You might see his twinkling blue eyes on a marquee in Times Square or hear his New Orleans-bred drawl during a co-hosting stint on the fourth hour of the “Today” show. Later this year, you’ll see him back on movie screens in the dramatic thriller, “Fear of Rain.”
But even with his manifold interest and talents, Harry Connick Jr. is still most likely to be found on a stage, near or behind his piano and surrounded by musicians who react to every minuscule cue.
Connick, 52, spent the latter months of 2019 on Broadway in “A Celebration of Cole Porter,” a musical journey he wrote, directed, arranged and orchestrated to spotlight the life works of the composer behind “Night and Day,” “Begin the Beguine,” “All of You” and other gems in the classics canon.
This fall, Connick will take that “big show” on the road. But first, he’s playing a few weeks of smaller-venue concert dates — including Augusta’s Bell Auditorium Saturday and Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre March 22 — on “True Love: An Intimate Performance Tour,” in support of his new album, “True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter.”
Calling from Connecticut, where he’s lived with his family for more than 20 years, the always-gregarious Connick chatted about the legacy of composers such as Porter and what fans can expect at his upcoming concerts.
Q: I saw Tony Bennett in concert last month and of course he does a lot of Gershwin and Jerome Kerns and Johnny Mercer — and then there’s you with Cole Porter. So why, with so many great composers whom I know you also admire, was Cole Porter the one for you? Was it the fact that he wrote both music and lyrics?
A: That was definitely part of it. I guess if you look at the percentage of songs that I respond to, he had the most. I could easily do albums of any of those (mentioned), but there were so many Cole Porter tunes. I just thought that for what I was trying to do, his songs would give me the most diversity and challenge with how to orchestrate.
Q: Your recent Broadway show celebrating Porter must have been a dream realized for you.
A: That was really cool. And it was another big chunk of work, to write and direct it and have all of the additional orchestrations. There were another 1,400 pages of score for that. I loved it; I loved the entire process.
Q: What type of demographic were you seeing in the Broadway crowds?
A: There were a lot of young people there and a lot of older. About 90 percent had no idea who Cole Porter was, so I’m happy to have introduced them to this genius. I think people want to be entertained, and I tried to do a show that was musical and thoughtful.
Q: This current tour is being framed as an “intimate.” What exactly will you be doing to create the intimacy, or is it implied in the music?
A: It’s intimate because it’s a much smaller stage production. It’s almost like the audience is a fly on the wall. There’s no big sets or choreography or video production. It’s very spur-of-the-moment with some amazing musicians in a small group context. We’re not just doing Cole, but other songs, lots of different stuff. Every show will probably be different. The Cole stuff will be the centerpiece, but there will be a lot of curveballs. These musicians are all at the top of their game, and I’ve worked with them for a long time and they can jump in and roll with it. I think the audience feels the spontaneity, and if the musicians know it’s coming, the audience feels it’s set up.
Q: It’s amazing to think that with all of the changes in the industry and all of the changes in how we consume music and the lack of music education in schools, that the works of these legends have endured. Is it just strength of material?
A: To be honest, I don’t know. One out of 100 on the street might know who Cole is. (The music) is not going to disappear because of recordings and sheet music, but the further we go into the future, the less important this stuff becomes. It is what it is, and not everybody is interested in it. It’s the same about literature or visual art. The more material that starts to define history, the harder it is for people to keep track.
Q: It’s been five years since your last album of original music. Is anything in the pipeline?
A: It’s not like I feel like I have to do an album of originals – I can do five more Cole Porters! But when it’s time to record, I’m always ready to do original stuff. I kind of wait for the project, because if I start writing I get impatient.
Q: I’m sure you like having the time now to explore these pet projects, but do you miss the talk show (Connick hosted the syndicated “Harry” from 2016-18)?
A: I do. I loved it. It was amazing. I think we were doing something that I’d never seen before, where the host was the one writing the arrangements for the band, not having earpieces and just talking to people. I was really sorry to see it go, but when you sign up for anything in this business, there’s the possibility it isn’t going to last.
Harry Connick Jr.
8 p.m. March 14. $49-$125. Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St. Augusta. 877-428-4849, augustaentertainmentcomplex.com.
7:30 p.m. March 22. $55.50-$121.50. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.
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