by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n case you hadn't heard, Harry Connick Jr. grew up in New Orleans, so Hurricane Katrina hit him hard, too. Just days after it made landfall -- while FEMA was still looking for the keys to their truck -- Connick was there, wading through the floodwaters, helping victims and drawing attention to the people stranded at the Superdome.

"It's hard to sit in silence, to watch one's youth wash away," Connick later wrote of why he felt drawn to the disaster zone. "New Orleans is my essence, my soul, my muse."

While politicians seemed to flap in the wind after the storm, artists stepped up -- Connick helped organize A Concert for Hurricane Relief, and he and fellow New Orleans native Branford Marsalis teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to build a Musicians' Village in the 9th Ward with affordable housing for displaced local musicians.

Now he's doing his best ambassador routine, bringing the sounds of the French Quarter to concert halls across the country. On Tuesday, Connick and his legendary Big Band will swing at the INB Center.

There's only one conclusion to be drawn about Connick: He's freakishly talented. First taught by Ellis Marsalis, Connick moved to New York City at 18 to study music and perfect the American Songbook at local watering holes. Discovered by film director Rob Reiner, his soundtrack for When Harry Met Sally went, like, infinity-platinum. Now on the brink of 40, he's recorded 23 albums, including two released this year in tribute to New Orleans, the instrumental Chanson du Vieux Carr & eacute; and the swinging Oh, My NOLA, which features the Katrina-inspired "All These People."

And for Spokane, Connick bears an eerie likeness to our own musical master, Bing Crosby -- both serious about their business (Crosby was an early adopter of magnetic tape; Connick holds a patent for digital sheet music), both racially enlightened (Crosby was one of the first white singers who wanted to perform with blacks; Connick was the first to integrate Mardi Gras parades, when he founded the interracial Krewe of Orpheus), both suave as hell.

Not satisfied with a life of crooning, however, Connick took a recurring role on TV's Will and Grace and even hosts the Weather Channel's 100 Biggest Weather Moments. (No. 97 -- President William Henry Harrison dies of pneumonia after giving his inauguration speech without a coat!)

Movies? Yep, he's been in 14 of them, including the creepy, just-released Bug, in which he plays, for the second time, a psycho redneck. In his Broadway debut, Connick starred in the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game. He'll find out if he wins a Tony on June 10.

No word yet on whether he'll try out to pitch for the Yankees this season, but catch him live now -- just in case.

Harry Connick Jr. and his Big Band play Tuesday, May 29, at 8 pm at the INB Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Tickets: $35-$65. Call 325-SEAT.

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