Harry Connick, Jr. is a man of many moods, all supremely musical. Look no further than his recent Columbia albums for proof. After exploring the wonders of childhood on his 2001 Grammy winning Songs I Heard and the spirit of the Christmas via his recent blockbuster Harry for the Holidays, Harry now turns to matters of romance on his new collection of ballads, Only You.
Harry applied his diverse skills as a vocalist, pianist, composer, arranger and orchestrator in a series of sessions in May of 2003 at Hollywood’s legendary Capitol Studios that produced both Harry for the Holidays and Only You. Working from the piano once graced by Nat King Cole, Harry led the members of his working big band, augmented in several instances by a full string orchestra, through two diverse programs.
“It’s all music,” he said in explaining the challenge, “and a matter of subtly switching gears, because a different kind of passion goes into singing `Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ and `Only You.’”
The initial inspiration for Only You came from Columbia Records president Donnie Ienner.
“Donnie’s the one who said, `Why don’t you do an album of songs from my generation?’ and I decided to give it a try. That involved collecting suggested material, deciding which songs felt right for me and picking those I liked.”
Along the way, Harry realized that many hits from the early years of rock and roll had a much older pedigree.
“Part of what I wanted to do on this record,” he admits, “was to focus on songs that had their second success in the Fifties. `My Prayer’ is a great example. I know that most people associate it with the Platters, but I knew the Ink Spots’ version from the Thirties as well. That’s why I picked things like `My Blue Heaven’ and `I Only Have Eyes for You,’ songs I remember hearing as a kid that have a real history.”
All twelve songs on Only You are delivered with Harry's unique blend of taste, imagination and passion. He turns the Drifters hit “Save the Last Dance for Me” into a swinging ballad, drops a hint of samba into “My Blue Heaven” and calls upon solo cello to realize the mood of “My Prayer.”
“I was trying to deal with the colors of each piece – the hues, for lack of a better word,” he explains. “All of the writing was done that way, using just what was needed.”
Examples abound, none better than the soulful section work concertmaster Bruce Dukoff evoked from the string players on “My Prayer” and Jerry Weldon and the rest of the Harry band’s saxes deliver on “Goodnight My Love.” “I gave Jerry the lead on `Goodnight My Love’ because he just understands that type of playing,” Harry emphasizes, and it is Weldon who takes the majority of the horn solos throughout the disc, with Jimmy Greene’s tenor featured on “Only You” and Dave Schumacher’s baritone on Allen Toussaint’s “All These Things.”
While Harry's own instrumental contributions are understated (“I always forget to write myself into the arrangements,” he jokes,) his vocals are front and center, and more moving than ever.
“These songs are hard to sing,” he says, “and they brought out new things in my voice. There is nowhere to hide on something like `The Very Thought of You.’ You just have to fill up your lungs and sing, without worrying about the details of how each phrase should be inflected. What came out was my voice in a way I haven’t heard it. It was like going back to when I was first learning to sing, like the way I sang `Stardust’ on 25. I really sang these songs, and I’m proud of it.”
One major difference between Harry's singing here and on his 1992 version of “Stardust” is his evolving approach to art.
“There was a time when I wouldn’t let life experience into the music, because I thought that art was completely internal,” he says. “To a great extent, I still think that’s true, because otherwise artists would just be chasing sunsets. But now, I find myself drawing on personal experience more than ever before. When I sang `Other Hours,’ I was thinking of the more difficult times in my life, and when I sang `Only You’ and most of the other songs, I was thinking about my wife, Jill. For the first time, I wasn’t acting the emotions, I was feeling them. It was a solemn, calm place, a very good place, without a lot of the baggage about what other people would think of the music that I used to take into the studio. This is my turn, and I’m enjoying it.”
Only You, Harry's most emotionally compelling and heartfelt performance to date, keeps his string of triumphs alive.
Harry Connick Jr. - Piano & Vocals Neal Caine - Bass Arthur Lattin II - Drums Big Band Ned Goold - Alto Sax James Greene - Alto Sax Jerry Weldon - Tenor Sax Mike Karn - Tenor Sax Dave Schumacher - Baritone Sax Roger Ingram - Trumpet Derrick Gardner - Trumpet Leroy Jones - Trumpet Joe Magnarelli - Trumpet Mark Mullins - Trombone Craig Klein - Trombone John Allred- Trombone Joe Barati - Bass Trombone
Arranged, Orchestrated and Conducted by Harry Connick, Jr. Produced by Tracey Freeman Recorded and mixed by Gregg Rubin Mastered by Vlado Meller Assistant Producer - Maria S. Betro Recorded at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, CA May 13-22, 2003 Mixed at Ocean Way, Los Angeles and Sony Music Studios, NYC Mastered at Sony Studios, NYC Assistant Engineers: Charlie Paakkari, Capitol Studios David Swope, Sony Music Studios Jeff Burns, Oceanway Studios Orchestra Contractor - Sandy DeCrescent Music Preparation - JoAnn Kane Music Service Copyists - Russ Bartmus, Mark Graham Finale Tech - Geoff Burke