Jim Brickman is comfortable sitting behind a piano alone, but he’s also learning to love being backed up by a symphony, as he’ll be when he plays a Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Pops concert on Saturday, May 11.
“It’s a thrill. It really is,” says Brickman in a phone call. “The symphony show is a totally different one than my regular show. There are soaring strings and orchestrations of all my songs. It’s really pretty amazing.”
Brickman began his career writing commercial jingles, and he signed with New Age-based label Windham Hill Records in 1994 and released his all-instrumental debut album “No Words.” As the decade went on Windham Hill was absorbed by BMG Records, and Brickman began enlisting guest vocalists and finding his way onto adult contemporary radio. His hits, including “Valentine” (with Martina McBride), “The Gift” (with Collin Raye and Susan Ashton), “Love of My Life” (with Michael W. Smith) and “Destiny” (with Jordan Hill and Billy Porter), sometimes crossed over to country and pop radio.
In concert, Brickman is known for congenial spontaneity, sometimes playing a tune off the cuff, rather than having his show set in stone.
“So for me to be soloing with orchestras is an amazing feat. ... It’s very challenging for me. It takes a lot of preparation and focus. I can’t be as extemporaneous as I am in my normal show, because you have to play what they play!”
The set list on the show tends to be different as well.
“There are the things that you have to do and want to do — ‘Valentine,’ ‘The Gift,’ ‘Love of My Life,’ a lot of the hits, but, for the instrumentals, I chose the ones with more of a cinematic quality than a pop feel. Broader, more emotional melodies, that I don’t normally play in concert.”
Each performance, says Brickman, feels different:
“It’s mostly because of the conductor and the environment of the hall. You walk in the day of the show, meet the conductor, play it one time through and do the show. That can
be a little challenging, but once you get good at it, it’s an incredible experience.”
Brickman says after performing with an orchestra he talked to a fan and asked if she liked how the orchestra made the songs bigger and fuller.
“She said, ‘Yeah, I liked it. But I liked it when you were at the Barnes and Noble store, too!’ I tried to interpret that, and I guess it was at that store she was probably five feet away from me and that was probably never gonna happen again. Anyway, I just quit asking!”
He says he enjoys the variation in the shows he plays. He also has been writing quite a bit of new material.
He has just written a new song with legendary songwriter Paul Williams, someone Brickman says he’s wanted to work with all his life.
Brickman says he met Williams through Michael Bolton when the three had lunch.
“I do his song ‘Rainbow Connection’ in my show, and he said, ‘I just love your rendition of that.’ When people you love say things like that it’s just like ‘Oh, my God!’”
The two got to know each other a little better when Brickman was doing a Carpenters tribute that featured many of Williams’ songs, and then they collaborated by e-mail.
“I sent him a melody and he wrote to the melody,” says Brickman. “He just sent me the lyric for it, and I am having trouble getting past that he wrote it. I’m just so over the moon about it.”
Brickman is planning a new Christmas album and has a tribute the music of the 1970s on PBS.
He does not do anything specifically classical even in the symphony shows.
“No, people might want their money back!”
Clayton Spring Pops Concert: Jim Brickman
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 11
Where: Knoxville Civic Auditorium
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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