From his standards-centered “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack breakthrough through dozens of albums featuring everything from jazz to piano pop, New Orleans inspirations and covers of virtually every stripe, there’s never been a succinct way to summarize Harry Connick Jr. So rather than steering his instantly sold out return to Ravinia (a first in 25 years) around any particular style, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist simply stuck it all in a melting pot, stirred it steadily and came up with a spicy musical gumbo that sent the final night of his summer tour out with a bang.
Between that upcoming project, a return to the judges’ booth on “American Idol” and ongoing acting appearances, there’s plenty for fans to look forward to, though more than simply the tangibles, this enchanting night under the stars demonstrated Connick’s ability to stay in the game for three decades without ever compromising his creative compass.
Accompanied by an eight piece band, the 47-year-old (still as handsome as ever, though oddly never shown up close on the big screens) slowly marinated the groove that would steadily ascend across more than two hours. “The Way You Look Tonight” and “It Had To Be You” earned surprisingly early treatments, shining a spotlight on not only Connick’s charming vocals, but in the case of the latter, each of his highly dexterous players’ sweltering improvisations.
It was a trend that would continue throughout a set more concerned with quality of musicianship than quantity of selections, which besides finding the headliner crooning with hand in pocket or at his standard seat behind the piano, also included a solo trumpet treatment of “Amazing Grace,” plus a gleeful horn battle throughout “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?” After a polka-tinted introductory tease, the Crescent City native also took Chicagoland on a virtual trip to Preservation Hall during “Bourbon Street Parade,” then back to church for a riveting rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”
Even with so many past interpretations and reworkings to address, Connick and company were arguably at their performance peak debuting three new tracks from a yet-to-be-titled October release. The Kris Kristofferson-inspired “Trying To Matter” is simply begging to be a single, “No One Does I Do Like We Do” ran a pretty close second (also unveiling the singer’s rarely seen acoustic guitar skills), while the lusty “I Like It When You Smile” ran right alongside any of the switch hitter’s previous funk explorations and laid the ideal groundwork for “City Beneath The Sea.”
Between that upcoming project, a return to the judges’ booth on “American Idol” and ongoing acting appearances, there’s plenty for fans to look forward to, though more than simply the tangibles, this enchanting night under the stars demonstrated Connick’s ability to stay in the game for three decades without ever compromising his creative compass. Now here’s hoping he won’t take so long to return to a venue his wife “would die to be at” and that an additional engagement will be added next round to appease the overwhelming demand for this consummate entertainer.
Upcoming concert highlights at Ravinia Festival include Diana Krall on Sunday, August 9; Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club on Wednesday, August 12; Umphrey’s McGee at on Friday, August 14; 3 Doors Down and Collective Soul on Monday, August 17; Better Than Ezra, Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker and Eve 6 on Tuesday, August 18; Needtobreathe and Switchfoot on Wednesday, August 19; Seth MacFarlane on Friday, August 21 and Chicago on Saturday, August 22-Sunday, August 23. For additional details, visit www.ravinia.org.