Harry Connick, Jr., True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter (Verve)

I’m a big fan of the multi-faceted Connick, and have nearly all of his recordings. Harry is 52; I first heard him at age 17, around the time he left New Orleans and started attending classes in New York City. He’d come back home every three months or so for a gig: you could hear he’d added a layer to his playing—Erroll Garner one visit, Thelonious Monk the next. It was dazzling. By 22 he was a star, having conquered the New York City cabaret scene and then capturing a wide audience with his work on the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack.

Two dozen albums later we get, True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter. Harry is now a hugely gifted big band arranger, allegedly able to write out an album’s worth of sophisticated arrangements in a week. He’s synthesized his piano heroes, Booker, Garner and Monk, into his own unique sound (but he’s weirdly overlooked when some people talk of “The New Orleans Piano Tradition”). And he’s a TV and movie eminence on top of all this.

My only complaint (ever) about Harry is he still retains too much Sinatra in his singing. After all these years I still flinch just a bit when I hear a Sinatra mannerism in these productions. But yeah, I know, borrow from the best. And yes, it’s cool that he’s exposing (some) younger folks to the Great American Songbook. If a few thousand people hear Cole Porter for the first time with this disc, that’s great, because it’s harder and harder to sell jazz, even if you’re a multimedia star.

Harry is a perfect fit for Porter’s sexy and witty lyrics. The modern big band format is ripe for bombast, but Harry undercuts it with humor. The quirky counterpoint on “I Love Paris” reminded me a bit of the klezmer jazz of Raymond Scott. “Begin the Beguine” opens with a wonderful bit of virtuosity: James Booker in Harry’s left hand, Erroll Garner in the right; a mind-bending sample of separation-of-hands agility. 

Best of all is “Why Can’t You Behave.” Harry breaks it down in the middle to just vocals, his updated stride piano and Lucien Barbarin’s muted trombone. For a couple seconds he drops the Sinatra vocal veneer and goes more New Orleans on us. It’s a fantastic track, showing all sides of one incredibly talented New Orleans musician.