NEW ORLEANS - Harry Connick Jr. walked through the Bourbon Street jazz club where he performed as a child, saying repeatedly how amazed he is that so little has changed.
“It’s exactly the same,” the singer-pianist said Wednesday at the Maison Bourbon, where more than 30 years ago he performed on piano with the Dixieland jazz band. “I remember the smell of Irish coffee in here. That’s what people liked to drink in here back then.”
Connick was elated to see the painting of a group of musicians marching through the French Quarter still hanging on the wall. He said he has a deep appreciation for much of what has remained intact in New Orleans since Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, flooding 80 percent of his hometown.
Connick’s childhood home in the Lakeview neighborhood was badly damaged by floodwater when the city’s levee system failed during Katrina. On Tuesday, he discovered the house had been demolished.
“It’s just an empty lot,” he said. “It’s sad because for me there’s a lot of sentimental value, but it’s good too because it means progress. It means that things are going to change.”
On Wednesday, the Maison Bourbon served as a gathering place for Connick, who turned 40 Tuesday, and a handful of residents from the Musicians Village — the project Connick launched with saxophonist Branford Marsalis after Hurricane Katrina to help displaced musicians.
Connick said the city’s recovery from Katrina has been painstakingly slow, but he is trying to stay positive.
“I try to focus on the good more than anything else, because there’s not much I can do about all the bad stuff,” he said. “The thing I think I can do better than anything else is keep the awareness in front of people and remind people how much work still needs to be done.”
Connick and members of Habitat for Humanity break ground Thursday on the multi-million-dollar Ellis Marsalis Music Center, named for the jazz pianist and patriarch of the Marsalis family. The center will include a performance hall and practice rooms and serve as a place for musicians of different ages and genres to mingle.
“It will ensure there will be a physical place where young musicians can go to learn from older musicians,” Connick said.