Celebrated pianist Jim Brickman calls as he’s talking a stroll through one of his favorite parks. “It’s a beautiful day here in New York City,” he says, adding that he often goes there to run. He add that he also hikes frequently, and swims when he can. “Anything that I can do to be outside and to open my mind,” he says. “I always do best when I’m moving – which is ironic since I’m sitting at the piano so much of the time. I guess it makes sense that I would be doing that because I sit at the piano so much.”
Keeping himself mentally and physically fit means that he can continue to help other people feel good, as he’s done for more than 25 years with his successful career.
One of Brickman’s latest efforts to help his listeners achieve some peace of mind is Soothe Christmas Vol. 6, released on October 16. It’s the latest in his Soothe album series that he started in 2015 with Soothe Vol. 1: Music to Quiet Your Mind and Soothe Your World. Brickman says that it seemed particularly important to keep up this series in 2020.
“I always like to think about what is appropriate for the audience depending on what’s going on in the world,” Brickman says. “I always feel like it’s my job as a songwriter to reflect that to the audience – how I can serve them.” With this album, he says he wanted “to put out an album at Christmas that was calm and relaxing in a year that was so chaotic.” To that end, Brickman’s signature instrumental style gives these songs a beautiful, tranquil vibe.
Brickman also has another major holiday project this year: his Brickman for Broadway Christmas album and livestream show, benefitting The Actors Fund. “It’s a lot of my hit Christmas songs re-imagined with Broadway singers,” Brickman says. “I’ve always been a fan of Broadway, and I always wanted to work with Broadway singers.” When he heard the songs with these performers, he says, “It’s like they came to life in a completely new way and they sound amazing.”
The Brickman for Broadway Christmas Live livestream is set for November 28, and featuring guest performers from the album: Kelli O’Hara, Matt Doyle, Sierra Boggess, Megan Hilty, Wayne Brady, Shoshana Bean, Santino Fontana, Adrienne Warren, Norm Lewis, Max Von Essen and Jane Lynch. Tickets and information for this livestream are available at https://www.jimbrickman.com/actors-fund/.
Besides those projects, Brickman is also undertaking an ambitions “Comfort & Joy at Home” Tour – a virtual tour begining on November 29. This isn’t like the standard stream that many artists are doing, however. “We took the places that were already on the tour that we had to cancel [due to the pandemic], and we went to them and said, ‘Why don’t we keep the concert date and do it just for your audience and give the money to you?’” Brickman says. “Then as word spread about it, more theaters came to us and said, ‘Would you be able to include us?’ So now, there are like 80 theaters [on the tour].”
Doing these individual shows, Brickman says, means that each one will be “unique to just those cities, which is really important, as opposed to doing a stream that’s one time that everybody turns into [at once].” Using the Zoom platform for these shows, he says, means that “You can talk directly to Wichita, Kansas: ‘Hey guys, do what you can to support the arts in Wichita.’ Something you can’t do when you’re on a livestream that you’re playing to the camera, you don’t see anybody and it doesn’t have a focus. I had to think of something that was more unique and specific to these local markets that really need so much help.” Tickets for these shows can be purchased at https://www.jimbrickman.com/tour/.
All of these shows and albums add to the prolific list of accomplishments that Brickman has a achieved since he released his debut album, No Words, in 1994. He has gone on to release more than 50 albums, earning multiplatinum sales and two Grammy award nominations along the way. He has earned acclaim for his innovative original songs, and has also demonstrated a talent for interpreting others’ material, sometimes as a solo artist but also as a collaborator with noted performers from a wide range of genres, including Lady A, Olivia Newton-John, Donny Osmond, and Michael W. Smith, among many others.
Brickman believes that his distinctive sound has been a crucial aspect of his career success. “If you really think about the best singer-songwriters who are songwriter-artists, they all have a unique point of view that is, for the most part, their sound, their approach, their mission,” he says. “So as it relates to songwriting, it has to come from an artist’s point of view.”
Even as he maintains his own unique musical vision, Brickman also keeps his listeners in mind. “You have to think about the audience,” he says. “I’m not just writing this for myself. Once you decide that you’re going to take your work and serve it up, you have to think about who are you serving it to and what do they want or expect from you?”
As for the specifics of how Brickman actually goes about the songwriting process, he says, “I always approach things from high-concept lyric or high-concept melody. My process is always to start with something that is very hooky, which is naturally what comes to me. You can’t work too hard at it. If you work too hard at it, it’s not authentic. You always have to be true to what comes naturally. It’s always important to grow and learn, but it’s also important to know what you have to say and how you have to say it.
“When I hear something in my head or when something comes to me on the piano. I trust that there’s a reason it’s coming to me, and it is for the most part, thematic,” Brickman continues. “I don’t write an abstract way. When I go to do an album, if I know there’s a whole concept, then I approach everything under that banner as opposed to just writing songs and then collecting them and putting them on an album. Once you know the overarching umbrella theme, it’s much easier to write the album because it’s pointing you in the right direction.”
After he knows the direction he wants to go, Brickman says he has a certain way he likes to build up his songs: “My style is about creating a rhythm for the rest of the song to lay over,” he says. “A lot of people don’t approach the piano as a percussion instrument or as a rhythm instrument, even though it is, too. It’s very subtle and simple but it gives it a groove. You wouldn’t necessarily notice unless you deconstructed it, but it puts it into a context that doesn’t have a meandering quality. It fits in kind of a structure.”
Still, Brickman says, he makes sure that his songs aren’t rigid, which is one of the reasons he believes people connect with his work. “You have to write the way people speak – in cadences,” he says. “Music is a language, so you have to speak it with cadences, and moments of highs and lows, moments of silence. If you’re going to speak that language, it’s just another way of communicating, and if you don’t do that emotionally, then people don’t feel it inside.”
With that, Brickman says goodbye so he can continue his walk – recharging himself for his tour, album releases, and all the other ways in which he’s giving of himself, with doubtless much more music and other projects to come.