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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: June 18, 2018

Harry Connick Jr. brings the sounds of his native New Orleans to Portland

Written by: Ray Routhier

Harry Connick Jr. will bring his “New Orleans Tricentennial Celebration” show to Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Friday.
Photo by Gavin Bond

Harry Connick Jr. burst onto the American musical scene nearly 30 years ago as a smoky-voiced jazz crooner from New Orleans.

In the years since, he’s acted in TV and films, hosted a talk show, been a judge on “American Idol” and starred on Broadway.

But he’s still, at his core, a passionate musician from New Orleans. That’s why for his current tour he’s seized upon an event most of us probably weren’t aware of – the founding of his home city 300 years ago. He’ll bring his “New Orleans Tricentennial Tour” to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Friday.

“In New Orleans, we love celebrating for any reason, but this is a pretty big one,” said Connick, 50. “I thought this was a great reason to go out on the road and play some music and have some fun.”

And dance. Connick said he does some tap dancing in the show. He didn’t want to give too much away, only to say tap dancing is part of New Orleans’s musical heritage.

Connick will bring an 11-piece band with him and play lots of jazz from New Orleans’s musical history, like the swinging “Bourbon Street Parade” and the gospel number “How Great Thou Art.” He may do some funk, including the Allen Toussaint song “Yes We Can Can” or a Louis Armstrong pop classic like “What a Wonderful World.”

“The show kind of changes from night to night. It will be unique to that crowd and that night,” said Connick. “It’s not beyond me to tell some stories about New Orleans and growing up there.”

He may also throw in some of the American standards he’s known for. He was not widely known when director Rob Reiner asked him to provide songs for the soundtrack to the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally.” The soundtrack album featured songs from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, including “It Had to Be You,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The album was a hit, and Connick won the Grammy Award for best male jazz vocal performance.

Soon after he hit it big in music, he started landing acting roles. He played a tail gunner in the 1990 World War II film “Memphis Belle,” a serial killer in “Copycat” (1995) and a fighter pilot in “Independence Day (1996). He’s continued to act in films and was a star of the “Dolphin Tale” films in recent years. On TV, he was a judge on the musical competition “American Idol” and had a featured role on the sitcom “Will & Grace” on NBC from 2002 to 2006. In 2016, he began hosting his own syndicated daytime talk show, “Harry,” which is scheduled to go off the air sometime later this year. It can be seen locally at 2 p.m. on Portland TV station WCSH-6.

Connick grew up in New Orleans, where his mother was a judge and his father was a district attorney. His parents also owned a record store and knew a lot of local musicians. Connick was playing piano and singing publicly by age 5, with his parents bringing him to venues around the city.

“The cool thing about New Orleans is you can go there at 2 p.m. on a Saturday and see all this live music. So I’d go to places with my family, all these clubs, and see all these great musicians, 10 minutes from my house,” said Connick.

Harry Connick Jr.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $68.75 to $259
INFO: Porttix.com

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