by Kris Dinnison
HARRY CONNICK JR. is a man of many talents. As a singer, musician, composer, actor and even inventor, Connick has consistently pushed the boundaries and surprised audiences with his versatility and seemingly limitless gifts. Connick is a rare Renaissance man in a world of wannabes, and this weekend he brings his velvety voice and big band to Pullman.
Connick's career has been long and varied. A native son of New Orleans, he began playing piano at age three. Immersed in that city's music-rich culture, Connick's skill grew quickly, and by 10 he was performing in the French Quarter regularly. Studying piano with two of that city's great musicians, Ellis Marsalis (father of Wynton and Branford) and James Booker, undoubtedly gave Connick's musical journey a boost.
"Ellis Marsalis was a huge influence," Connick says via cell phone during a break on his current tour. "He brought me from one style to the next. He really reshaped my thinking about rhythm and sound. And James Booker, the New Orleans pianist, he was pure genius. He had a profound influence on my thinking."
Connick credits the efforts of such valuable mentors for much of his growth as a musician, and his hope is that other kids are getting those same kinds of opportunities. "It's important for American adults to keep kids informed about our musical history," Connick insists. "I think it's important that they know who Louis Armstrong is, and Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra. It's pretty amazing that we've lived in the same century as these people. It's like living at the same time as Beethoven. It really is."
Connick's musical upbringing was both unique and thorough. By the time he moved to New York at age 18, Connick was already a veteran performer. Columbia records signed him the next year, and Connick has been a prolific performer ever since. He has explored the worlds of New Orleans funk, Big Band, standards, cabaret, jazz and everything in between, and he has excelled at them all. Connick's 15-plus albums have shown his consummate skill as a singer, musician, conductor, arranger and composer.
"Over the years, you get so much experience, you get to see it from all angles, that's what's so exciting," explains Connick. "If you surround yourself with the right people and have creativity and humility, good things happen."
That simple philosophy has earned Connick several gold, platinum and multi-platinum records; two Grammys; Emmy, Golden Globe and Oscar nominations; and overwhelming praise for his work in both music and film.
Just in the last year, Connick released 30, the fourth in a series of albums that takes a musical snapshot of Connick at a particular age. The first three in the series were 20, 25 and 11, which included actual recordings of the pre-teen Connick performing. Released simultaneously with 30 was Songs I've Heard, an album of largely familiar songs redone in the kind of innovative, surprising arrangements Connick has become famous for.
His 1999 release, Come By Me, reunited Connick's 16-piece band to perform both classic pieces and Connick originals. One track on the album, "Danny Boy," may recall for audiences one of their first experiences with Connick. In 1990, he had his first film role as a young American World War II soldier in the movie Memphis Belle. Connick's character performs a moving rendition of this Irish ballad during the film, perfectly capturing the bittersweet feeling of the era.
In fact, many people are more familiar with Connick's work as an actor than they are his accomplishments as a musician. Since his debut in Memphis Belle, he has had major roles in several films, including Little Man Tate, Hope Floats, Copycat and Independence Day. This year, audiences can see him in three films: Wayward Son with Pete Postlewaite; Mickey, from an original screenplay by John Grisham; and The Simian Line, featuring Lynn Redgrave, William Hurt, Tyne Daly and Samantha Mathis.
"I just look for a good story," Connick says, when explaining what draws him to a role. "If the characters are well developed and the story's good, I'm interested."
Connick sees his acting experiences as a natural offshoot of his love of music. "I see things cinematically. I like drama," he explains. "And even when I'm doing music, I like the audience to feel more than an aural sensation."
Connick's newest venture gave him an opportunity to combine the two media. He recently composed the score for a Broadway show called Thou Shalt Not based on a novel by Emile Zola. In his debut as a Broadway composer, Connick took on the whole enchilada: lyrics, music, score and producing the cast album.
"I like to do those things, and it wasn't like I was taking on more than I could handle," Connick says. "Don't get me wrong -- it was so much work. There were times I had trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel." Writing for a pre-existing story was a new experience for Connick. "Usually I'm dealing with random ideas in my head," he explains. "With this I was dealing with characters and plot issues... I could take characters and really get inside their heads and show that musically." Working with actors and a director who gave him feedback and contributed their own ideas made the experience unique for Connick.
"I loved it. It was fascinating," Connick says enthusiastically. "It was very collaborative, which is something I'd never done. I'd never asked someone what they thought of my songs. I thrived on it!"
