It’s safe to assume that there’s just one concert any night where you’ll get a swinging take on “Sleigh Bells,” tap dancing, a jazz funeral and a one-man-band version of “Big Chief.”
That show is by Harry Connick Jr. and his ultra-talented band — and it’s just what they delivered for a thoroughly entertaining two hours at the Lied Center for Performing Arts on Tuesday.
The “Holiday Edition” of Connick’s ongoing “A New Orleans Tricentennial Celebration” mixed a few Christmas songs with New Orleans jazz and R&B, and a gospel “How Great Thou Art” with Connick compositions and a couple standards from the “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack.
That combination is pure Connick, who played some serious piano — jazz and New Orleans style — blew the trumpet, lost a tap-dancing contest with the impressive Luke Hawkins, played the bass drum on the jazz funeral march to “When The Saints Go Marching In” that snaked from the stage through the Lied’s main floor and, of course, sang.
And the multi-faceted entertainer is as engaging as they come on stage, working the crowd with jokes, some musical history lessons and even calling a woman up to the stage for a hug in TV talk show host fashion after she’d shouted out “roux” when Connick was talking about the recipe for his “Big Chief” encore.
For that, Connick used a setup he called his “contraption” — a kick drum, a tom-tom played with a kick pedal and a pair of pianos, one for each hand. The coordination and musicality needed to pull off Professor Longhair’s fast-moving, funky beat-driven Crescent City standard like that is mind-boggling.
But just as impressive was Connick’s piano work, especially on the jazz numbers. So was the trombone of Lucien Barbarin, another showman, drummer Arthur Latin and tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon — all standouts in the 10-piece big band that showed just what the finest kind of ensemble can do.
While it appeared to fly without a set list, the show was smartly organized, with changes subtle — when guitarist Jonathan Dubose Jr. appeared to play a striking “talking guitar”-style solo on the instrument during "How Great Thou Art” it shifted from acoustic to electric and enlivening — the tap dancing, leading up to the jazz funeral finish.
Tuesday's concert was Connick’s first Lincoln appearance since 1995 — something he noted early on. But it was so well-received, by both audience and artist, that it’s hard to imagine it will be another 23 years before he returns.