Harry Connick Jr. has accomplished a lot in his career — he’s released more than 20 albums, acted on TV and on film — but one thing he’s never done, until recently, was work with Clive Davis. In fact, he hadn’t even met the legendary producer until he was summoned to his office in New York.
“My manager called me and said Clive Davis wants to meet with you,” says Connick during an interview at the MuchMusic building in Toronto. “I didn’t know what that meant.”
It turned out Davis wanted the veteran jazz musician to sing an album of famous pop songs. It sounds easy enough, but it turned out to be a lot harder to do than the singer thought.
“I’ve never collaborated with someone before,” he says. “So I’d write some arrangements and he would be like ‘those strings are too high’ or ‘there shouldn’t be a guitar in there.’ I got really bristly. My ego was hurt.”
It wasn’t just the music that Davis criticized, it was the song selection and the name of the album too. Connick originally wanted to sing a Nat King Cole song, but Davis said it wasn’t popular enough. He also hoped to call the disc A Love Like Ours, which is a line from the Beatles song And I Love Her (it appears on the disc). Davis said no.
“He said this is not a record about love songs, it’s a record about familiarity and presenting songs to people that they know, so you have to call it Your Songs,” he says. “I didn’t know if I wanted to do that, but you know what? I let him have it.
“Am I selling out? I don’t know. Am I acquiescing to the point of diluting what I believe? I don’t think so. I’m just having a different type of experience.”
Connick is being hard on himself — while the new disc won’t go down as being one of his best — the jazzy pop orchestral arrangements, which he wrote himself, are bright, full and complex, and the song selection is exactly what Davis wanted, popular and familiar. There’s Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa and Elton John’s Your Song, among other popular tunes.
While Connick has recorded other people’s music in the past — he’s also penned plenty of originals — doing something like this, something that’s obviously geared toward the masses, is a change.
But, he explains that, unlike some artists, he doesn’t just waltz in on a weekend to lay down vocals. “I’m the guy who says that note is flat. I’m the guy who does all the work, not some of it. Every note you see the orchestra playing is what I did. Singing is just part of the process.”
As for Davis, would he work with the producer again? “I would,” he says. “It really wasn’t a boxing match — it was 80 per cent good times.”