Jim Brickman had his first taste of Christmas a half century ago.
The pianist was mother’s little helper back in December of 1972. His mom, a journalist with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, then was asked to write about her Christmas traditions.
It wasn’t an easy task since the Brickmans are Jewish. “My mother had no idea what to do since we had no Christmas traditions,” Brickman recalled. “We had to come up with something and I came up with this concept. ‘How about we get together and gather around the piano? I’ll play and it will look like we’re happy singing Christmas carols.’ I told her that the photo of us would look good in the paper.”
The Brickmans pulled it off. “That’s so even though none of us could even sing ‘Happy Birthday’ well,” Brickman said. “But it worked. We fooled the entire city.”
When it comes to delivering Christmas carols these days, Brickman, 61, isn’t fooling anyone. He has released nine Christmas albums and is on his annual holiday tour, which will stop Saturday at the Bing Crosby Theater
“It’s funny how Christmas became part of my life,” Brickman said by phone from Oakland. “I really love it or I wouldn’t make the Christmas albums or go on the Christmas tours. In some ways, playing Christmas songs live is my favorite thing to do. It has a completely different feel from everything else. There is an energy at my Christmas shows. It brings out multiple generations. It’s an event.”
The classically trained pianist, who kicked off his career writing jingles a generation ago, enjoys writing new Christmas songs, such as the jaunty “I Wish It Was Christmas All Year” and the moving “Through the Night.”
But Brickman’s favorite tunes are the classics. “I love doing versions of “Joy to the World,” and the medley of “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Brickman said. “Those are the most challenging songs to play and also the most satisfying to tunes to perform. You also can’t beat “Noel,” which is the big finish. Those songs have stayed with us for years for a good reason. They’re incredible songs.”
Brickman has crafted a number of winter-themed songs. Some of his finest, “Angels,” “Winter Peace” and “Starbright,” grace his 1997 holiday album, “The Gift.”
“I’ve tried my luck at writing songs that I hope will one day be holiday classics,” Brickman said. “They’re not typical songs you might hear. They’re not songs about Santa making his way down the chimney but they have that holiday feel to them. I mix those in with the hymns and the traditional songs, since they’re a natural extension of what I do, which is write love songs … people enjoy love songs just like they enjoy Christmas songs.”
Mat and Savannah Shaw, a father/daughter singing duo, will add vocals to the Christmas songs Brickman delivers from his piano. “Mat and Savannah are wonderful and they help make this into such a fun concert,” Brickman said. “What people may not realize is that this is a loose show. I think some people think it’s like a piano recital. They might think that I just sit down at the piano and it’s a very serious show but I have a sense of humor.”
That must be so since Brickman agreed to play at a Costco, which was on Third Avenue during the late ‘90s. The scene was straight out of the hilarious mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap.”
“That was an experience,” Brickman said. “I did an in-store at the Costco in Spokane and I would be lying to you if I didn’t admit that it was challenging. There was the issue of where I would perform. They were going to put me in electronics but they decided to have me perform on the perimeter of the store. I’ll never forget it. It was on a Tuesday at noon. I thought, ‘Why am I performing here and why are we bringing a grand piano into a Costco so I can play in front of ten people?’ But I stayed with a positive attitude. Spokane was one of the first cities to embrace my music thanks to the radio station, KISS (KISC, 98.1 FM). I’ll do whatever Spokane asks me to do.”
Brickman also has a connection with another supermarket, the Fred Meyer chain, going back to his days as a jingle writer. “Prior to my recording career, I wrote a campaign for Fred Meyer that was so successful, they used it for 20 years. “What’s on your list today/ You’ll find it at Fred Meyer/And you’re on your way.’ I’ve had some success in the markets of the Pacific Northwest and fortunately, the music halls as well. I really can’t thank the fans enough in the Pacific Northwest for their support over the years.”
It’s Brickman’s favorite time of the year and he harkens back to the days of Christmas TV specials with Andy Williams and Spokane’s favorite son, Bing Crosby.
“There really aren’t TV shows like them,” Brickman said. “And there aren’t many shows of Christmas tours either but I’m still out there. It’s been so enjoyable. How funny is that I didn’t grow up with Christmas and here I am?”
Brickman has evolved from a would-be Christmas caroler to a holiday music expert. “I’ve certainly recorded and written a lot of Christmas music,” Brickman said. “Who could have guessed that it would have turned out this way?”
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