How 'naivety and ignorance' built a career for pianist Jim Brickman
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Pianist Jim Brickman never intended to become a performer.
"It was not anything that even occurred to me," said Brickman in a telephone interview to preview his upcoming Amarillo concert.
But since 1994, Brickman has found massive success as a recording artist and touring performer, earning six gold and platinum albums, scoring two Grammy nominations and winning a Dove Award.
Now, he's back on the road with his Pure Pianos: The Greatest Hits tour, arriving in Amarillo for a 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 concert in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $30 to $60, plus fees.
It's not a future that ever crossed Brickman's mind when he started playing piano at age 5, or even when he studied music at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Though he said he was always "just drawn to music," he initially expressed that through writing jingles, founding his own company in 1980.
"I was pretty happy in the jingle business for a long time, but it started to become kind of uncreative," Brickman said. "I felt like I was more of an ad agency representative than I was a musician.
"What I found in jingles was that it's very unemotional," he continued. "You're writing about products. It's not authentically from your heart."
To revive his flagging interest in the piano, Brickman sold the business and moved to Los Angeles.
"I felt like I wanted to express myself in an authentic way rather than writing about kitty litter," he said.
He was looking for chances to write music for films or for performers — but certainly not for himself.
"If you had met me ... in my 20s, when I was doing jingles, I don't think you would ever hear me say what I really wanted to do is perform," said Brickman, now 55. "I was never one of those people who were, like, get me on the stage.
"As it turns out, and I say this quite often, sometimes naivety and ignorance helps you in life," he continued. "When you don't know necessarily the right thing to do — whatever that is — you do what comes naturally."
Brickman had signed with Windham Hill Records in 1994, releasing his first album, No Words, that year. After a couple of albums were released, label execs asked when Brickman thought he would begin touring.
"I don't know why, but I thought I would just record piano albums," Brickman said.
All of the sudden, he had to learn how to perform for live audiences.
"THe first time that I got the offer to play a tour date, I thought I would just get on stage and talk and play and share, like I'm talking to a you or a friend or something like that," he said.
That simple approach helped, and soon, Brickman was touring the country and recording live concert specials, often for PBS.
"Part of what I've learned over time is that you can't try to do anything," Brickman said. "I think you get yourself into trouble that way. You can't try too hard. You have to let it come.
"I think people who think they're supposed to do something in a certain way or imitate — that's when it becomes a challenge, because it's not really true to who you are when you're trying to be something you're not," he said. "That goes for life in general, basically."
After several years of having guest vocalists join him on tour, Brickman is simplifying things for the latest tour.
"It's sort of a takeaway from what people were telling me, that they wish I would play more piano in my show," he said. "It sort of hastens back to my roots in my first couple of albums, when it was just pianos.
"In essence, it's a greatest-hits tour with some vocals, but not with as many guests and pomp and circumstance as the holiday show or something like that," he continued. "It's a little bit more romantic."
And intimate — though Brickman said he never has a problem creating that with his audience.
"You'll see my whole approach is to talk directly facing the audience, play very often facing the audience, sing facing the audience," he said. "What that does is I'm singing to one person. There just happens to be a thousand 'one persons'. It's a subtle thing, but it makes a huge difference."