Music News & Reviews

Jim Brickman comes to town with new holiday-themed album

Jim Brickman's holiday tour steers clear of music that might sound out of date on Dec. 26, the day he'll be entertaining at the Opera House.
Jim Brickman's holiday tour steers clear of music that might sound out of date on Dec. 26, the day he'll be entertaining at the Opera House.

Here is a question not often posed to productions that tour during the Christmas season: how do the mood and dynamics of a performance in a Yuletide-themed program shift once Christmas has passed?

Take this week's Opera House concert by Jim Brickman. The show, part of the platinum-selling pop pianist's "A Christmas Celebration" tour, falls on Monday — the day after Christmas.

Granted, most holiday-friendly presentations, from regional performances of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker to mammoth touring enterprises such as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, often extend their seasonal runs to (or near) New Year's Eve. But once Santa has made the rounds, the gifts have been dispersed and Christmas banquets have been consumed, isn't there a noticeable depletion — if not complete deflation — of the holiday spirit?

Brickman doesn't think so. And he should know. He has been presenting holiday tours that regularly run past Christmas Day for 16 years.

"It's interesting," Brickman said. "People always ask me, 'You mean, you don't finish your tour before Christmas?' I always thought that was so odd. It's like radio stations have this cutoff right after midnight on Christmas where they stop playing Christmas music. It's as if the holiday doesn't exist anymore after that. I think that's a bit harsh.

"What I find is that right after Christmas is usually a time when a lot of people are still off of work. Or if they are working, they're still a little checked out. There is still a kind of joy in connecting Christmas to New Year's and having that serve as part of the holiday season.

"That fits the tone of our show, too. It's never been very Santa Claus is Coming to Town-centric anyway. The show is a nice combination of my hit songs and some beautiful holiday music. So there has never been this feeling of, 'Whaddaya mean Santa Claus is coming to town? He came to town yesterday.'"

The focus of Brickman's holiday tour this year is All is Calm, a new recording of Christmas hymns and tunes designed to defuse some of the pomp and stress of the season. As usual, Brickman's piano music is surrounded by a light, pop-friendly sheen. Vocals are occasionally added, but the thrust of the album, as with all of Brickman's recordings, is on melodic, pop-savvy instrumental music.

Still, Brickman doesn't want audiences to get the idea that he is going for too silent a night on All is Calm.

"Calm has this connotation sometimes of being boring in some fashion," he said. "It's like, if there is not a lot of activity within the music, then it must be dull. But I think with all of the chaos of the season, an album like this can be an antidote. I'm quite proud of the fact that the music is intentionally peaceful."

Curiously, before he became a million-selling artist known for light, pop-driven piano hits including By Heart and Valentine or as a collaborator with such diverse vocal stars as Anne Cochran (who will also be part of the Opera House bill), Lady Antebellum, Olivia Newton-John, Michael W. Smith and others, Brickman was penning commercial jingles. That led him to early recordings with the celebrated Windham Hill label, an organization specializing in a more ambient instrumental pop sound.

"In a sense, I was sort of the black sheep at Windham Hill," Brickman said. "I grew to have a wonderful relationship with the people there. But at the very beginning, I think I wasn't artsy enough for them. That's always been my problem.

"I just have a very commercial sensibility. Stuff I like is very hooky and commercial and melodic. My songwriting is that way. My jingle writing was that way. So a lot of people compared what I was doing at Windham Hill with something by, say, George Winston (the pianist who helped shape the label's sound during the '70s and '80s). His music was primarily atmospheric. That was the difference. I was always more of a melodist. I like melody. I don't care for music that just wanders. That's not appealing to me.

"If you had to reduce my music to its simplest form, it is basically pop songwriting. It just happens to be mostly instrumental. That's what I'm known for."

Today, Brickman has become something of an instrumental pop entrepreneur. He also hosts a weekly radio show (Your Weekend with Jim Brickman), has authored a pair of best-selling books (Simple Things and Love Notes) and has showcased his music in four PBS concert specials.

The pianist never doubted his music would hit big. His only initial concern was getting heard in the first place.

"I always hoped my audience was like me and that the music I liked, they would like. But the block was always if they were going to get to hear it at all. This was music that had no media advocacy. There was no TV and no real radio exposure at first.

"Fortunately, being with Windham Hill, being part of that brand helped introduce me. I always felt there was a place for my music. And, obviously, I think there still is."

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