Connick's charm and style are a winning combination
It's strange to think that, at 39, Harry Connick Jr. is practically an elder statesman of what he does. Twenty years ago, he was a dashing, baby-face upstart with charm to spare and a warm croon that helped to christen him the second coming of Frank Sinatra.
Now look where we are: Michael Bublé, Chris Botti, Il Divo, Josh Groban -- a whole generation of tuxedoed heartthrobs blurring the lines between jazz, pop, and classical music.
Well, Connick is still baby-faced and charming, but no one -- at least no one at the packed Citi Wang Theatre on Wednesday -- considers him a lightweight crooner. After all, lightweights don't get an immediate standing ovation when they take the stage.
Backed by his big band -- three trumpets, three trombones, three saxophones, a drummer/percussionist, and a lone upright bassist -- Connick is touring behind a new album, "Oh, My NOLA," a salute to his native New Orleans in all its many-splendored glory, from jazz and gospel to soul and brass bands.
Likewise, the show was as much about the Crescent City's ambience as its music. A backdrop cast the scene in Technicolor, with a painted rendering of what appeared to be a balcony in the French Quarter. Ceiling fans swirled lazily as if Blanche DuBois might slink in any minute for a mint julep, and two street lamps flickered a soft amber glow. (Hey, that flicker switch didn't come cheap, Connick later joked.)
Brassy and syncopated, his band was so crack that occasionally even Connick couldn't keep pace with them.
His singing wasn't nearly as punctuated as their playing on "Working in a Coal Mine." Delightful guest turns from Leroy Jones on trumpet and Lucien Barbarin on trombone brought an added sense of intimacy (and often comic relief) to the evening.
Connick is a triple threat: a prodigal pianist who learned his craft from New Orleans's great jazz musicians; a breezy singer with Tony Bennett's measured tone and keen sense of phrasing; and a gracious host who knew just how to win over a Boston crowd: Tell them you're a budding Red Sox fan. When he broke from the New Orleans theme to play an original song -- the rollicking boogie-woogie "Dan Dan the Driving Man," about one of his bus drivers -- Connick nearly opened a Pandora's box. He invited a few ladies from the audience to join him onstage to dance. He asked for two; he got six, with more racing down the aisles only to be turned away by security.
For an encore, Connick returned alone for a virtuosic take on "Sweet Georgia Brown," dedicated to his Cambridge-based manager, Anne Marie Wilkins. The last we saw of Connick, he was all smiles as he bent down to accept a bouquet of roses just as the curtain fell, leaving us with the sad realization that we weren't in the French Quarter anymore.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.