Harry Connick Jr., who is moving on from daytime TV, shares his surprising new gig involving music and explains why he believes his passion to perform ‘was given by God.’ The singer and pianist gets candid about Playground Sessions, why everyone should consider learning to play the piano, as well what it was like meeting James Booker.
Harry Connick Jr. believes his passion for performing is heaven-sent.
“I was always naturally inclined to play,” the 51-year-old singer and pianist told Fox News. “That was something that I was given by God I think, a talent to play the piano. Not everybody has that but everybody has the ability to play the piano and to improve, to enjoy it and have it be a special occasion with friends and family or just by yourself. I don’t think there’s any reason [you can’t learn], be it thinking you’re tone-deaf or you can’t read music or you’re not naturally musically gifted.”
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Connick has always found a way to expand his creativity, whether it be writing music, acting or guiding other aspiring artists as a judge on “American Idol.” Most recently, he attempted to pursue the role of daytime TV host for his talk show “Harry.” The show launched in 2016 and aimed to be a family-friendly blend of celebrity interviews, games and inspirational segments. But “Harry” was canceled in 2018 after two seasons.
These days, Connick is going back to his musical roots. But this time, he wants to encourage others to take on the piano. The Grammy and Emmy Award-winning musician recently partnered with Quincy Jones’ equation tech company, Playground Sessions, a piano learning software and app.
Connick himself offers online piano lessons through Playground Sessions. USA Today previously reported the app, which costs $ 9.99 a month, uses “gamification techniques” to entice users into learning to play the piano. For example, Connick teaches users how to play the classic New Orleans standard “When the Saints Go Marching In” by assigning numbers to each musical note, encouraging viewers to get through the song. The publication added that along the way, users get bonuses for making it through.
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Connick hopes to demystify the process of learning to play the piano through the power of technology.
Harry Connick Jr. (Reuters)
“I’ve been the beneficiary of music education my whole life and I think it’s important to pay it forward,” he explained. “Anything I can do to get people interested in music and to beat the drum literally and figuratively for music education. It’s infinitely beneficial to people of all ages to learn about music and have music be a part of their lives.”
“There’s no reason that you can’t learn how to play and learn how to play very quickly,” he added.
And one person who doesn’t mind hearing the New Orleans native tickle the ivories is his wife, former Victoria’s Secret model Jill Goodacre. The couple has been married since 1994 and shares three daughters.
“I don’t normally just kind of play around the house,” admitted Connick. “I do practice a lot around the house and Jill, she tells me all the time she likes to hear me practice. Sometimes I wonder if it gets annoying because I might be working on technical things, but she doesn’t seem to mind and that’s nice. That goes for my kids too. They like to hear me play and I like having music in the house.”
Singer Harry Connick, Jr. and his wife Jill Goodacre in a 2014 file photo. (REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)
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Connick said that his daughters are even considering pursuing the arts in their own way.
“All three of my daughters are completely different human beings and they all love music in a different way,” said Connick. “I don’t think any of them is going to be a pianist like I am, but one of them might end up a singer and one of them might end up in entertainment. And the other one is interested in a different type of art, which is more visual art. Photography, editing and directing. But it’s interesting. My being able to give them music sort of vicariously in the house and through my life, I think, has changed them for the better.”
Now Connick wants to show others how music can enhance their lives, whether it be personally or professionally.
“I am not an authority to talk [on] what is or isn’t being done in terms of music education,” said Connick. “I’m on a slightly different path than that. And I know about what I know about, which is performing, making albums and trying to educate people myself through things like Playground Sessions.
“But… on a global scale in terms of the general level, I think, I hear that a lot of music programs are being cut and not enough money’s being spent and that’s a problem. I think hopefully with things like Playground Sessions, people will start to realize how important music is to people of all ages and we’ll be able to get back at the forefront of music education.”
Connick can’t help but reflect on learning to play from James Booker, “the piano prince of New Orleans.”
New Orleans lore claims his father, District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. made a deal with Booker, making a prison sentence for drug possession disappear in exchange for piano lessons for his son.
True or not, said Connick’s website, Connick did receive a no-nonsense education from Booker, a story he recounted on the 2013 documentary “Bayou Maharajah,” which explored the troubled life of the jazz artist.
Booker, who influenced New Orleans R&B in the ‘50s and ‘60s, passed away in 1983 at age 43 from a heart attack.
Connick never forgot his time with Booker. Now Connick hopes he can inspire others, just as he became captivated by music as a child.
“James Booker, who was a dear friend of mine, didn’t really give too much advice,” reflected Connick. “He sort of showed me by example what he did and I paid very close attention. James wasn’t a communicator in the sense of a traditional music teacher but he was an incredible leader by example and was very kind [to] me in showing me things one on one.”
“To me, music has a different purpose,” he continued. “Music for me is as common as breathing so I never thought of it as an escape because there was something much more challenging inherently in music for me that I had to overcome to become a professional musician. So I never thought of it as a way to sort of [getting] out of whatever circumstances I was in. But most people don’t think like that.”