December 2009 Issue
Composer Jim Brickman remains true to his Ohio roots.
When it came time to come up with a title for his new CD, Jim Brickman knew exactly what he wanted to give his listeners: An antidote for these difficult times.
So he called it “Beautiful World.”
“Hopefully, the recording provides an escape, a relief, a journey, a fantasy — all those positive [messages] we need right now,” the 47-year-old pianist/composer says by phone from Los Angeles, prior to embarking on a concert tour that will take him to Japan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore.
The American leg of the “Beautiful World” trip will include five performances in Ohio — the state in which Brickman was born and raised. It’s also the place he remains true to — so much so that he and his brother, Michael, base their online entertainment marketing and Web site design business, Brickhouse Direct, in Cleveland.
“Home will always be Cleveland, Ohio,” he says. “I lived there until I was 30 years old. You don’t abandon that — it’s who I really am. Other places are just stops along the way.”
He’s performed at The White House, Carnegie Hall and Ford’s Theatre, and collaborated with such noteworthy artists as Carly Simon, Martina McBride, Olivia Newton-John, Donny Osmond and Kenny Loggins. But, Brickman is quick to add, stardom was not something he consciously pursued. The Shaker Heights High School graduate did know from day one, though, that the piano was his forte.
“People assume if you’re talented, you must have been exposed to it. But there was no trace whatsoever of musical talent in my family,” he admits. “It’s bizarre. When I was 4, I told my parents I wanted a piano.
“Music is just who I am. It’s an extension of me — my thoughts, my heart, my soul.”
His parents were skeptical after hearing his pleas. But after seeing him create melodies on friends’ keyboards, they realized that he was serious. They bought him a Magnus chord organ, and he began lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music. At age 10, Brickman graduated to the upright Yamaha he still composes on today.
“Jim was one of my first students,” recalls Cleveland Institute of Music faculty member Marshall Griffith. “He began telling me about what kind of music he liked. He was a little taken aback that someone at the institute would let him play Barry Manilow or Henry Mancini. It was a magic moment.”
Brickman spent several years as a jingle writer in Cleveland before heading to the West Coast, where he composed tunes for corporate giants, including McDonald’s and Disney. The turning point came when childhood friends visiting for the weekend commented that although he’d walked by the piano in his home countless times, Brickman hadn’t touched it.
“I never thought that playing the piano was a career
option,” he says. “But that weekend, I realized everybody has a gift, and this was mine and not using it was really stupid.”
Brickman booked time in an LA studio, cut a six-song demo of original compositions and made the rounds of record companies. In 1994, Windham Hill saw his potential and signed him to a contract.
Since then, he’s released two dozen CDs that have garnered six gold- and six platinum-selling albums, and a slew of accolades, including a Grammy nomination and a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association.
Orla Fallon, singer, harpist and co-founder of the Irish quintet Celtic Woman, who performs with Brickman on his “Beautiful World” CD and DVD, understands why his music strikes a chord with audiences.
“His melodies are so deep and meaningful lyrically that one can’t help be drawn into them,” she says.
As he contemplates life after his current tour — which might include working on a Broadway musical or compiling a tribute album to the artists he grew up with — John Denver, The Carpenters and Burt Bacharach, among them — Brickman is philosophical about his success.
“I don’t think you can predict how your career is going to go,” he reflects. “You have to just keep doing what you love and trust that it’s taken by people the way you intend to give it.”