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Connick aims for the best of both worlds

(ran GB edition)

Chasing dual careers can be tricky business, but Harry Connick Jr. isn't worried. Juggling music and movie roles has become second nature to him. His visibility has been boosted as never before, and he'll be the last to complain.

Currently he's being seen on movie screens in the box office smash Independence Day, playing a fighter pilot who tries to destroy an alien spaceship. He's also high on the Billboard charts with Star Turtle. It's a loosely woven concept album about an alien who stops in New Orleans and soaks up the many funk, blues and Creole sounds of the city.

Dealing with aliens is a coincidence in the two art forms, says Connick, but it's no coincidence that he loves to balance movie acting and musical performance without getting swamped by either.

"I'm not stretched thin. Not really. The two careers are pretty unrelated," says Connick, who first rose to fame through the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack in 1988, when he became a chic new king of swing.

"I think acting helps my (music) career, because a lot of people watch movies. And there's plenty of time to do both. . . . I don't think I'd do more than I can handle. Sometimes the schedule gets kind of rough, but I like that. And it's not like that all of the time.

"I love acting. It's great fun and a great challenge," adds Connick, who's now making a new film, Excess Baggage, with Alicia Silverstone and Christopher Walken. "I play a car salesman. It's pretty cool. He's sort of a collegiate guy who's involved with the wrong crowd."

Music is still what he's best known for, admits the Grammy-winning Connick. Music is where most of his training lies _ and it's a training acquired in New Orleans. His mother was a judge there, and his father was the city's district attorney, but Connick's studies entailed bird-dogging around the clubs and listening to great pianists, from James Booker (his favorite) to Professor Longhair. It built a love of performance that guides him to this day.

"I love the stage, man," says Connick, now 28. "You put me in a club, or you put me in front of a hundred thousand people _ I love it all. I love to perform. . . . I started when I was 5 years old."

Connick has made Sinatra-influenced, adult-jazz albums, but lately his interests have taken him to New Orleans funk and soul.

"I think a lot more people dig my music now, because it's a lot easier to understand. I mean, it's not brain surgery. It's music. And if people don't dig it, that's okay. I'm going to record more jazz and big band music in the future, but I'm just having a good time now," he says.

The new Star Turtle album is Connick's wildest ride yet. It follows a "reptilian rocketeer" who lands in New Orleans and is swept through a world of rocking shuffles (Reason To Believe), horn-driven funk (How Do Ya'll Know), Little Feat-like rock (Nobody Like You to Me), string-laden ballads (City Beneath the Sea), wah-wah pedal rock (Booze Hound) and enough exuberant percussion to make you feel that Bourbon Street is alive and well in the grooves.

The new album also has some experimental touches, such as mixing a B-flat guitar line into a song in A minor. That happens in Booze Hound, which is rather delirious to start with. "I was just trying to find some way in our Western tonal system to describe alcoholism. The conflict (in the two keys) is what it's all about," he says.

"Fortunately, I think most of the people who dig what I do accept the fact that I'm going to change things up _ and they come with me on the ride," says Connick.

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