Review: Harry Connick Jr. brings spirit of New Orleans to Fort Myers, kicks off tour
Charles Runnells, The News-Press Published 11:11 a.m. ET June 2, 2018 | Updated 6:44 p.m. ET June 2, 2018
I came to Friday’s Harry Connick Jr. show expecting soulful singing and virtuoso piano playing, torch ballads and New Orleans party jazz. And I got all that.
But tap dancing?
Yeah, that happened, too. The super-talented Connick broke out a pair of two-toned tap shoes and proceeded to show us all that he’s actually a triple threat: Singer, actor and dancer.
And I’m hear to tell you: Dude has some serious moves.
Connick’s dancing fit squarely into Friday’s theme, of course. The concert was the first of two shows at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall kicking off his New Orleans Tricentennial Celebration Tour. The second one happens tonight (tickets are still available).
The spirit of New Orleans filled the Fort Myers venue, from Big Easy jazz and funk standards to Connick’s stories about Louis Armstrong and pianist James Booker to — yes — tap-dancing, a salute to all those kids who tap for tips in the French Quarter.
Connick was our charming and quick-witted host, ad-libbing jokes, talking about his musical heroes and playing the heck out of his huge Steinway piano (and, at other points, a trumpet and drums).
“This is our first night,” he said at the beginning and grinned. “We haven’t played together for a while.
“We’re gonna try everything out on you! We’re gonna play everything we know!”
He was backed by an awe-inspiring 11-piece band — all wearing matching black suits and white shirts — with a big horn section and some star musicians, including dazzling drummer Arthur Lantin, saxman Jerry Weldon and especially guitarist Jonathan DuBose Jr. and trombonist Lucian Barbarin.
Those two virtuosos mugged for the audience and shook their butts to the music, but they backed up that silliness with amazing solos that went from barely whispered notes to rapturous highs that nearly brought me to tears.
The music, of course, was really the star of the show, and there was plenty packed into this two-hour concert: The swinging jazz of concert opener “Bourbon Street Parade,” the gospel number “How Great Thou Art,” Connick’s lovely original “City Beneath the Sea” (celebrating the magic of a city that lies up to 20 feet below sea level) and a stirring version of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” (a song Connick said we need now, more than ever, in today’s world).
The music veered from Mardis Gras jazz to pop to stride to gospel to the seriously funky Allen Toussaint song “Yes We Can Can” (Connick warned us that it was about to get “dangerously funky,” and I’m here to tell you: He wasn’t lying).
Not everything saluted The Big Easy, though. Connick sprinkled a few of his most popular, non-New Orleans songs into the mix, too, including “It Had to Be You” from 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack (with Connick in full Sinatra mode) and his smoking-hot love song to his wife, actor Jill Goodacre, on “One Fine Thing.”
That last song was particularly memorable for its simmering sexiness and lines like this one: “I want you now in a real bad way/So what do I have to do?/I could somehow have a real good day/It all depends on you.”
Perhaps it got a little too intense for some audience members. “Where are y’all going?” Connick asked a couple that got up and left after the song. One guy in the audience shouted an answer: “You got ’em in the mood!”
But after those tunes, Connick and company spent the rest of the night celebrating the musical essence of New Orleans. They even recreated one of the city’s famously exuberant jazz funerals — complete with some fiery preaching from DuBose — forming a line and parading through the aisles of Mann Hall for the New Orleans standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Harry Connick Jr. Harry Connick Jr.
Other impressive highlights: A tender salute to pianist James Booker on the Connick original “Hear Me in the Harmony," Connick breaking out a trumpet to duet with trombonist Barbarin on “Doctor Jazz," a tap-dancing segment with some surprises and audience participation (great job, Ann-Marie!), and Connick recreating the Professor Longhair song “Big Chief” by playing all four drum and piano parts single-handedly (you had to see it to believe it).
It was a fun, joyful night that proved exactly why Connick remains a star to this day: The man has more raw talent than any mere human should be allowed to possess. And he’s charming and funny, to boot. It was Connick’s first concert at Mann Hall since 2010, and I do hope he comes back. But if he doesn't, there's always tonight's second show.
And believe me: If you love Connick or New Orleans music, you don’t want to miss it