Before acting, Harry Connick Jr.'s crooning on the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally earned him the title "the next Sinatra." But long before anyone knew he could sing a note or capably emote, Connick Jr. was an acclaimed jazz pianist. "I started at age 3," the 38-year-old says in a warm New Orleans lilt, "so by the time I was 7, I was already doing gigs." The Renaissance man talked to us about his first love, jazz, and the artists and albums that fostered it.

James Booker, New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! (Rounder): "I knew Booker as a kid. We'd hang out and he'd teach me things. He was a real New Orleans jazzman with extraordinary technique. Booker played three or four things at the same time—melodies inside of melodies."

Wynton Marsalis, Black Codes (Columbia): "I love Black Codes. It's a classic jazz record that brothers Wynton and Branford Marsalis did a long time ago. Compare it to Branford's latest, Eternal, and you can hear how their styles grew more experimental over the years."

Louis Armstrong, Silver Collection (Verve): "The early stuff, when he was playing 'West End Blues' with his band, the Hot Five—that's all great. But toward the end of his career he did this record, which is probably one of the greatest ever made. When he plays 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen,' it's just beyond belief."


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