Brickman mixes humor with piano favorites

YOUNGSTOWN — On the website for his radio show, Jim Brickman is described as “America’s New Romantic Piano Sensation.”

That kind of winking, hyperbolic moniker is a hint at what the audience can expect when the 57-year-old Brickman brings his “A Joyful Christmas” show to Stambaugh Auditorium tonight for his first Youngstown gig in about 15 years.

There will be piano music — the Shaker Heights native (who still splits his time between Cleveland and New York) is the best-selling solo pianist of his generation with six gold and platinum albums and nearly 30 adult contemporary hits. But during a telephone interview from the tour stop in Virginia, Brickman promised more than just music.

“If all I did was play solo piano all night, not only would the audience be bored, but I would be bored,” he said. “You have to have variety moments, energy moments. I model it after Andy Williams or something where it has a variety quality.”

His sense of humor is on display more than his piano skills on his syndicated radio show and podcast, but that attitude feeds the live show as well.

“My persona on stage and on the radio is pretty consistent — lighthearted, somewhat self-deprecating,” Brickman said. “I find a lot of things in life to be funny. Real life is funnier than jokes.”

Brickman’s Christmas collections have been some of his most popular albums. He’s penned many holiday songs himself, and when he does songs from the Christmas canon, he gravitates toward something different than the same two dozen pop standards that most artists pick from when recording their Christmas albums.

“The people who cover the pop songs don’t cover the hymns and the carols,” he said. “I really stay away from the obvious … No one’s going to do a version of any of those songs that is going to rival something that’s been around for decades, that’s definitive. If it’s not inventive, if it’s not unique, we don’t need that.”

Next year will be Brickman’s 25th anniversary as a performer, and he plans to do more advocacy for young songwriters and play some smaller, more intimate concerts in 2019.

The biggest change for the piano man is he plans to mark the occasion with his first album that will feature his vocals on every track. Brickman has done some singing in concert and in the studio for awhile, but it’s been a slow progression to consider doing a full album with his singing as prominent as his playing.

“I never thought of myself as a singer, but as a songwriter having so many familiar songs to people, I felt it was important to convey the original intent of the song,” he said. “When a writer sings the songs, it comes from a very different perspective.”

Brickman said he’s enjoying have to focus on an element of performance that doesn’t comes as naturally to him as the piano.

“It does represent a challenge, and that feels so good to do. At this point, when something still challenges you and you accomplish it, everyone needs to grow.”