As Mel Brooks once famously observed, its good to be the king. But its even better to be Harry Connick, Jr., who pretty much has it all.
Connick is the sort of multi-media pop icon that was a lot more common a half-century ago a star of stage and screen in both music and movies. Hes won acclaim for playing nice guys as well as villains in movies, and for embodying old-school musical verities like tunefulness. As noted on the back cover of his new album Every Man Should Know (Columbia Records), its 12 songs received no vocal pitch correction!
Every Man Should Know is an all-original set that goes well beyond Connicks usual jazz-inflected pop to gospel and even country (with its pedal-steel flourishes, Greatest Love Story sounds like it could give Tim McGraw a run for his money on country radio).
We caught up with Connick by phone from a tour stop in Boston.
Q: Would it be fair to call Every Man Should Know your most personal album?
A: What makes this more personal than my other albums is Ive had enough time to feel comfortable singing about things that are closer to home to put myself into the role of storyteller. Ive done that to a degree with my own songs and even with standards to a degree, but never really autobiographical before this. Singing as yourself, you cant really escape and for some reason it felt like I could deal with that a little more now.
Q: There was quite a furor several months back when you were a guest judge on American Idol and schooled some of the contestants for not understanding the songs they were singing. Did you expect that to get so much attention?
A: I actually think it was misinterpreted because it seemed like I was saying not to sing runs or embellish. Listen to Donny Hathaway, Kim Burrell, Aretha Franklin or Louis Armstrong -- all they do is change the melody. But you have to know and understand the song before you can do that and make it work. All those people I just mentioned happen to be musical geniuses, too. So my point of view was you have to learn the song before you can make it your own. Some people were saying I was anti-pop, which is so not true. A lot of pop music out there is fantastic, I grew up with that kind of music.
Q: Whats on your iPod that most of your fans wouldnt expect?
A: I actually dont listen to much music myself because Im always writing or arranging. And when Im at the gym, jogging, on the bus, its usually quiet. But I hear a lot because my wife and three daughters are constantly listening, and a lot of what I hear is great. My kids listen to pop, so I can tell you all about any pop music of the last 10 years. Every One Direction tune, I love that stuff. Ke$ha and Katy Perry, too. I dont go for some of the stuff thats overly suggestive or profane, thats not my thing, but thats not to say the people doing it dont have talent.
Q: Does your live set this go-round draw pretty heavily from the new album?
A: The good thing about being around awhile is theres a lot to choose from. Ive never been one to stick to the same thing every night. So Ill do the title song and a few others every night, but theres so much other stuff to play and I get bored quick. Im always trying to keep it fresh, writing new charts and arrangements; keep it mixed up.
Q: Its kind of hard to imagine your life and career being any better. Are there any other new worlds left to conquer?
A: Its undeniable that Ive been incredibly blessed with good fortune. Ive crossed paths with many many people who are so talented and have been so generous. As far as conquering worlds, Im the last person to think like that. At the root of what I do is play piano and sing, I play jazz. Even though this album is far far far from jazz, what you learn is youre never good enough. You have to keep working, keep practicing. And I have a lot to learn, man.
Q: Whats left to learn?
A: As a songwriter, singer, piano player, arranger, its all about an evolution. The only way to keep everything in balance is to keep working and practicing, get better. People pay a lot of money to come hear me play and they deserve nothing but the absolute best I can give them. It takes a lot of work. Every night is fun, I absolutely love it so much; being onstage playing with friends, singing songs that mean something to me. I dont really jam around the house. Thats for onstage and its always fun. At home I practice, which is not so fun because Im dealing with things that are uncomfortable. But youve got to do it. Its like a golfer going to the range and hitting 100 balls with the driver. Youve got to practice scales, do the fundamentals. Not all the time, sometimes youre working on more intricate things youre developing. But a lot of it is mundane, routine stuff to keep in shape.
Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat