When Harry Connick Jr. sang his signature tune “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” last night at the Idaho Center, there was near-quiet from the crowd of almost 11,000. After some raucous jazz which had us ready to dance in the aisles, Connick’s tribute to his nearly-lost hometown seemed to inspire an empathetic mood.
But right back at us, he was off again to more crack big-band, honky-tonk, soul, Tin Pan Alley styling and New Orleans jazz, backed by his brilliant band — three trumpets, three trombones, three saxophones, a drummer/percussionist, and a bassist. By turns, he and a few band members switched instruments in the middle of songs, with Connick having a go with drums, two different pianos, an organ, and bass.
I had my binoculars right on him when, mid-song, he handed the bass back to the real bassist, who said, “Man, you suck at that,” and Connick replied, “I know!”
Connick was more than charming, telling stories about a shopping spree at Sam’s Club (“When I woke up this morning I had NO IDEA I needed four dozen socks, but you walk in that place and – well, you know.) The audience, who arrived in a joyous mood to see their idol, was won over even more when Connick told of having a rare day off, which he spent in downtown Boise. “I LOVE Boise, man. It’s got a great vibe – the people are so friendly – great place to live.”
Despite knowing that he probably says that to every audience in the world, we sucked it down like the thirsty desert dwellers we are.
As for me, I was amazed and horrified to realize that HARRY CONNICK JR HAD BEEN RUNNING AROUND LOOSE IN BOISE AND NOBODY CALLED ME! What were you people thinking?
After a mistaken reference to Salt Lake City, when we gave him a good-natured Boo, he said, “HEY! Give me a break! I’ve been on the road for six months, man!” Then during “Way Down in New Orleans” he riffed some lyrics around to be able to spell “B-O-I-S-E” in rhyme with the previous line, and we went wild again. His friend Lucien Barbarin, trombone player extraordinaire, said, “Yeah, man!” to which Connick repled, “It’s a gift.” The funny exchanges during songs made the evening even more fun.
Barbarin, who would have been called a Cool Cat back in the day, is a trombone virtuoso with a sunny, sleepy confidence. He’s a lanky guy in a modified zoot-suit and a black beret, with a slinky musician’s walk as he played in front of the New Orleans-style backdrop, with its painted version of a French Quarter balcony and lazy ceiling fans swirling a smoky mist. He leaned against a lamppost as the lighting dimmed to spotlight him downstage, and suddenly we were on Bourbon Street.
Connick and Barbarin had a lot of fun together onstage, with one number ending with a sudden downstage dance turn by the two of them, their backs to the audience as they performed a perfectly-coordinated booty-wiggle walk from right to left.
They were obviously enjoying their little schtick as much as we did.
It was an evening to remember, with the creative percussion of “Working in a Coal Mine,” the classic voice of Connick’s “Let Them Talk,” and the irresistible “Sugar Blues.” Alas, he didn’t sing my two faves – “Muskrat Ramble” and “If I Were a Bell,” but there was no way to be disappointed. The show was just too good.
After prolonged shouting, stomping, screaming and cries of “More!” at the curtain, Connick came back and treated us to a one-man “Sweet Georgia Brown,” in which he did a real star turn by playing piano and playing ON the piano by drumming on its varying surfaces with his hands. He added the sounds of his dancing feet and circled the Steinway, ending by sitting back down at the keyboard for the big finish.
When an audience member shouted, “I love you, Harry!” he shouted back, “I love you, too!” and ended the laugh by giving a speech of gratitude for his audience and his career.
Now that’s class. And that was jazz.
And I’m just wild about Harry.