Despite his image in some circles as a charming anachronism, Harry Connick Jr. takes great pains to explain that his musical background comes from all over the lot. He’s already flaunted plenty of his influences on stage and screen, and eventually, he may get around to all of them. But on Friday night at the Greek Theater, one could say that Harry Connick came home — back to N’Awlins — and he performed with the easy, casual assurance of someone who was glad to be back.
It took a cataclysmic jolt of nature and history to bring Connick home — and that jolt, of course, was Katrina. Now New Orleans is the focus of his act, right down to the French Quarter-styled street lamps, ceiling fans, background projections and battered, jangling upright piano (along with the Steinway grand and B3 organ).
Most of the songs were New Orleans-related standards in various genres — from the local tourist board’s definition of jazz (“Sugar Blues,” “Basin Street Blues,” “Didn’t He Ramble”) to Louis Armstrong vehicles (“Hello Dolly!,” “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”) and the funky-funky soul of Allen Toussaint (“Working in the Coal Mine,” “Yes We Can Can”).
Connick’s thumping piano style fit particularly well in just about all of them, while his vocals were ingratiating, if not always fulfilling, reminders of the original, earthier performers. He still takes good care of business in all aspects of his two-hour act — fine pacing; excellent sound quality; sharp, crisp, traditional big-band charts (presumably written by him). He also continues to spar engagingly with the sly, expert, plunger- and hand-muted brass solos of Leroy Jones (trumpet) and Lucien Barbarin (trombone).
Yet Katrina also may have focused Connick in a deeper sense; he seemed more serious, less cocky, less prone to breezy ingratiating banter (although he did slip back into the latter mode for a short while late in the show). He brought forth a new self-penned song — a good, melancholy one — about the plight of his shamefully neglected hometown, sung with more passion than anything else on the program. Never one to despair for long, Connick followed it up with “Yes We Can Can’s” infectious message of hope.
Not all of the show was a celebration of New Orleans, for Connick still feels the undertow of his recent, successful starring role in “The Pajama Game” on Broadway. He was eager to show off two of his souvenirs from the show, “Hey There” and the sexy opening lines of “Small Talk,” now decked out in new big-band arrangements.
Otherwise, Connick was home. And his homecoming was the most satisfying Connick show in memory.