Harry Connick, Jr. On Family, Fun And One Of His Greatest Inspirations

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Harry Connick, Jr. is a multi-tiered talent. No stranger to Broadway, he has starred in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Pajama Game. For two years he had his own daytime television show, Harry. Connick has also been a judge on American Idol, had a recurring role in Will & Grace, starred in his own TV Christmas shows, and has appeared in films including Little Man Tate, Copycat, Hope Floats, Memphis Belle and Independence Day.

Oh, and then there is his wildly successful recording career. Connick has sold 30 million albums worldwide. His most recent Broadway show, A Celebration of Cole Porter, was inspired by his album, “True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter.” The show not only featured a 25-piece orchestra, it was conceived and directed by Connick.

When it comes to singing and performing songs, the composer who had a profoundly great impact on him was Cole Porter. In fact, when she was putting her little boy, Harry Connick, Jr. to bed, his mother would lull him to sleep by singing lyrics like these:

“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above.” 

Little Harry had no sense of the genius who was responsible for the tune. “I just thought she was making the song up about how she didn’t want to be confined in one space,” says Connick, who grew up in New Orleans. In fact, it wasn’t until later that he discovered, oh, that’s a Cole Porter song.

Years later, his love of Porter would really solidify itself. In the days before cell phones, an 18-year-old Connick played in clubs throughout New York City. He often went to a pay phone to call his dad between sets. “I would say, ’I’m running out of tunes to play.’ And my father would reply, ‘what about this Richard Rogers tune, or Harold Arlen, or play one of Cole Porter’s tunes?” The younger Connick purchased songbooks of these composers so he could pour through and learn how to play them.

From there, Connick began a life-long passion for Porter and his artistry. Many of his songs were written for Broadway musicals and movies. “Almost every song that Cole Porter wrote was a song that either people knew or that would lend itself very well to what I was doing,” Connick says. “The songs had a functionality to me that was different from the way they were functioning in the Broadway show they were in.”

Not only did Connick release the record “True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter,” comprised exclusively of Cole Porter compositions, he also created a show Harry Connick, Jr. – A Celebration of Cole Porter. Connick brought his soulful and riveting flair to Porter’s beloved songs from The Great American Songbook, including “You Do Something To Me” and “Anything Goes.” 

“People ask, who is your favorite composer, and I believe it’s probably Cole Porter,” shares Connick. “When I did the album the next step was to think, how can we present this in a concert form? I think, how do these shows perform functionally? What are we saying with the song? What is the lyric really saying? And how can we make the audience feel that in ways other than just with music?”

Connick shared more.

What do you wish you could ask Cole Porter?

Harry Connick, Jr.: I would ask what it was like to be a gay man when you couldn’t talk about it. Whether or not that informed his songwriting is kind of a mystery. I’m sure it probably did. I would also ask about hanging out with Picasso and Stravinsky.

Is it hard to describe how performing makes you feel? 

HC: It makes me feel vulnerable, which is a feeling that I like. I love the feeling of being intimate with people, allowing them to laugh and cry with me. To know that they are invested in what I’m singing is a crazy thrill.

I really think about the audience.You figure half the people in the house were brought there by somebody. There’s a pretty good chance that some people are not rabid fans. They are saying, ‘who is this guy?’ or ‘what is he going to do?’ If you can get them to pay attention and listen, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. 

You and your wife Jill Goodacre have three daughters ranging in age from 18 to 24. What is being a father like for you? 

HC: Nothing else really matters except family, faith and friends. My main tap dancer in the show broke his leg five days before it began. He said, ‘Are you mad at me?’ And I gave him a hug and said, ‘It’s all good, man.’ I mean this is not a really an issue. I have friends who are dying as we speak. For me, if my family is in a good place, nothing else matters. I don’t take it all too seriously. I’m able to create at the highest level of my potential without getting bogged down by stuff that is stupid.

How did becoming a father change you?

HC: On a basic level, it wasn’t about me anymore. You’re looking at this little baby girl who needs to eat, be clothed and schooled. And then another one came along and another one came along. And you realize, it’s not about you. You need to go out and work so you can provide for these children. And you need to be a role model. Their vision of a man is going to come through you and only you for a certain amount of time. What do I need to do to help them discover how important their self-esteem is?  

Becoming a father changed me profoundly. And for the last number of years, they have made me better by virtue of their own perspectives. They educate me. They have perspectives that differ from mine that I learn from. It’s the greatest blessing ever.

How do your children feel about your music?

HC: I believe they really love my music. They see how passionate I am about it. And they’ve also been exposed to it. These girls have grown up in New Orleans listening to some of the greatest musicians of all time. When my middle daughter Kate was 6, she wanted to play the trumpet. So I called Wynton [Marsalis] and asked, ‘Will you give her a lesson?’ She had no idea she was being taught by one of the greatest musicians who ever lived. He said, ‘Yeah, have her come over to the apartment.’ She sat with him for an hour as he gave her some lessons. So they have a very rarefied look at stuff. It’s pretty cool. My daughter Charlotte hangs out with people like Hilary Swank, Mariska Hargitay and Renée Zellweger. I mean these are amazingly powerful, brilliant women.

When the curtain comes down how do you get back to Harry? 

HC: I don’t know how to explain this, but theater and performing is like a religion to me. It’s always part of me. There is really no difference between going on stage or coming off stage. I don’t have to gear myself up and I don’t have to come down. It’s just a snapshot of that moment in time. 

Some people may say doing eight shows a week is a grind. I used to hear that about my television show, the grind of doing a daily television show. It never occurred to me that it was a grind. It was, I’m on stage for this amount of time.Then when it’s over it’s, it’s over.

And how cool to bring Cole Porter’s classic tunes to a whole new generation. 

HC: A little less than a year ago I was on a movie set working with a young actor who was about 22years old. I said some lyrics to her. I think they were: “Like the Moon growing dim on the rim of the hill…” And she said, ‘Oh my God, it’s so beautiful. Did you write that?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. That is Cole Porter.’ But she would have no way of knowing that. So if, at the very least, if someone says, ‘I have to look into this guy Cole Porter,’ then in my mind I’m a smash success.

What do you do when you are not working? 

HC: My manager, Anne Marie Wilkins, and I have been together since I was 18. She knows how important down time is to me. So when it’s time to be off, I’m really off. Once I had the day off and literally watched nine hours of football. I just hung out with my family and didn’t leave the couch. It was great.

Looking back, is there something you wish you could tell your younger self?

HC: I would tell myself to be more patient, more kind and more loving to people. But I wouldn’t have listened to myself because I would have said, ‘Who is this guy telling me all this stuff?’