Harry Connick, Jr. On Tough Love And Letting Go Of The Wheel Connick has been interpreting American jazz and pop since he was a kid studying under Ellis Marsalis — who, more than once, told him to quit.

Harry Connick, Jr. On Tough Love And Letting Go Of The Wheel

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In 1989, The New York Times wrote this about a 21-year-old up-and-comer from New Orleans. Harry Connick, Jr. may have what it takes to inject the world of traditional jazz with a shot of Hollywood glamour. Today, he has Grammys, Emmys, Tony nominations and more than 20 albums to his name. Plus, he's a judge on "American Idol." Harry Connick, Jr. is no longer a kid with potential. He is one of America's great entertainers, and his latest album is called "That Would Be Me."


HARRY CONNICK JR: (Singing) I try to pretend again and again waiting for luck, but I never know when. Sleep on the floor when I stay at my friend's, always wake up angry. I like the way you smile.

CONNICK, JR.: Although I may not be number one on the pop charts, I think people can look at my career and say, well, even if you can't stand me, this is a guy who did things from an individual point of view.

SHAPIRO: Or to borrow a phrase, you did it your way.

CONNICK, JR.: (Laughter). You could say that.

SHAPIRO: You became famous, in a way, for your interpretations of the "Great American Songbook." What do you do when you get a set of lyrics that is new to you and you go into the studio to record them? How do you make them your own?

CONNICK, JR.: Well, from a technical point of view, I look at them like a piece of prose, really. I say them without any type of rhythm or pace. I just say them and see what they mean to me. Like, there was a song that a guy named Dan Wilson wrote called "You Have No Idea."


CONNICK, JR.: (Singing) All through the nighttime, I lie and relive the last time, thinking about the night you stayed here. You get me high, and then you disappear.

That song is I lie and relive when you were here with me, and I was so high on us being together. And if it make sense to me as dialogue or something that I would say, that's all I think about. How can I sing this song and make it mean the most to me?

SHAPIRO: There's a song on this album that, you know - when we talk about interpretations, I think about different ways we could hear this song. And it's "You Don't Need A Man."

CONNICK, JR.: Yeah. I like that one.


CONNICK, JR.: (Singing) You don't need a man to make you a woman. But I'm telling you, you need the shade to make you shine. And you don't need love...

CONNICK, JR.: The content of that lyric was so fun to think about - this beautiful woman who's never struggled a day in her life, and she needs me to kind of drag her through the mud a little bit and dirty her up so she can live.

SHAPIRO: Oh, see 'cause when I listened to it, I thought, well, here's the father of three daughters...

CONNICK, JR.: Right.

SHAPIRO: ...telling his girls, you don't need a man.


SHAPIRO: You don't need a man (laughter).

CONNICK, JR.: Yeah. That's so interesting - right? - quite the contrast from your interpretation to mine. But that's the great thing about art, is that you make it whatever you want it to be.


CONNICK, JR.: (Singing) You show me your soul, and I'll show you mine, yeah.

SHAPIRO: While Harry Connick, Jr. was recording this album, he was also working as a judge on one of the most famous reality TV shows.

CONNICK, JR.: Sometimes I look around when I'm sitting on the panel at "American Idol," and I think to myself, do they know who they hired for this job?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter). When he advises aspiring young singers on music theory and pentatonic scales, it's not a superstar talking. It's the jazz nerd he's been since childhood. I asked Harry Connick, Jr. whether he ever ignored advice that people gave him when he played New Orleans clubs as a kid.

CONNICK, JR.: I never dismissed anything. Like, when you go on stage and you're playing and Ellis Marsalis comes up and plays after you, you're not going to play better than Ellis. So when he tells you something, listen. And he was very, very tough. He - I would study with him every day, and he would say things like, you don't understand how to play a ballad. You don't understand anything about harmony. Your concept of polyrhythms is weak. You should consider another vocation. This isn't for you.

SHAPIRO: Wow, you should consider another vocation.

CONNICK, JR.: Oh, yeah. He told me that on many occasions. And it was hard, you know, I mean, like, tear-inducing hard. He wasn't doing it to be mean. It was just - he was saying, listen; if you're serious about being a musician, then you have to be prepared.

Now, this is a guy who brought up two of arguably the greatest musical minds on the planet today in Wynton and Branford Marsalis, so it's kind of hard not to listen to him. I just had a really lucky childhood. I look back and thank God I was an enthusiastic, young musician 'cause I could really take what they were saying to heart and try to employ it.


CONNICK, JR.: (Singing) Nobody got to you like me. Nobody got this history.

SHAPIRO: Harry Connick, Jr.'s new album is called "That Would Be Me." It's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.

CONNICK, JR.: Thanks, Ari. Great talking to you, Man.


CONNICK, JR.: (Singing) Nobody got to me like you. And I ain't much, but this much is true. No one does I do like we do. I tried to keep you guessing, and you still got me confused.

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