Jazz Beat: Harry Connick Jr., Grover Washington Jr., Ornette Coleman

Crooner Connick to get hands dirty for charity Habitat for Humanity.

New Orleans pianist/singer Harry Connick Jr. has donated $136,000 to Habitat for Humanity, a charity that builds homes for low-income people. He says he plans to pick up hammer and nails himself to build houses in his hometown, and he's written letters soliciting contributions from others. ...

The Best of Grover Washington Jr., an edition of Motown's 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection, features the late pioneering jazz-funk saxophonist's hits and other tracks from his tenure on the Kudu/Motown label. Grover Washington Jr., who died in December, was the first soul-jazz artist to go platinum. ...

Who says jazz education is dead? On Sunday, 90 students from local high schools will join heavy-hitting pros including trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, pianist Joanne Brackeen and drummer Cecil Brooks III for "Spring Into Jazz" shows that serve as preludes to the Mellon Jazz Festival in Pittsburgh. The festival runs from June 13–18. ...

Jazzy rockers Steely Dan will appear on the VH1 show Storytellers on May 1. The group's previous TV appearance, on the PBS show In the Spotlight, has been captured on a video called Two Against Nature Plush TV Jazz-Rock Party, which will go on sale June 5. (Sonicnet.com's parent company, Viacom, also owns VH1.) ...

This is the year of Louis Armstrong — the trumpeter was born 100 years ago July 4 — and MCA records is celebrating with Louis Armstrong Sings (Back Through the Years): A Centennial Celebration, a two-CD set now in stores. The discs contain 34 classic recordings from 1938 to 1967, including major hits like "Hello Dolly!" (#1 in 1964) and "What a Wonderful World" (#1 in the UK in 1968) as well as duets with Ella Fitzgerald ("Dream a Little Dream of Me"), Billie Holiday ("You Cant Lose a Broken Heart") and Bing Crosby ("Gone Fishin' "). ...

Singers Tony Bennett and Joni Mitchell — backed by a 70-piece orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza — highlight a season of music at the Pine Knob Music Theatre in Michigan, beginning Memorial Day. Other artists include singer Diana Krall and rockers Steely Dan, Kiss, Santana and Megadeth.

Two treasures from alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's back catalog are set for reissue courtesy of Columbia Legacy. The Complete Science Fiction Sessions and Skies of America will hit stores May 2. The release is a two-CD set that includes two complete sessions from the early '70s, Science Fiction and Broken Shadows, with three previously unreleased tracks. Skies of America is a large-scale orchestral work that premiered in 1977 at New York's Lincoln Center. ...

Also on the reissue tip, Verve Master Editions has moved 10 classics from the '50s into stores. Highlights are Sarah Vaughan, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and Laughin' to Keep From Cryin', featuring trumpeters Roy Eldridge, Harry "Sweets" Edison and tenor legend Lester Young making a rare appearance playing clarinet. ...

Saxophonist Joshua Redman, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and guitarist John Pizzarelli lead the lineup for the Orange County Performing Arts Center's 2000–01 Jazz Club series, running in 299-seat Founders Hall. The series begins Sept. 22. Other artists include pianist Eddie Palmieri and the husband-wife duo Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham. ...

"All Songs Considered," part of National Public Radio's Web site (www.npr.org), plays music featured on the network's news shows in an interactive environment. The site plays full versions of the songs, with text and biographical data. Artists recently featured on the site include Brazilian singer Virginia Rodriguez, banjo player Bela Fleck and a Kansas City band that plays Kurt Weill songs. ...