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JAZZ REVIEW : Harry Connick Jr.--Stylin’ at Palace Court

Harry Connick Jr., the much-ballyhooed young pianist from New Orleans, has his look just right: swept-back, jet-black, pompadoured hair; slouch-shouldered jacket; skinny tie; and--above all--the sweetly innocent, but slyly suggestive eyes of a young Frank Sinatra. In another era, he surely would have had a swarm of bobby-soxers swooning at his feet.

Ah, you ask, but can he play? What about the advance raves over his masterful handling of a virtual history book full of jazz piano styles?

Well, if his opening performance at the Palace Court Friday night was any example, it’s time to start making a distinction between Connick, the charismatic entertainer, and Connick, the jazz pianist.

In a room filled with a high proportion of attentive young women, Connick worked his listeners with the skill of a matinee idol, making effective use of an appealing Southern charm and a disarming stage manner.

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His vocals (especially “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”) underlined Connick’s amiable style of communication--with simple phrasing, a slightly overpuffed New Orleans sound and strong eye contact with his audience.

The jazz facets of his performance, however left considerably more to be desired. Despite his admirable mastery of the jazz stride piano style, Connick’s rhythms were frequently uncertain, and his harmonic choices (most noticeably on “The Best Things in Life Are Free” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”) were sometimes, to put it charitably, odd.

Still, when one recalled that Connick is only 20 years old, his skills seemed quite remarkable. But Friday night’s performance suggested that he may soon have to make a hard decision whether to dig more deeply into the creative depths of those skills or follow the beckoning lure of commercial popularity.


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