I started writing this as a recap of my night hanging out with Harry Connick, Jr. and Clive Davis at the Hiro Ballroom . . . but I found I was mostly defending myself for loving this kind of music. So, less recap, more anecdote. It is a blog after all.
I was seven or eight years old when my mom brought home Simply Mad About the Mouse on VHS, which is a collection of music videos of pop singers’ versions of classic Disney songs. While nowadays this sort of thing would be taken over by the Tiz or Miley or the Jo Bro, back in ’91 it was all about Billy Joel, Bobby McFerrin, Michael Bolton, LL Cool J, and Harry Connick, Jr..
My brother, being my brother and being about 100 times more badass than I even at age 5, had a penchant for LL Cool J’s version of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” (which, lets be honest here, in hindsight there is nothing badass about the line “with a root toot toot he played his flute and he danced around all day”), while I was immediately drawn to Harry Connick, Jr.’s “Bare Necessities”. It’s no surprise; my parents are huge fans of 20s, 30s, and 40s popular music and so growing up there was a constant stream of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin permeating the house, cars, anything with a sound system, really. My brother and I listened the hell out of a tape of Irving Berlin songs, released for his 100th birthday. Not shockingly, my brother soon grew out of the Andrew’s Sisters, but I continued to love them and couldn’t think of anything better than them singing “Anything You Can Do” with Bing Crosby and Dick Haymes. Admittedly, this was not socially acceptable behavior for a grammar school student. I was aware of this and remained awkward and uncomfortable until, oh, any day now.
So naturally, when I saw a young, good looking, cool guy singing a song in the same familiar big band vein that I knew and loved, how could I be helped? I guess it was comforting and eye-opening to realize that this style of music didn’t necessarily have to be old-fashioned, for the geriatric crowd, and in black and white. It could be modern and colorful and lively and, well, normal for me to like – and what kid doesn’t want, above all, to just be normal?
A trip to New Orleans (Harry Connick’s hometown) when I was a teenager rekindled the love affair of my youth, and while my peers were experimenting with various substances, I was trying out Harry Connick’s discography, reveling in the standards I’d always loved, but also being introduced to New Orleans style jazz. When we got to college and everyone was past the gateway stage, I too delved deeper into the jazz world, snorting up everything I could illegally download on Napster by people like Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Thelonius Monk, and Miles Davis . . . you know, people who did SO MANY DRUGS themselves that I guess I didn’t have to.
And so anyway, Tuesday night I got to attend a private concert given by Mr. Connick, who is so much more than “Bare Necessities” and has all the potential of being a jazz legend himself. The crowd of 150 people was tiny in comparison to his usual venues, so it was a great chance to see him and his band at work up close and personal. He has a new CD out called “Your Songs” which was produced by Clive Davis, i.e. the Dick Cheney of the music world, old, sneering, evil Lord of the Dark Side.
Well, maybe, I don’t know, he just looks that way. And I’m just going to go ahead and blame him for ruining my favorite singer.
The CD is a cheese-tastic collection of well known schmooze-y songs like “Close to You” and “Just the Way You Are”, (which come on Harry, you’re killing me) puts my already mantle-level badass factor dangerously close to the core. A record like this puts him in the same section at Barnes and Noble as Michael Bublé, Rod Stewart (well, the latest incarnation thereof), and I mean, I don’t know – Michael Bolton, Yanni, Enya, and other equally punch-line worthy artists. The majority (if not all, not sure) of Connick’s albums have been produced by Tracey Freeman, his best friend from high school. But I guess when Vader, er, Clive Davis comes knocking, you don’t turn all the lights off and yell “nobody’s home!” Chock it up to a life experience, I guess. I wouldn’t hang up on him if he called me. *Clive, call me!*
Even still, when you see Harry play live it’s watching the kind of talent that would normally just make you feel ashamed by your own average self . . . but he combines it with a type of self-deprecating, sarcastic humor that makes you forget how lacking you are and just awes you. The arrangements are so complex yet he’s able to just pull Lucien Barbarin (of Preservation Hall fame) on stage and just let things happen, too. They ALWAYS happen, too. And it’s dizzying.
So maybe he has the reputation of being a Sinatra-wannabe, and maybe a move to do an album like this doesn’t help things. But I refuse to believe that my taste is just that bad. So I’ll just treasure the experience of seeing my favorite singer super-up-close and personal in a great venue and an unforgettable set list and forget this album ever happened, though one wouldn’t have happened without the other. Oh New York, you’ve done me good.