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Memphis Flyer Come by Him

Harry Connick Jr. returns to the big-band sound that made him famous

By Mark Jordan

JULY 26, 1999:  The new Columbia records release Come By Me marks the return of Harry Connick Jr. to the sound that first made him famous. Backed by his own 16-piece band, the album features swinging, big-band jazz arrangements of such standards as Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" and Irving Berlin's "There's No Business Like Show Business" as well as five new Connick originals.

It's much the same formula that catapulted the New Orleans-born son of a district attorney to stardom 10 years ago when he appeared on the soundtrack to the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally . That album marked Connick as the torchbearer of the torch song, the young inheritor to Frank Sinatra. It's not a label the 32-year-old Connick has always been comfortable with. A piano protege who learned jazz at the feet of Ellis Marsalis and R&B sitting next to Professor Longhair, Connick's own tastes embrace many styles of music -- zydeco, R&B, blues, as well as jazz. In recent years, Connick has strayed from the big-band sound to explore his New Orleans roots on 1994's She and 1996's Star Turtle.

He began his return to a more sophisticated sound with 1997's To See You, an album of orchestrally arranged love ballads. That album's influence can be heard on several tracks on Come By Me, including Connick's lush and affecting version of "Danny Boy."

Connick has also kept busy with his sideline, movies. His acting debut came in 1991's The Memphis Belle, and he has also appeared in Hope Floats, Independence Day, and Copycat, in which he played a serial killer. Upcoming roles include Wayward Son starring Pete Postlethwaite and Simian Line with Lynn Redgrave and William Hurt. His voice also can be heard in My Dog Skip, based on the book by Mississippian Willie Morris, and in the upcoming animated film Iron Giant .

Flyer: What prompted the return to big-band jazz?

Harry Connick Jr.: I was just ready to get back in the studio with the big band. If I had my way I would never have left it. I would keep playing all the different kinds of music at one time, but the nature of the business is that you have to do a tour with an album. It's not as cut and dried as turning my back on it. I never quit playing jazz music.

MF: I read recently in USA Today where you are going to work on Garth Brooks' next record writing arrangements for some of his songs. How did that come about?

HC: I don't even know. I talked to Garth about a week ago, and he asked me if I would do something on his record. I said, "Well, we'll see what happens." Next thing I know I'm arranging his whole record.

I talked to him for five minutes one time. I don't know him. He wants to do some big-band arrangements, and he asked me if I was interested. I said, "Yeah, let's see what happens."

The people in my band were saying, "Man, I didn't know we were playing on Garth Brooks' record. And I told them I didn't know either.

That's the media.

MF: Have you done arranging for other artists before?

HC: That was the first time anyone's ever asked me to do that. I thought it would be fun because I'm always writing for me. It's not often that the phone rings with people wanting big-band charts. Most people don't even know what they are.

MF: You've appeared in a lot of films and on a lot of film soundtracks, most notably When Harry Met Sally . Has anyone ever asked you to score a whole film?

HC: No, and that's a great question because I didn't score [When Harry Met Sally ], and I've never scored a film. Everybody goes, "Oh, you've done so many soundtracks." I haven't done any. People have used a couple of songs I've done in films. But I've never scored a film, and no one's ever asked me. I'd love to do it. I'll put it this way: If Steve Spielberg called me and said I want you to do the score for my next movie I'm there.

MF: You've also done a fair bit of acting, including the Memphis Belle and, most recently, Hope Floats. What do you get out of acting that you don't get out of music?

HC: It's everything that music isn't, other than lyric interpretation, which is similar, in a way, to dealing with dialogue. It's just a different way to be creative. I like that whole process. I like not being in control. I like playing a part. It's nice to not have to be responsible for all aspects of a project and just concentrate on one part.

MF: How long will you be on tour?

HC: Until I'm 84. It's going to go on for a while. I have no idea how long.

MF: Do you have anything planned for when it's over?

HC: It's nice to be out on the road for awhile, so I'm just going to deal with this. I don't have any plans; I don't have any movies set up, no records, nothing. I'm just going to deal with playing on the road because that's the only way I can get my music to the people. It's not really radio-friendly music, and they don't really play it on MTV or VH-1. It's just getting to the people and giving them a chance to enjoy a different kind of music.

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