Harry Connick Jr. has covered a lot of ground in his career.
The New Orleans native has built a loyal following as a musician of varied tastes, from the Great American Songbook, to straight-ahead jazz, to funk. He has been nominated for a Tony for his work on Broadway. He made his mark on the small screen with recurring stints on shows like “Will & Grace” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” And he has acted on the big screen in films like “Copycat,” “Independence Day,” and “Dolphin Tale.”
While he returns to theaters with “Angels Sing” at Christmas and is at work on an original musical, for now Connick is focusing on his music. And with his most recent release, the superb “Every Man Should Know,” the 45-year-old singer-songwriter is doing something he has never done before, diving deep into what he calls his “inhibition pool,” writing songs of a more personal nature.
Harry Connick Jr.
While his earlier 2013 release, “Smokey Mary,” focused more on the lively second line sounds of his beloved hometown, “Every Man” hits many musical targets, from bossa nova to gospel, including a moving country ode to his mother — who died when Connick was 13 — and a sexy number for his wife, model Jill Goodacre Connick.
In advance of his two Symphony Hall shows Friday and Sunday, we chatted with Connick by phone as he made his way from his home in Connecticut to New York City.
Q. Do you feel extra trepidation with this record since you’re really putting yourself out there? Especially on a song like “Greatest Love Story,” where you’re getting very personal about your mother?
A. This is definitely the most I’ve ever done that. I remember back in the old days, if anybody even mentioned my mother I would get kind of icy in the interviews because I wasn’t there to talk about that. I certainly wasn’t there to sing about it. The same thing with my personal life, that’s why it’s personal. And over the years, for some reason I’m not at war with that anymore, and so this record felt like a natural progression for me to go from keeping it close to my heart to maybe trying to put it into a lyric or a melody. I feel a little exposed and I haven’t even sung these tunes yet, so when I sing them in concert I’m sure that I’m going to experience a whole spectrum of emotion.
Q. You’ve talked about how sometimes the simplest melody or arrangement can have the most power. That song is a good example, there’s a lightness to the sound but there is a gravity to the lyrics especially the line “She never got to meet you but I’m sure she’d be happy that you’re my bride.”
A. I actually cried when I sang that and I did not expect it. This holds true for acting too and it happens in jazz music, there are these moments — everybody knows the song, everybody knows the form — and sometimes you play a solo and it’s just not good. But sometimes you catch something, and the harder the music is the harder it is to catch those moments. Like I grew up playing funk and rock ’n’ roll, and as soon as you kick the song off you’re there. But when you start playing jazz music it’s much harder to find those moments because the music is much more complicated. And I think that translates to emotional stuff as well. When you’re dealing with stuff that’s very deep, even if the presentation is simple, it hit me like a baseball bat when I got to that line. I wrote it and I knew what I was writing about but to actually articulate it in the moment was more powerful than I thought it would be. I had to re-sing it.
Q. I’m guessing the slinky “One Fine Thing”— which has a clear inspiration also
A. When I met my wife, I knew who she was, I thought she was beautiful, but I didn’t know her. So when I started dating her — and I’ll just be completely honest — I had never been with a girl that I thought was so pretty, and I wondered what it was like to be her. What does it feel like to walk down the street and be you? People may turn around because they recognize me but not because I look like that. I’m confident in my skin but I’m not a male model, for crying out loud. That’s what she got paid to do. And it’s so funny because that little vamp in the beginning — [he sings it] — I started playing that and Jill was in the room and she was like, “Oooh, I like that!” And I’m like that’s all that matters. Because at the end of the day, you could pan this record, it could not sell at all, [but] my wife loves that song and I swear to you, I’m good with it.