Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

by Sean Mitchell
In Style, February 1996

On a fall morning in Santa Fe, Harry Connick Jr., no slouch as a mimic, is teasing his mother-in-law, Glenna Goodacre, about her Texas accent.

"JEE-ULL, bring me my VAY-ULL," Connick sings out, doing his best impression of Glenna summoning daughter Jill to get her wedding veil.

Connick and his wife, who are expecting their first child in April, have been in Santa Fe for a week to help Glenna celebrate her marriage to Dallas attorney Mike Schmidt, as well as the opening of her latest exhibition of realist sculpture at the local Fenn Galleries. Holed up in Glenna's state-of-the-adobe house on a hilltop just north of Santa Fe's centuries-old Plaza, they've been sleeping late, lounging in Georgia O'Keefe's orange mountain sunlight, bingeing on blue-corn tortillas, wearing cowboy boots, and ruminating happily on how their high-performance lives are about to take a double dive into the demands of a family.

Connick, the popular New Orleans-born jazz singer, piano player, and sometime actor (he most recently portrayed a serial killer in Copycat), and Jill Connick, the former Victoria's Secret lingerie model supreme, escape here from their New England home as often as they can. Jill, a west Texan by birth, has been coming to Santa Fe since she was a child. "A lot of memories here," Jill says, while finishing lunch at one end of her mother's enormous kitchen. "The fact that my mother lives here now is just really special for us. And with the baby coming, I hope to start spending more time here."

As it is, the Connicks move around with some frequency, regularly visiting Harry's district attorney dad in New Orleans (his mother died when he was 13) and Jill's father, a real-estate broker, in Boulder, Colorado, who is, says Harry, "the best-looking man I've ever seen." Harry is on tour much of the year, performing his blend of forties standards, jazz and funk in clubs and theaters. Though best known for the big band sound he reinvented for the film When Harry Met Sally, Harry has roots in New Orleans rhythm music and even admits a nostalgia for disco, the music he and Jill grew up with. "I love the Bee Gees," he says, realizing this might come as unexpected news. "It's our childhood. Nothing can take that away."

When they're in Santa Fe, the peripatetic Harry explains in his New Awlins drawl, "We stay at the house. We really don't party that much," though he has been known to appear unannounced at piano bars in town. This week he's been curling up in Glenna's sun-washed living room to scribble lyrics for a funk album he's now recording. "If I never left this house, I'd be happy. I love it."

Not hard to figure. The year-and-a-half-old house, designed and built by Glenna (with help from local architect and contractor Jim Satzinger), is 4,200 square feet of her elegant variation on the historic New Mexico pueblo style, with authentic 18-inch-thick adobe walls, beamed ceilings as high as 14 feet, 200 year-old tile floors dug out of French villas, antique doors from Austria and Mexico, and atypically big windows pulling in views of the pinon dotted mountains and the city in the distance.

Creating beautiful homes is something of a hobby for Glenna, a sculptor of some renown (her most notable commission is the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C.). In 12 years she has built three new houses in Santa Fe and remodeled four others. "I started work on this house as a spec house," she says, "but as I was building it, I realized I had to live in it."

Glenna has brought her artist's eye to this project. She points to the soft curve of burnished ocher plaster that joins two intersecting outside the library. "They take hatchets and round the walls, so it gives you an almost sensuous feel," she says. "Maybe building houses is a form of sculpture."

It's a lesson Jill as tried to absorb when decorating the Connecticut home she and Harry bought after they married in 1994. Like Glenna, Jill has chosen a French country look. "We love antiques," she says, "and I've learned so much from my mother."

When Jill and Harry are actually at home, they opt for watching movies, shopping and playing with their two dogs, a bichon frise and a German shorthaired pointer. "We like New England," Jill says, "because it's so normal."

Their kitchen, however, is more likely to smell of jambalaya than clam chowder. The two join forces to cook dishes from Harry's New Orleans heritage -- gumbo, red beans and rice, barbecued shrimp. Once, for a party, they even had 200 pounds of live crawfish Fed Exed up from Louisiana.

Something they don't do is listen to music together, though their tastes are more in line now than when they met almost six years ago.

"When I started going to her apartment and seein', like, the Clash and the Cure and the Rolling Stones," Harry recalls, "I was thinkin', we're gonna have to work on her a little bit. Now she plays Louis Armstrong and all the traditional greats. But as far as sittin' down enjoyin' music together, I just don't do that."

He doesn't sing much for her either. "The singing thing lasted about two weeks," he says.

"I sing him to sleep," says Jill.

"She can't even turn on the stereo," Harry shoots back.

Jill just smiles, comfortable with the mock combat they occasionally perform in conversation. "Come on, sweets," she says a minute later, beckoning Harry to join her for a visit to her mother's studio.

All this encroaching domesticity has not slowed Harry down. Between his touring dates and occasional movie roles (his next will be in this summer's futuristic Independence Day), he's away more than he's home.

"I'm 28, and this is the time to get it done," he says, defending his grueling schedule. "When kids are around, I don't want to be traveling all over the place. But it's what we're used to. Jill's been working since she was 18, constantly."

"We've had the same sort of lives," she says. "That's why it's worked out."

But now that she's expecting a baby, Jill, 31, is slowing down. Even before getting pregnant, she began to plan her exit from modeling, moving to the other side of the lens to photograph Harry on tour, then to direct two of his music videos and a one-hour concert documentary shown on the Disney channel that snagged a 1994 Cable Ace award nomination. "So many models try to go on and on, and it slowly drops off, and they just get depressed, and horrible things happen," Jill explains. "I always wanted to do other things. It's fortunate I found a great husband and we both want kids."

How many is still an open question. "I think we both would like to have as big a family as we can," Harry says.

"It might be 14 or 15," Jill jokes. Then she says, "We'll just take it one day at a time." That includes waiting to be surprised at the gender of their firstborn. "We're old-fashioned. We think it's more fun not to know. We're not so old-fashioned that we're gonna have the baby out in a cornfield or anything like that," Harry says.

So will Jill ever pose for Victoria's Secret again? "I'm so thrilled to be a mother that I haven't really thought about it," she says. "This is just the most important thing in my life. It's what I've wanted forever."

Later in the day, outdoors in the chilly sunlight, Jill nestles close to Harry on a sofa. "This is all we do in Santa Fe," she says. Staring out toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the bluer-than-blue high desert sky, the thought does occur: Maybe it's enough.

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