Singer-songwriter, composer, actor and former “American Idol” judge Harry Connick Jr. loves the Christmas season.
It’s not all about the fancy gifts, twinkling lights and the holiday rush for the Connick family, the 55-year-old performer insists. It’s more about the time spent together, lounging around the house with his wife, Jill, who he says is an “absolutely amazing cook,” and their three adult daughters.
“We just like being together,” he said during a recent phone interview. “We eat some good food and just hang out. We’re thankful for what the holiday actually means, so we’ll go to midnight Mass or church in the morning and it’s pretty laid back. We’re just hanging out and talking the whole time — or, let me rephrase that — I’m listening all of the time because there’s so much going on with my daughters and all of their adventures. I sit back and listen to what they have to say and we just have a really good time.”
Connick is closing out 2022 with his first holiday tour in a handful of years, which is in support of his fourth Christmas album, “Make It Merry,” that began streaming exclusively on Apple Music on Nov. 26. Before his family hunkers down at his father-in-law’s house in Colorado to spend Christmas Day this year, Connick will be spreading holiday cheer throughout Southern California. The tour stops at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco on Dec. 24.
The Connick family is also big on Christmas music, though Harry admits that his wife runs the household playlist. It includes classics like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” This year, Connick said he was able to curate his own playlist via Make It Merry Radio, which can be found on Apple Music. He included some of his favorites, even the ones that yank hard at the heartstrings, like country-pop star Kacey Musgraves’ “Christmas Makes Me Cry.”
Though there’s plenty of upbeat holiday songs on the list, he said that Christmas can be an emotional time, which is why a song like Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas” have such an impact.
“I think my dad was telling me that he spent one Christmas without my mother, and that was back in the ’50s, and he was looking out the window and my gosh, you just want to, like the song says, be with the ones you love,” he said. “Those songs do make you cry.”
For the live shows, Connick will be playing selections from his latest album, including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and newly-recorded versions of his original songs, “(It Must’ve Been Ol’) Santa Claus” and “When My Heart Finds Christmas.” He also has two new songs: “On This Christmas Morning” and the album title track, “Make It Merry.”
“There are different ways to write these songs,” he said of his holiday songwriting process. “You can write them autobiographically or you can just write like I did with ‘Make It Merry.’ That’s about a guy who’s alone and all he really wants is for this person to consider to come spend the holiday with him and that one’s not from personal experience. But definitely some of them go back to my own childhood.”
He’s ready to close out the year with his adoring fans and wants each one of these shows to be a true celebration, especially considering all of the holiday events that were canceled over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When you get out there and sing a song like ‘Sleigh Ride’ and everybody is in a good mood and singing along, that is a certain type of luxury for a performer,” he said. “Not that there’s a heaviness to any other show, but as a person in charge of how the evening is going to go, when you walk into a situation where there are a bunch of people already ready to have a good time, it makes it just super fun and this will be a party the whole night.
“To know that all of us can all now see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re able to be productive in a normal way again, that’s everything. And we don’t really know the effect this pandemic will have on us in the future. It was an immensely stressful time for so many reasons and I was one of the fortunate ones who could work at home. I think about all of the men and women who sacrificed so much to keep our lives normal and I feel thrilled to be able to get back to work. Those folks are still near and dear to my heart because I know that was a beyond stressful time for them.”
In 2021, Connick released “Alone With My Faith,” which he recorded in his home studio during the lockdowns and earned him a Grammy nomination. He also joined the cast of “Annie Live!,” playing Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in the production that aired on NBC last December. Next year, Connick said he has a bunch of music, TV, film and Broadway projects in the works — but he can’t talk about any of it just yet. However, he will serve as a judge on “Australian Idol” in 2023. He was a mentor a mentor on “American Idol” in 2012 and returned as a judge alongside Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban in 2013.
“There’s some extraordinary talent out there,” he said. “When I was a mentor on ‘American Idol,’ I only did the one show, but that’s what I really like doing. Being a mentor is different than a judge because you can’t really have an interaction and that kinda goes against my personality style, to just objectively judge. I’d much rather collaborate and work with them, but it’s really fun and in the short amount of time that I have, I do try to give them whatever sort of advice I think may help. Sometimes they don’t need it.”
‘Excited and humbled’
This year, Connick said he’s just thankful for everyone and everything. He’s also very much aware of the financial strain on individuals and families this holiday season, with the cost of just about everything going way up, including the price of concert tickets.
“I don’t take this lightly because tickets are expensive, especially around the holidays and people have presents to buy, so every single person that comes to these shows, I am really grateful,” he said. “I think people can see that I’m genuinely excited and humbled to be on that stage and I’m gonna give them everything I’ve got.”
With many giving the gift of concert tickets this year and opting to purchase experiences rather than material possessions, Connick said he’s happy if he gets to be someone’s gift this holiday season.
“Man, I hope I don’t suck,” he said with a laugh. “I hope they don’t want to return or regift me.”
IF YOU GO
What: Harry Connick Jr.: A Holiday Celebration
When: 2 p.m. Dec. 24
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Admission: $45 to $225