The late Sammy Davis Jr. and Mel Tormé were likely the most versatile performers in show business history. Davis was a singer, dancer, actor in films and on Broadway, and could play just about every musical instrument in the band. Tormé was a composer, orchestrator, singer, pianist, drummer, and actor. Davis and Tormé were also published authors to boot.
For the past several years, it has become increasingly evident that Harry Connick Jr. may be the heir to the “showbiz versatility” throne. He’s a composer; arranger; actor on stage, screen, and sometimes television; a first class jazz pianist; and a pretty decent trumpeter. Like Tormé, virtually everything Connick has done, particularly musically, has carried the stamp of quality, and he’s worked hard to attain that high level. “I couldn’t hone my craft unless I spent all my waking hours working on it,” he told me in an interview several seasons ago.
So much talent, so little evidence
This is why his recent foray into the dreary mediocrity of daytime talk show television — Harry, airing locally on Fox 29 — is such a shock and disappointment.
There is simply little that sets Harry apart from daytime talk shows past and present. Sporting a de rigueur three days’s growth of beard, a snappy dark designer suit, and a studio audience comprising adoring women, Connick is certainly an able and affable host. Still, talk show queen Ellen DeGeneres has nothing to worry about.
Harry is just more of the same in terms of guests, format and segments. Do we really need to see and hear Kelly Clarkson again, or sit through another celebrity cooking segment? I think not.
Yes, he’s got a smoking house band, and his is the only daytime talk show to feature live music, but the unit is given little to do besides play stooge for its host. On his first show, Connick, who, to my shock, did not even mention his bandleader or band members by name, didn’t sing (even Mike Douglas opened his shows with a song), and played a scant four bars worth of piano.
The missing link
And for goodness sake, since he’s a performer who made his name singing and playing jazz, why didn’t he book any jazz musicians as guests? Someone with Connick’s extensive jazz background, who also enjoys a good deal of popularity with the general public, could really do a service by spreading the cause of jazz among audiences who have never or rarely been exposed to it. After all, Connick’s closest musical friends are Wynton, Branford, and Ellis Marsalis.
There’s a lesson to be learned from failed talk shows: capitalize on your strengths. Connick’s strength is music.
I hope, if given time, Harry will find its legs. Right now, the program is a bore and its host, sadly, is close to becoming a sellout. I expected much, much more from this talented man, as did many members of the jazz community.