Harry Connick Jr. Plays for the Critics

One of the great pleasures of these Television Critics Association Press Tours are the mini concerts staged by PBS, usually in connection with some Great Performances presentation coming down the pike. In 20 years, I've seen Yo Yo Ma, Sting, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Junior Brown, Michael Feinstein and scads more in small settings singing and playing just for us.

Saturday night it was Harry Connick Jr., bassist Neal Caine, drummer Arthur Latin and a group that grew one player at a time, Lucien Barbarin on trombone, then Jerry Weldon on sax and Mark Braud on trumpet. They did six tunes with lots of New Orleans influence, but the best was Isham Jones and Gus Kahn's "It Had to Be You," with Connick singing and Weldon creeping around the stage and sneaking up on the accompanying notes with his well-worn tenor sax.

Harry Connick Jr.

Connick answered questions after the performance. Jazz, he said, "is really, really, really hard. That's why there's not a whole lot of famous teenage jazz bands."

He said concerts are like being on a date, and that many people comment that he seems stiff at the beginning of them. True enough. "You don't want to come into that date with your shirt unbuttoned all the way down."

Connick, who has also appeared in more than 20 movies and TV shows, said he had just finished work on Dolphin Tail, with Morgan Freeman, about a dolphin who is given a prosthetic tail.

The critics loved him, hooting and hollering. One of the more voluble ones, who couldn't help talking throughout most of the concert, almost fell over backwards trying to get to her feet for a standing ovation.

But Connick said he thought his performance was "really weak." The movie work has kept him away from performing for four months. "I resorted to a little bit of trickery today," he said. "You guys didn't pay to get in here, so I don't feel that bad about it."

Great Performances: Harry Connick Jr. in Concert on Broadway airs March 2 on PBS.