Jim Brickman — Exclusive Holiday Interview
Songwriter and pianist Jim Brickman has been known the last 16 years for writing pop-style hits and collaborating with a variety of artists ranging from Richie McDonald to Olivia Newton-John. For someone who loves Christmas music, it’s no wonder he has chosen to embark on his 15th holiday concert series, which runs until Dec. 31.
We were able to catch up with Jim in the middle of his tour to discuss some of his favorite Christmas carols, as well as some of the people he’s touring with and what he’s learned over the years.
Despite the fact that Christmas falls in the middle of your tour, what are your plans for the 25th?
[Laughs]. Well, of course, when we’re on tour the whole month of December, it’s Christmas everyday, because this is actually the 15th anniversary holiday concert that we’re doing. And traversing the country every night is a Christmas celebration. I’m going to be back in Chicago with my family, just for a day, and then back on a tour to the West Coast to finish the run before New Year’s Eve.
What’s your favorite city stop so far while you’ve been on tour?
Well, I always have to say my hometown has always been nearest and dearest to my heart. So Cleveland, Ohio, or the Cleveland area.
What’s your favorite non-instrumental song you have penned and why?
I really love song’ Simple Things.’ There’s something about it, the message of it, of not taking things for granted. And the poetic nature of it, without being to Green card-y. It’s a happy song, and I like happy songs.
What is your favorite traditional Christmas song? I know you’re a huge Christmas songs fan.
I am. I love the hymns and carols of Christmas more than anything. I like ‘O Holy Night’ a lot, and we have an arrangement in our show, ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ that I think is really fun.
You’ve been working with Anne Cochran [who is touring with you] since the late ’90s, but you’ve actually known her since you were 15, right?
We have, and my female vocalist. We had a rock band in high school that we started. When we were in high school, we won a radio contest for the best band in Cleveland. So they started playing our song on the radio, we kind of haven’t looked back since. We were 15 years old and we were kind of thrust into the radio world at that point.
What was your band called?
[Ha]. Well, it was really exciting. It was called the Jim and Anne’s band, because we never got any jobs playing anywhere, and so we never had to come up with a name — ’cause we were never advertised anywhere [Laughing]. So we didn’t have to have a name, so we called it ‘Jim and Anne’s band.’
How did you and the great violinist Tracy Silverman start collaborating?
Well, after about the first five years of my touring, I thought, ‘I should add something, ’cause I don’t play with a band, I just play solo piano.’ I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to add something that has a little more edge to it.’ So he plays the electric violin. And as soon as I had heard him — he plays anything on the violin from Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath, I mean it’s really unbelievable — and so, when he joined, it added a dimension that was really nice, especially for the guys in the audience who come thinking it’s going to be a piano recital, which of course it isn’t (it’s way more fun than that). When he starts doing his ‘Smoke on the Water,’ and some of that ’70s rock stuff, people think, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect it to be cool like this.’ So it’s great to have him along.
For all the Lonestar fans out there, how is it working with Richie McDonald? What songs do you guys collaborate on in the holiday concert besides ‘Coming Home for Christmas’?
He’s sooo talented, one of the best singers I’ve ever heard. So we do some of his [stuff], ‘I’m Already There’ and ‘Amazed.’ And we trade off; he sings ‘Valentine,’ and ‘The Gift’ with Anne [Cochran]. So, it’s a really nice combination of those songs — that they’re all romance songs and familiar to people. He sounds amazing, and it’s cool to have that compliment, because you have country, a little be of rock with Tracy, and you have a lot of my mellower Christmas stuff; and it’s a really nice variety, and yet at the same time, they complement each other.
Out of all the artists you’ve worked with, whose been the most memorable and why?
Uh … Kermit the Frog.
That’s the safe answer!
[Laughs]. Well I love Kermit, in fact Kermit makes an appearance in our Holiday tour. (I know I’m sort of giving away secrets, but he does.) I would say, honestly, my collaboration with Olivia Newton-John was probably the most memorable, because I grew up listening to her music and was a big fan of her voice. Whenever you get to work with someone that you admire, and they turn out to be such a wonderful human being, and so humble and appreciative of the joy of life and a balance between family and work — I mean all kinds of things. She has an amazing spirit. And I love that when you make music with somebody who does it for the love of it, for no other reason. It’s almost like she’s accidentally famous, you know what I mean? [Laughs]. It’s really funny. I learn from people like her, and from people like Donny Osmond — people who have been in the business their whole life and who are really comfortable with who they are and where they are, because it’s not always that way, especially with younger artists when they start.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist since your first Top 20 hit, ‘By Heart’?
Oh my gosh. Well, when I look back at some of the videos of some of those performances, it’s a wonder that anybody didn’t ask for their money back, because I was mumbling the whole time. I was comfortable on stage, but I was so soft spoken. I’ve learned a lot about being a song performer. Over the years, just like anything that you do, over and over; hopefully you get better at it. And, so I think I’ve learned a lot from my collaborators too. I think when you have an eclectic mix of people that you can learn from, songwriters that you can learn from, your craft develops and you always want to grow. I think I grew as a songwriter and as a live performer, and certainly much more comfortable with the business. Artists, by nature, are always insecure about their gifts and their talents. So when you get accolades, you have to learn to take them in, because people are really connecting to what you do, and you have to embrace that.