Q&A: Musician Jim Brickman

The renowned pianist and songwriter Jim Brickman discusses his new album and growing up in Ohio.

Jim Brickman's live tour stops in Cleveland, Columbus, Springfield and Toledo this month. 

Jim Brickman says he never could have anticipated the path his life has taken during the past two decades. While a student at Shaker Heights High School, Brickman loved playing music, but the idea of being a performer was at odds with his bashful nature.

“I was extremely shy, still am shy, and so there wasn’t a vision of it,” he says. “If you had said to me when I was going into high school, ‘Can you perform on stage?’ I’d think … Oh no, no. I’d never want to be on stage.”

After attending the Cleveland Institute of Music, the songwriter and pianist spent time writing commercial jingles before releasing his first solo instrumental album, “No Words,” in 1994. Since then, he’s become a staple on the adult contemporary chart and has collaborated with Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Donny Osmond, Olivia Newton-John and many others.

This holiday season, he has a new album, “The Magic of Christmas,” which includes collaborations with Johnny Mathis and Megan Hilty. We recently checked in with Brickman to talk about his new album, growing up in Ohio and what fans can expect when his tour stops here this month.

Q: How does this Christmas album differ from others you’ve done?
A: My approach to this album kind of came from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The very, very beginning inspiration was the idea of that nostalgic, kind of light jazz, but classic in fashion. When the Johnny Mathis collaboration happened, I felt like I really had a firm footing in making it classic in that respect. … It was really a reflection of the nostalgia of the classic pop Christmas song — Bing Crosby and that type of thing — more so than hymns or carols.

Q: On the album, Johnny Mathis does a version of your song “Sending You a Little Christmas.” How did that collaboration come about?
I’ve always admired him because of the longevity of his career and the way he’s kept his voice in such great shape. He’s approaching 78 years old. That song was done in maybe five takes, and it just reminded me again about that era of singer — the discipline and how everything just comes naturally. They don’t have to fix it. They don’t have to play with it electronically. They come in, they sing the song, and it’s what it’s supposed to be. … I find that when I work with people in that category, they all seem to have this amazing work ethnic, no ego and it’s just so refreshing.

Q: You’ve said your goal is for people to make your music part of their lifestyle. How does that shape your musical choices?  
I think a lot about what the audience wants me to do. Because after a certain point, there is an expectation of your brand, of what you’ve established. In my case, that’s romance, inspiration, relaxation. That’s what I stand for — hope, positivity, beauty — and I don’t really vary from that. So when I make a choice about what to do, I think, What would I use this for? It’s the same with the live show. I put myself sitting at Playhouse-Square thinking, Is this entertaining to me? Rather than just create art and just have people come experience my art, I think it’s way more collaborative than that.

Q: You’re doing dates in Ohio this month. What can people expect from your live show?
To me, it’s theater — it’s funny moments, it’s tender moments and it’s intimate and warm. I feel like my show at the holiday season represents a kind of kinder, gentler, more nostalgic experience. It’s not supposed to be an attack on the senses … It’s emotional, and it celebrates family and tradition and we do that, I think, in a very entertaining way. If you’ve never seen the show before and someone tells you, “Well, he plays the piano,” it conjures up a potentially sort of boring evening. … What comes naturally to me is to have a conversation, to welcome people in like it’s my living room. And the show is based, from an entertainment standpoint, on the nostalgia of an Andy Williams TV show — these really tender, funny, comfortable experiences, where it’s more of a conversation, more of a connection.

Q: How did growing up in Ohio shape how we know you today?
It’s everything about my point of view, my sensibility, my work ethic. It’s one of the reasons I moved back from California. I tend to be a very loyal person … and a lot of people in my inner circle are people I grew up with in Cleveland. … I feel like it made me humble and grateful because I’m still in the mode, 20 years later, where I think, How did this happen? This is unbelievable.

See Jim Brickman this month at one of four Ohio performances. For more information and ticket information, visit jimbrickman.com.
Dec. 6:
Kuss Auditorium, Clark State
Dec. 7: Palace Theatre, Cleveland
Dec. 21: Southern Theatre, Columbus
Dec. 22: Stranahan Theatre, Toledo