These are heady times for Harry Connick Jr. The charismatic New Orleans-bred singer/pianist/actor released a pair of new albums in late October, the same week that he made his debut as a Broadway composer.
Connick the musician is in fine form on the simultaneously issued albums 30 and Songs I Heard. The former disc showcases the artist's vocal and piano work, and finds him exploring his New Orleans roots on such standards as "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "I'm Walkin'," "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans," "Don't Fence Me In" and "Somewhere My Love," with the help of such guest artists as Wynton Marsalis and legendary gospel vocalist the Rev. James Moore.
30 is the fourth in a series of albums that spotlights the more intimate, personal side of Connick's musical persona, following in the footsteps of 11, 20 and 25, each named for the artist's age at the time they were made. Connick is 34 now; 30 has been in the can for a few years. "There's a conceptual theme that runs through these recordings," Connick says of his numbered discs. "It captures a moment in time; it's like a snapshot of where I'm coming from musically."
The more elaborately arranged Songs I Heard finds Connick applying big-band/orchestral treatments to favorite numbers from such classic films as The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. "I took songs from shows we all saw as kids," says Connick, himself the father of two young daughters. "Everybody knows those songs, so I could have a little fun, try different things."
The artist's dual interests in music and drama converge in his work in the Broadway musical Thou Shalt Not, which debuted on October 25 at New York's Plymouth Theater. Connick wrote and arranged the music, lyrics and score for the show, directed by Tony winner Susan Stroman and based on the Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin. He's also overseeing the recording of the show's cast album. "It's based on jazz, it's based on theatre, and it sounds like New Orleans," Connick says of the stage production, which moves the novel's European setting to the Crescent City in the 1940s.
Meanwhile, Connick's acting career continues to thrive. He's currently reaping acclaim for his role in director Linda Yellen's improvisational film The Simian Line, in which he appears alongside Cindy Crawford, Lynn Redgrave and Eric Stoltz. He also stars as the father of a little-league baseball phenom in the upcoming, John Grisham-penned Mickey, and co-stars opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in the forthcoming cable-TV feature Life Without Dick.
Despite his multimedia success, Connick - who works on songs on his portable studio during downtime on film shoots - insists that music remains his first love. "It's some combination of genes that makes you pursue it with a passion like you have to do it, like you have to play," he says. "It's a fierce competitiveness that comes almost out of nowhere; you see it in people from time to time, and I happen to have it with music."