts, pretending to be the Jackson 5, came on in blackface. Perturbed, Harry got an apology out of the host and started an Oz-wide debate about whether the skit was acceptable.

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