What do you get your mom for Christmas? Every year I struggle with this question. I know plenty of things my mother would probably appreciate, but what would be a really great gift? This year, inspiration came in the form of an email from the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee: Harry Connick Jr. would be playing a full band holiday show on December 12th. I've long had a soft spot for Harry, and both of his Christmas albums get tons of play in Mom's car every year. I scored a pair of balcony seats in the presale, and last Friday it was off to Milwaukee for my mother's Christmas concert.
It was great. The concert was heavy on the Christmas songs, but they weren't the whole story. We were also treated to some old standards; songs like "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby," and "Basin Street Blues." From the familiar Christmas tunes to the extended instrumental solos on jazzier numbers, everything was top notch. Harry has assembled an incredibly talented group of musicians, and he's no slouch himself. Lucien Barbarin, in particular, gave a standout performance - he received a standing ovation from the crowd. I also hadn't expected Harry to be so funny. He told many stories, including a great one about Frank Sinatra on what would have been his ninety-third birthday. There was much witty banter with the crowd, especially those up front. Harry's not afraid to make fun of his fans, and I like that in a performer. (Addressing the husband of a woman who has seen four shows in a row: "You do know you're married to a freakshow, don't you?") And aside from the musical skills, Harry also has got some moves on the dance floor. (Dance floor in this case being the stage.) I'd like to see a Southern white boy dance-off: Harry Connick Jr. vs. Patrick Sansone. Let's make this happen.
Experiencing the concert with my mom was wonderful, but the night's surprises weren't over for me. On the way home I learned that one December in the mid 1960's, Mom and her girlfriends drove down to New Orleans. They stayed in the French Quarter. They swam in a pool on Bourbon Street on New Year's Eve. They went to Preservation Hall. I had no idea. The concert also brought up many memories of my grandpa. I knew Grandpa had taught himself to play the piano and guitar, but Mom told me all about how he and his brother and their friends used to get together and jam. Many nights when she was a little girl, Mom would do her best to fall asleep in her bedroom upstairs while down in the basement she could hear Grandpa on his guitar, Uncle Richie on the harmonica, and their friends on trombone and saxophone, playing and laughing into the wee hours. "He would have loved that show," Mom said. As we were walking into the house, she told me this had been her best Christmas present ever ... right behind Cinnamon Bear, the teddy bear she got as a little girl.
I'll take second place to Cinnamon Bear any day. Mission accomplished.