Last Wednesday night, as the sun set on a pleasantly warm evening, one could almost have guessed that Harry Connick Jr. was expected on stage. The amphitheater was crowned by a lovely half moon, and the audience that was assembling was a calmer, more “laid back” crowd than those seen at a typical rock concert. But then this crowd had not come to hear typical rock. They had come to party with Harry and his very swinging big band.
The Ned Gould Trio did the opening set, but things would not catch fire ’til Connick & Co. came on stage and quickly heated things up with a jazzy “Charade” that was very reminiscent of early Sinatra vocals. The brassy band offered shimmering support as lazy blue lights illuminated the silvery bandstand.
“I Know You So Well” was a glib and perfectly controlled vocal. Connick’s voice rides up orchestral crescendos like a surfer on his wave. He followed with an “If They Asked Me I Could Write
A Book” that seemed like a miracle in the Age of Rock. It is truly amazing to see a young performer who can give such wonderful new life to some of the world’s best popular songs. What he lacks of Sinatra’s exquisite breath control, he makes up for with hip phrasing and pace. During “Nowhere With Love” he had fun teasing late comers: “Wow! We’ve got third row seats. We’ll go whenever we want!” Now we hear his crisp, cool jazz skill on the keyboard while a woman screams “Harry, I love you!” Without dropping a note Connick jokingly calls for “Security!” In a wildly improvisational “Time After Time,” with great band
back–up, Connick’s very Sinatra-esque finish has the audience fully charged. Closing out a romantic
“How Deep is the Ocean” Connick’s outstretched arms offer an embrace as big as his voice.
“I Love All of You” was a seductive and clean-lined vocal in the tradition of our best crooners. The musical introduction that followed was so full of pulsing rhythms that we could never have guessed a sensuous “In the Still of the Night” was about to emerge. It featured a very jazzy, muted trombone solo from talented Lucian Barbarin. It was wonderful to hear “Your Sensational” done with such confident skill and exceptional ease. It reminded me it is time to review my favorite video: “High Society.” There was still more Cole Porter with a superb arrangement of “So In Love With You Am I.”
Connick’s teenaged protegee, Peter Cincotti, sang a pleasant “My Blue Heaven” and dazzled the crowd with his keyboard artistry. Then Connick combined his talent with that of Barbarin and brilliant trumpeter Leroy Jones for a smoky, New Orleans style “Sugar Blues.” Jones follows, on both trumpet and vocal, with a stunning “What A Wonderful Day” that combined the best of Harry James with a hint of Satchmo. During a resonant and powerful “Cry Me A River,” Connick delivered the line: “ You told me love was too plebian…” and then quipped: “Whatever the hell that means!”
With “On the Street Where You Live” Harry may have done a bit too much improvisational playing around, but by now he was in a playful mood and the audience didn’t mind a bit. After a wild “Mind Over Matter,” Connick brings the audience gently back to earth with the romantic “It Had to Be You.” It doesn’t have the precision we associate with Sinatra; It is more freewheeling. But in its own distinct way it is very pleasing to the ear.
Hot orange lighting was perfect for the red hot “Goin’ to Mardis Gras” with Barbarin burning up the stage on trombone while Jones did the same on trumpet. Add the superb saxophone of Jerry Weldon and we have the best instrumental work of the evening. Finally, before an encore of “Al,” our star showed his ragtime skill on the 88 with a hand clapping “Come By Me” from his new C.D. of the same name. Harry Connick Jr. had “Come Home to the Woodlands,” and everyone was very glad he did!
(The Courier 7.28.99)