Harry Connick Jr.'s 29th and latest album, "Every Man Should Know," features 12 tracks for which the singer wrote the music, lyrics and arrangements. In a phone interview from his home in Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, former model Jill Goodacre, and their three daughters, he discussed how this disc explores new territory for him.
What inspired you to write "Every Man Should Know"?
Two years ago I just started writing tunes, and some of them sounded like Mardi Gras music and some of them were bossa nova tunes and some were gospel tunes, just all over the place. I wrote about 25 of them and I did something I've never done before: I asked a couple of people at [Columbia Records] if they would listen. They said this is too much music for one record, so they came up with the idea of splitting them in two, the first one being a CD called "Smokey Mary," which came out a few months ago, and that's all Mardi Gras, funky party music. That came out on the 20th anniversary of a [New Orleans] parade I founded called Orpheus. Then they said these other tunes will fit well together on the record. I was concerned because there was a bossa nova tune and some country tunes and I was like, the theme is me, I guess. I feel like this guy who's got a lot to share.
Is this the first album in which you write about your own life?
I think this is the first CD in which I've written as much about my own life. The thing I always used to do is I would just imagine any scenario and write about it, which I felt was the best way because I wasn't restricted by my own personal experience. At this point in my life, it felt like a good time to open up a little bit and deal with, not completely autobiographical stuff, but things that stemmed from my own life, as well as even talking about myself. I think this album is more revealing than anything I've done prior to it.
You said in your liner notes, "I don't recall ever reaching quite as deeply or confidently into my inhibition pool." Are you saying that you're maturing?
I guess that's basically what it is. I was very, very guarded over the years with personal stuff. Like, I'm not the guy that's on the cover of People with his brand-new baby. Not to judge those folks, but that was never something I felt comfortable with. I'm always talking about how much I love my wife and my kids, but that's a far cry from anything else.
I don't know why, but I feel like I'm ready to let my guard down a little bit and talk about things I wouldn't normally talk about. Something was pushing me to be creative that way, so I just went with it.
Can you talk about the track "Love Wins"?
A good buddy of mine, Jimmy Greene, he played tenor in my band for eight or so years. His daughter [6-year-old Ana Grace Marquez-Greene] was killed in the Newtown shooting. For those of us who know him, it kind of left us all feeling hopeless. So at the funeral, one of the ministers was repeating the message "Love wins." Which essentially meant, yes, this was a horrible tragedy but this little girl is with God now. Love is going to triumph over any kind of tragedy because ultimately we're going to be with God anyhow. It gave me some peace of mind. I know it did to Jimmy and his family. So I put together a real all-star band, and all the proceeds go to Jimmy and [wife] Nelba's the Ana Grace Fund. They're unable to work, they're just so grief-stricken.
You also collaborate on this album with Wynton and Branford Marsalis, both of whom you've performed with before. You studied music under their dad, Ellis, when you were growing up in New Orleans, so did you guys grow up together?
Yeah, sort of. I've known them probably since I was 8 or 9 years old. My dad was friends with Ellis, and I started studying formally with Ellis when I was about 13, and that's when I really kind of got to know Wynton and Branford better, because I would go to their house and Ellis would give me piano lessons. And over the years, I've become closer and closer, and now they're like brothers, really. Those are good names to have on your contact list when you're looking for guys to play solos on your CDs.
Both your parents were pretty accomplished in law — your father, Joseph Harry Connick Sr. was the district attorney of Orleans Parish for 30 years and your mom, Anita Livingston Connick, was a Louisiana Supreme Court judge. You were a child musical prodigy who performed a Beethoven piano sonata with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra at age 9. So I'm guessing you didn't have pressure to join the family business.
I had pressure not to join the family business. They didn't want me in that business, based on my academic record. I think everybody realized early on that I probably wouldn't contribute much to the legal profession. And I'm so glad that I can play and I can sing, because I don't know what I'd be doing if I couldn't.