PortFolio Weekly Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
July 20, 2004

Harry Connick's Big Band Gumbo

by Jim Newsom

Harry Connick, Jr.
nTelos Pavilion
June 26, 2004

It had been raining most of the day, but by the time the gates opened at the nTelos Pavilion, the skies were clear. Across the river in Norfolk, the Bayou Boogaloo was serving up a mess of Cajun cookin’ and gritty N’Orleans funk.

Harry Connick and Gerry Weldon in Portsmouth, 6/26/04 The funk in Portsmouth’s Pavilion on the last Saturday night in June was a tad bit classier, but just as genuine, as Big Easy native Harry Connick, Jr., brought his big band to town to cook up an entertaining gumbo of spirited good times and musical magic. Kicking things off with an arrangement of “Around the World in 80 Days” in which the horn section quoted “Love and Marriage,” Connick and his fifteen piece band lit up the riverfront for the next two hours.

Connick took the band “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” where the guys wailed like a mighty freight train before settling down with a medley that blended Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” seamlessly into “Make Someone Happy.” “Just in Time” started out as a piano trio piece, with Connick economical at first, then building into a rambunctious Professor Longhair-style piano solo. The horns joined in after several minutes and Connick briefly essayed the lyrics. As the intensity built, tenor saxman Gerry Weldon stood up for the first of many wild and wooly sax solos.

The quieter heart of the set began with the singer alone at the piano doing his best Floyd Cramer while singing George Jones’ country classic, “She Thinks I Still Care.” After a couple of extended examples of stride and barrelhouse piano, the band returned to accompany the star on two tracks from Only You, his new CD featuring music of the ‘50s and ‘60s---“You Don’t Know Me,” the country song best remembered in Ray Charles’ version, performed while the lights went purple with a thousand stars creating a Copacabana-like atmosphere; and Stevie Wonder’s hit, “For Once in My Life,” sung over an instrumental arrangement recalling Matt Munro’s “My Kind of Girl.”

Connick proved himself an engaging and hilarious entertainer throughout the evening. Bringing trombonist Lucien Barbarin out front, he playfully bantered with his sideman and the audience before the duo slid into “Lulu’s Back in Town,” giving the boneman a chance to honk and plunge on his muted horn…helped by a little unscripted tugboat accompaniment from out on the river. On “The Old Rugged Cross,” Connick brought the whorehouse to church, mixing barrelhouse piano with a soulful gospel vocal.

He continued to work the crowd, adlibbing insults and love notes while he kept the family-filled pavilion smiling. “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” and “I Wanna Be Around” led into two more tunes from the new album, The Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance For Me” and The Platters’ “Only You.” The title track from the 1999 Come By Me recording closed the set, then the whole group returned for an extended Mardi Gras jam encore & dance party.

The twin spirits of big band swing and New Orleans brass band jazz reigned as Harry Connick, Jr., sent the crowd off into the night in a festive mood.

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