Watching Harry Connick Jr. in action inside the 1,500 seat Avalon Ballroom Theatre at the Niagara Fallsview Casino, I decided that as soon as the show was over, I would book tickets to New Orleans. And stay there. And just listen to its enchanting music. For me, Harry represents Louisiana's best tourism draw. He should be on the state payroll!
In fact, during his long set, he talked about recently co-hosting with Branford Marsalis "New Orleans Honors" at the Saenger Theatre, an evening when musicians and celebrities came together to thank those who aided in New Orleans' recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked if he could sing and Harry joked that only in New Orleans would a mayor actually know what key to sing in, in this case B flat!
Throughout the evening, Connick and his remarkable band orchestrated tunes that kept the audience screaming for more. Besides singing, He played piano, electronic keyboard, electric guitar and trumpet, and there were wonderful solos on most of the brass instruments by the band with the trombone and sax leading the way.
Harry began performing as a pianist and vocalist at the age of five, was schooled by two of the New Orleans' keyboard legends - James Booker and Ellis Marsalis. He paid tribute to his hometown with plenty of jazz and big-band numbers, while also tipping his hat to his breakthrough When Harry Met Sally soundtrack days with "It Had to Be You" and "The Way You Look Tonight." Harry is known also to his American Idol fans as a witty judge and he
offered up plenty of standup comedy between songs, his best bits concerning a yoga class with his daughter and eating "raw food" at NYC's most expensive restaurant where he gulped down a $1000 melon.
Throughout the evening, he interplayed easily with the appreciative audience and his joie de vivre and enthusiasm spilled over into his band especially trumpeter Leroy Jones and trombonist Lucien Barbarin, who have been playing with the singer for over two decades. Their camaraderie and intimacy was a delight particularly when Connick sang "How Come You Do Me Like You Do?" while Jones hung his head and grinned. Another musician spotlighted was gospel guitarist Jonathan DuBose Jr., who literally makes his instrument weep mournfully and helped Harry turn "How Great Thou Art" into a jazzy floor-stomper.
In addition to his favourites such as "Just in Time," "It Had to Be You," and "City Beneath the Sea," Connick played three new songs that will be on his next release. I enjoyed all three especially "Trying to Matter," a lovely and haunting mid-tempo number.
Connick noted that the Avalon was "smaller than he remembered" saying he sings often in large, open air venues where the sound drifts everywhere, but that here, it was much more intimate. The main problem with the Avalon is leg room. There is little space for one's feet, the chairs are not anchored, so they give, and the main floor where we sat is not graduated, so if a basketball or football player sits in front of you, there goes your sight line. The best seats are actually front row, mezzanine with nothing to obstruct you.