In a pop spectrum littered with too manyt new kids, has-beens and all manner of never-weres in between, the emergence of Harry Connick Jr. has been one of the most refreshing developments on the music scene in years, maybe decades.
A jazz piano virtuoso who sings like Sinatra and smolders like James Dean, Connick is probably best known for the music from Rob Reiner's 1989 film, "When Harry Met Sally ..."
But the soundtrack, which brought him to the masses after two lesser-known albums, provides a mere glimpse of young Connick's talent. In July, he released two more albums simultaneously: a serious jazz outing, "Lofty's Roach Souffle," and a collection of "40-inspired ballads, "We Are in Love."
He also has been on tour steadily, stepping up from theaters to large auditoriums this year while honing a dazzling stage act. The New Orleans-bred Connick actually has two shows: a trio act focusing on bass and piano jazz, and a 16-piece bigband show that includes jazz, pop, show tunes and swing.
But music is just the beginning for Connick, who this week also launches a film career with a supporting role in the World War II drama "Memphis Belle," starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz and John Lithgow. It's a brotherhood movie -- sort of a cross between "Dead Poets Society" and "Hunt for Red October" -- that details the last mission of a bomber plane and its boyish crew. Connick plays Clay Busby -- the would-be matinee idol and tail-gunner.
His next movie is "Little Man Tate" with Jodie Foster. His next album will be a live set recorded at The Village Vanguard in New York. He and his managers sift through a landslide of offers just about every day.
Connick said last week he has kept his personal and professional valuew in perspective as his career has flourished. He knows that he is forever being compared with Sinatra, particularly as he branches into movies, but he guards against such accolades inflating his ego.
"He's the greatest singer who ever lived." Connick said of Sinatra. "I love listening to his music. But I can't compare myself to him."
Connick, who has never met Sinatra, isn't sure he's ready to hear what Sinatra might think of him. "I'm afraid. I know who he likes -- Tony Bennett, Dick Haymes, Rosie Clooney. That's the big leagues. I'm not nearly on that level."
But he is on that level , and probably knows it, even if he doesn't want to admit it. It is difficult to find holes in Connick's humble persona.
"I'm very sincere," he says in a distinct, Southern drawl. "I'm thrilled to be making people happy along the way, but I'm not going to say I'm as good as people who've been around 50 years."