Even with his forays into other media, music is Connick's first love. "Music is it, definitely, without a doubt," Connick says. "Everything I've done is a result of growing up in a musical environment. When I'm doing that, I feel most at home."
WEEZER front man Rivers Cuomo has an infuriating knack for writing catchy melodies that, once lodged in your brain, are almost impossible to purge. And though Weezer will probably never win any originality awards, God knows there's plenty of us out here highly susceptible to the obvious charms of an intelligent, well-crafted pop song.
Weezer (performing in Pullman Sunday night) has forged a career out of defying the expectations of both fans and industry big shots. When the L.A. group emerged in 1994 with its self-titled debut -- known in Weezerdom as the "Blue Album" -- the modern rock landscape in the wake of Nirvana's astounding success and the rise of the Seattle Sound couldn't have appeared more hostile towards a geeky-looking quartet peddling hook-heavy power pop a la Cheap Trick. No one expected Weezer to have much more than a transient effect. Moreover, the band's sudden spike in popularity after the appearance of two cheeky music videos -- the one for "Buddy Holly" had the band performing for the Happy Days gang at Arnold's Drive-In -- made it easy to dismiss as a mere novelty act.
The group's 1996 sophomore album, Pinkerton -- which relied on Cuomo's maturing songwriting to do the talking -- was generally praised by critics but slow to catch on commercially, causing widespread speculation that Weezer's moment in the sun had come and gone. Further fueling this notion were Cuomo's own insecurities about the band and his reclusive existence on the Harvard campus, where he was studying English literature. After Pinkerton's tepid chart performance, Cuomo -- by this time the band's undisputed and imperious leader -- placed Weezer on indefinite hiatus.
After five years as a non-entity (during which Pinkerton was reassessed by old fans and discovered by new throngs of indie rockers), Weezer came roaring back in 2001. Their surprisingly confident and powerful new disc was yet another self-titled number, commonly known as the "Green Album." On the following tour, fans came pouring out of the woodwork in support. Weezer was reborn. And today, the renaissance continues.
What's new in the Weezer camp? Well, aside from the incessant touring of late, the band has capitalized on its newfound momentum with yet another album (Maladroit, due in stores May 14). There is also a new addition to the lineup in the form of bassist Scott Shriner, who replaces Mikey Welsh (himself the replacement for original bassist, Matt Sharp). But while the speculation on Weezer chat rooms regarding Welsh's exodus runs the gamut from Cuomo's reputed megalomania to mental illness and drug abuse, it's clear that the band (with guitarist Brian Bell and drummer Pat Wilson completing the foursome), their record label and Cuomo himself are, these days, much more interested in looking forward than back. --Mike Corrigan
We love one-stop shopping, don't we? With one carefully executed trip, we can secure everything we need to sustain us for a week, a month or more. This Friday night, Michael Millham (one half of the guitar/vocal duo, Sidhe, and organizer of COFFEEHOUSE CREATURES) is going to make it ridiculously easy for you to sample some of the best of Spokane's vibrant coffeehouse scene. And the cozy, intimate, drop-dead gorgeous Met Theater is the place.
Acoustic music is the single most persistent and vigorous sector of the local scene. With venues downsizing and big, sprawling clubs on the decline, small bars, restaurants and coffeehouses are finding ways to insure that live music shall not perish from the local arts landscape. Then there are the performers, an incredibly talented and eclectic group, representing every conceivable non-amplified music form: jazz, folk, blues, classical.
And yet, not everyone is dialed into the staggering array of participating venues and performers out there. It seems Dick and Jane Suburbanite still need a compelling reason to venture downtown on a weekend night. Well, Coffeehouse Creatures (now in its second year) is it.
Regional artists scheduled to perform at this year's showcase include Sidhe, Mad Mama Moon, Prairie Flyer, Calliope's Burden, Darin Schaffer, Two Guys & amp; a Guitar and Don Kush. Joining them will be New York musicians Amy Speace and Jen Bruce. And as no coffeehouse experience would be even remotely complete without a cup of java and perhaps something to nosh, three of the evening's sponsoring businesses -- the Shop, Quinn's and the Rocket -- will provide the necessary consumables. The Shop's sound gurus will also, once again, be recording the performances with the possibility of a live CD of the show eventually being made available for public sale.
So come for the music. Come for the coffee. Come find out what the buzz is all about. --Mike Corrigan