PUBLISHED IN THE TORONTO STAR ON DECEMBER 3, 1997

 

GOING FROM SODA JINGLES TO POP CHARTS

 

 

By Nick Krewen


When you hear the nursery-rhyme simplicity of such gentle, palatable melodies as "Angel Eyes" or "Valentine" wafting over your radio or CD player, you don't picture pop pianist JIM BRICKMAN as the type of person who once wrote 60-second music spots for such high profile corporations as McDonald's or Walt Disney.

But that's exactly what the 36-year-old self-proclaimed "new romantic pianist" did for a living a dozen years before stumbling into his current career as a contender for the adult-contemporary instrumentalist throne.

Some of his more memorable jingles? Diet Coke's catchy "Just For The Taste Of It;" Flintstone Vitamins' "Ten Thousand Kids Growing Strong" and the Purina Puppy Chow theme.

"I always liked writing the stuff that people had a good feeling about, like GE or Kodak, much more so than about mufflers or bug spray," said Brickman Thursday over breakfast downtown at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Those days are past, as Brickman has abandoned the jingle jungle for the greener, softer pastures with Los Angeles-based new age music pioneers Windham Hill Records.

In just four short years, the Cleveland-born, L.A.- based Brickman has successfully shaken the "new age" tag associated with his label and become a force in adult-contemporary music, his instrumental melodies cracking a vocal-dominated genre thought impenetrable due to the WHITNEY HOUSTONs, MICHAEL BOLTONs, CELINE DIONs and other pop confections.

But Brickman proved them wrong in '94, scoring a Top 10 AC hit -- and even cracking Billboard's Top 40 pop charts -- with "Rocket To The Moon" from his introductory No Words  album. He followed it up with three more hits from 1995's By Heart: "Angel Eyes," "If You Believe" and the title track.

Earlier this year when he shrewdly teamed up with country singer MARTINA McBRIDE on his recent album Picture This  for "Valentine." The song topped the AC charts, enjoyed crossover success at country and exposed both to new audiences.

Three of his four albums have surpassed U.S. gold -- that's over 500,000 copies each -- and his latest Holiday-themed album The Gift  is a whisker away from similar certification.

In Canada, Brickman is still fairly unknown with sales averaging 10,000 units per title, but that picture is changing. He's repeated the Martina McBride formula on The Gift  by collaborating with veteran Canadian country queen MICHELLE WRIGHT on "Your Love." Added to the album exclusively for Canada, high video rotation for "Your Love" on CMT and a warm embrace from both country and pop formats have tripled sales, with The Gift  expected to strike Canadian gold shortly.

There are many elements to Brickman's music that suggest it's more calculated than most soft instrumental pop. Aside from his sweet, concise melodies that travel at barely feather-ruffling tempos, Brickman usually includes a tune familiar from childhood -- he's already adapted "Frere Jacques" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" -- and there's his pairings with country singers, ranging from McBride and Wright to COLLIN RAYE and contemporary Christian star SUSAN ASHTON.

He doesn't deny the charge.

"There's no doubt that when I think of the core of my audience, it's 30-40 year old females, married couples, people who have kids," says Brickman, in Toronto this past week to introduce himself to the Canadian music industry and host an autograph session at Indigo! Books And Cafe.

"There's a real relatability to that. If you don't know who Jim Brickman is, and you hear "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," it's another way to connect me. It's nothing too highbrow or difficult to understand."

Brickman says the cut-throat jingle business he started as a teenager in Cleveland in between studies in classical composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music and business classes at Case Western Reserve University provided valuable insight.

"The jingle business served as a way for me to connect with business as it relates to music, too. I got a chance to get to know music as a commodity, or product, instead of just an emotion."

It also helped him develop a thick skin.

"When you play something for clients and they say, `No it doesn't do it for me.' At first you freak out. Then year after year, you start to become very thick skinned to critics of your work. I try to be objective. I try to have a very consumer aspect to my music and my jingle training helped me with that."

A summer internship at Jim Henson And Associates creating music for Sesame Street  and The Children's Television Workshop at the age of 17 also served as a catalyst.

"It affected me dramatically," says Brickman, who plans to perform in Canada next Spring. "I didn't know you could do this for work. When you go somewhere, and everybody's doing the thing you want to do, you all of a sudden think, `My God. There are people like me in the world! That opened my life."

His business acumen certainly helped secure the Windham Hill deal. Brickman personally visited 80 radio stations and received written commitments for airplay before submitting his six-song demo in '94.

"They said I was the first artist who ever approached them with a marketing plan," he chuckles.

Although he seems to have covered all the angles, Jim Brickman expresses surprise that the instrument he first learned to play at the age of 4 is bringing him such widespread success as an adult.

"I wasn't one of those kids who said, `Some day, I'm going to be ELTON JOHN!' It wasn't the path I was on because I didn't think this was a career. I didn't think you could play solo piano, even though GEORGE WINSTON does. It didn't that occur to me that it would work."

 

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1994 -- No Words -- Windham Hill

1995 -- By Heart

1996 -- Picture This

1997 -- The Gift

1999 -- Destiny

COLLABORATIONS

1994 -- Various Artists, Piano Sampler II

1995 -- Various Artists, A Winter's Solstice V

1996 -- Various Artists, Sampler '96

1997 -- Various Artists, A Winter's Solstice VI

1999 -- Various Artists, Winter Solstice On Ice

 

THANKS: Jane Harbury, John Ferri, Lesley Taylor

©1997, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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