New Orleans legend Harry Connick Jr has had a vast, varied career, taking in movie acting, Broadway performances, and his original and perhaps most passionate love, music.
With more than 20 albums behind him, and unquestionably a legitimate Hollywood star to boot, Connick Jr rarely produces a similar style of record twice. His latest, and first in four years, focuses on another Broadway legend, Cole Porter. Porter left us more than half a century ago, leaving behind a library of musical wealth.
“I signed my new contract with Verve Records after 30 years with Sony and we were talking about ideas. I said I wanted to do a songbook album, something new,” Connick Jr told us of the Porter-devoted record. “I made a list of my favourite Cole Porter songs, went out and discovered some new songs. I’ve always loved his music, so just picked the songs that spoke to me. The songs are great, so they’re easy to do justice to.”
Having been behind a piano since he was barely more than a toddler, there’s an endearingly jubilent confidence to the way Connick Jr talks about music, and about all his projects, though Porter brings out a particular vibrancy. He rewrote the tracks for his own style, focusing on the enduring legacy Porter left behind.
“I’ve been taking each day as it is for a long time,” he laughs as we chat about performing the Porter tracks on the Late Late Show. “I feel happy here in Ireland, a lot of my ancestors are from here and I walk down the street wondering if the people I see might be my distant cousins. But I’m really glad I don’t have to organise this stuff. I have a great management team behind me.”
“I got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last month and I found out when I arrived that they’d organised for my star to me next to Cole’s. It means a lot to be there amongst all those legends, and that really topped it off. That really was surreal, when they called and asked if I wanted a star, I was beside myself with joy.”
These days, Connick Jr is typically booked up months in advance, be it for acting performances (“I’ve just finished shooting ‘Fear of Rain’; I’m always reading scripts. I really have to leapfrog between these things.”), or playing night after night in a single New York venue residency, as he’ll be throughout the majority of December.
“It felt like the time was right to sign to Verve,” Connick Jr says returning to his departure from Sony after 30 years. “I’m really proud of my time with Sony, but Verve seemed liked a good fit. They have an amazing catalogue and they’re a good group of people, and because they’re a Universal company they have the resources. Most importantly, though, they connected with what I was doing.”
Which is, it’s fair to say, not always predictable. Following Hurricane Katrina’s devastating striking of New Orleans in 2005, for example, Connick Jr joined a team that took time out to build an entire block for musicians to live in, a key cultural touchstone as part of his restructured home town.
“It worked out really well,” he explains. “It has a big centre for the arts in the middle, and it’s been a joy to be part of. The city has bounced back stronger, though there’s a different dynamic as many never returned. There were a lot of lessons learnt.”
True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter by Harry Connick Jr is out now.