Jim Brickman might be the most successful instrumentalist in contemporary music. At any rate, his official Web site calls him “America’s Romantic Piano Sensation.”
He has six gold and platinum albums, a Grammy nomination and a Dove Award, and is the most–charted male artist in the history of Billboard’s Adult Contemporary listings.
That’s right, Adult Contemporary. They don’t play Brickman much on pop radio, even though he’s had a couple of major hits, including “Valentine” (vocals by Martina McBride) and “The Gift” (sung by Collin Raye and Susan Ashton).
Brickman’s fans know his piano music not only through constant AC radio play, but from his PBS specials (the most recent, Beautiful World, aired over the summer) and his melodic albums of pretty love songs, contemplative ballads and Christmas music (he’s issued four Yuletide collections to date).
The holiday, in fact, is what’s bringing Brickman back to Savannah; his “Beautiful World Christmas” tour touches down at the Savannah Civic Center Friday.
“My music,” says the 48–year–old native of Cleveland, “is about the emotional connection. It’s not about my technique, it’s not about my prowess, it’s not about how many notes I play in succession and how organized they are.
“It’s about the connection of the music to a feeling on the other side – a comfort, a joy, a romance. Anything that people use the music for.”
You have a hit single out which, like your album, is called “Beautiful World.” It’s got waves of very sweet Beach Boys–style harmonies and a gorgeous melody. It’s under your name, but the song was written (and sung) by a young kid named Adam Crossley. Don’t you think that might confuse fans who wonder who this “Jim Brickman” guy is?
Jim Brickman: It’s rare that it happens that way. Usually, 95 percent of the time I write everything that I do. When we did the PBS special, I went to Adam and I said “Let’s do a song called ‘Beautiful World,’ and it’s optimistic, and it’s this and it’s that ...’ I intentionally gave him the idea in that particular style that he writes in.
I have 22 albums of original music, so I don’t think I’m ever in a situation where somebody’s not going to know that I know how to write music, and I’m not just playing covers. That’s what I am, a songwriter who plays the piano.
I’m not a pianist who covers other people’s songs. But with the PBS concept I had for “Beautiful World,” I wanted to have an anchor that described what I was trying to do. If that song leads people to my piano music, and to my songwriting, and it’s consistent stylistically with what I do, then I’m perfectly fine with that.
Strangely enough, we don’t even do “Beautiful World” in the show. People will hear it as they’re walking out.
Who’s your audience?
Jim Brickman: It’s changed a little bit. At the very beginning, I was introduced to the audience through the Windham Hill brand. So by association at the time – because of George Winston and things like that – I was introduced as an instrumentalist. Which is what I am.
But when I wrote “Valentine” and had the success on radio with Martina, it opened my audience from more of a chill–out, New Age aficionado to a more mainstream ... weddings and celebrations ... it reached a lot more people.
Now, that was when radio stations would talk a little bit more about the music: “That’s Jim Brickman on piano, he wrote the song, and Martina McBride is singing it.” It was a duet.
Now, with something like Adam, I don’t expect people to try to figure out who’s record that’s on.
To answer the question, though, the audience has grown to include couples who maybe use the music in a wedding, or who use it for a dinner party. A bubble bath. A de–stresser. Teachers who use the music to calm their kids down in the classroom. Teenagers and young adults who are in school, who use the music to do homework with. Young piano players who use my piano books as a model of pop piano style.
And a lot of healing–comfort connection. They use the music in chemotherapy. “I had an MRI the other day, and they were playing your music.” “I called CitiBank and you were the on–hold music.” “It got me through a difficult time.” Lifestyle and life moments.
Tell me about the holiday show you’re bringing to Savannah.
Jim Brickman: This is the 14th year of my holiday tour. It has become a tradition for many people, because they know what it is, and what it’s not: They know that it’s not a piano recital. It’s my intention to be a really great entertainer, and a really great performer. I want it to be a theatrical experience. I don’t want it to be a club–type–experience, this song, then that song, then another song. I want people to laugh a lot. I want them to chill out a lot. I want them to escape.
There’s no pyrotechnics. I’m not coming down on a swing – not that I know of – it’s theatrical but not theatrics. It’s intended to be comfortable, nostalgic and really cozy, like watching an Andy Williams Christmas Special from 30 years ago. But now.
I know Orla Fallon, the singer and harpist from Celtic Woman, is part of the show.
Jim Brickman: The entire show is personality– and music–driven. The guest stars weave in and out of the show, like friends coming over and stopping by for an open house. That’s the intention.
I always want to do hits, because I feel like if you’re lucky enough to have hits, you should play them. So there’s a lot of hit songs – some Christmas, but it’s not “Jingle Bells” from top to back. I figure there’s enough of that from church, and pageants, and all the other Christmas shows.
Is there a band? An orchestra?
Jim Brickman: No band. I’ve never had a band or an orchestra. I have guests – duet partners and trio partners who come in and out. There’s an electric violin player named Tracy Silverman, who plays everything from Led Zeppelin to “Silent Night.” And Anne Cochran, who’s been my female vocalist ever since high school. We had a band together in high school. It’s a very long and wonderful relationship that the audience really connects with.
I also have a hammered dulcimer player named Garrett Viggers. And Orla, who has a beautiful expertise in harp and a very sweet singing voice from the Celtic tradition, is all complimentary to everything that we do.
Nothing comes out of nowhere – it’s not like “Why is he doing that?” or “Why is there a dance number in the middle of the show?”
Jim Brickman's Beautiful World Christmas
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11
Tickets: $42 and $32 at www.etix.com
Artist’s Web site: www.jimbrickman.com