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Harry Connick, Jr. Brings The Big Easy To Cleveland

December 1st, 2018

It's hard to believe Harry Connick, Jr. has been around for over thirty years.  His breakthrough came when he performed many of the tunes on the soundtrack of the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally.  Confusing many filmgoers, they thought Connick's baritone was a younger Frank Sinatra.  The popularity of that film (and, of course, its soundtrack release) garnered a huge following for the young crooner.  Releasing several more albums over the next twenty years cemented Connick's popularity in the now once-again-popular Swing and Standards genre that had seemingly been banished to retirement homes. Taking turns at acting, his roles in Memphis Belle and 1996's Independence Day solidified his place in popular culture. Setting the stage for other such crooners as Michael Buble and the late '90s swing fad, which launched the careers of Squirrel Nut Zipper, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Connick is still the best known of the contemporary swing movement.

In a rare concert appearance at Cleveland Playhouse's State Theater, the 51-year old singer combined a show that celebrated the holiday season as well as the 300th birthday of New Orleans.

Playing to a packed house and backed by a crackling ten-piece outfit, Connick thanked the crowd for attending and then got right down to business. Offering up an explanation for the genesis of this new tour, he explained the birth of Dixieland, American Jazz, and the New Orleans tradition that has morphed into what is most of American popular music. After getting the history lesson out of the way, the outfit stomped right into "Bourbon Street Parade." If this tune didn't set the tone for the night and get you stomping your foot, then I suppose you have no intrinsic rhythm or, worse yet, no feet.

Connick explained as a young man, his famous politician father would be visited by many of Louisiana's dignitaries, both political and musical.  He heard a bouillabaisse of rhythm coming forth from the assorted guests.  One tune, "Doctor Jazz," a 1926 Joe "King" Oliver  composition, got him supremely interested in music.  However, Connick said, he didn't know  until much later that the song was about a notorious pimp. 

I suppose no Connick concert would be complete without a few tunes from his breakthrough  When Harry Met Sally album, so a medley of "Our Love Is Here To Stay" and "It Had To Be You" completed that part of the program.  Seguing into a roaring guitar solo from virtuoso shredder Jonathon Dubois, this master axeman killed on a ten-minute spotlit performance.

After a rousing applause from the audience, the requisite Christmas songs were offered.  "What Are You Doing On New Year's Eve?" became a somber question about loneliness and yearning.  Connick's phrasing and intonation hasn't changed over the years; he knows how to take an old standard such as this tune and make it his.

Reflective of the holiday season, the ensemble offered a stirring rendition of "How Great Thou Art." 

Interestingly, Connick changed things up a bit and showcased something that is definitely a New Orleans tradition, but not seen in northern cities too much.  Changing his shiny black loafers for a pair of tap shoes, the singer then brought out Luke Hawkins, a world-renowned tap dancer.  Trading moves in a veritable "Tap Off," the two shufflers ratcheted up the tap contest until Hawkins proved that his tap talents were a little more refined than Connick's.  It provided another interesting look into the city that the concert was celebrating.

On that note, Connick assembled his band in an attempt to show this northern crowd what a true Dixieland funeral was all about.  As the drum and horn announced a typical dirge, Connick explained that the procession would then move through the streets.  As opposed to a sad experience, the dirge was meant to be an  attempt to remember the deceased in an upbeat manner. 

At that point Connick donned a drum, got in line and followed the band as they snaked through the theater, all while offering a kick ass rendition of "When The Saints Go Marching In." That got the crowd on its feet; even the rhythmically-challenged found their rhythm in that fifteen-minute exchange.

And, with that, the show came to an end.  It was a great excursion through Nawlins, without having to experience alligators, snakes, and the tropical heat that Connick's hometown provides. 

All that was missing was a big pot of gumbo.

Review by Brian M. Lumley

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