By Aaron Wallace
In the eleven years since he released his first album, Jim Brickman has become one of the nation's most successful and well-known pianists, garnering a number of hits in the Adult Contemporary radio format and millions of album sales. His compositions are often classified as "new age," but his pop stylings on the piano have attracted renowned vocalists to many of his projects. Known especially for his collaborations, Brickman has recorded with Michael W. Smith, Martina McBride, Donny Osmond, and Olivia Newton-John, to name a few. His popular holiday albums are known by many, and he recently made a splash in the realm of Christian music with Grace, a collection on inspirational songs. In addition to writing and performing music, Brickman also hosts his own weekly radio show, has authored best-selling essay collections, and contributes regularly to public television.
Today, the same day that film classic Cinderella makes its grand debut on DVD, Brickman releases his latest project, The Disney Songbook. A departure from his traditionally original compositions, the new album allows him to pay tribute to a collection of movies that inspired him throughout his childhood and wielded a fortunate influence on his early career. The instrumental takes on classics like "Beauty and the Beast," the lead track, and "When You Wish Upon a Star," the finale, are stately and graceful. Meanwhile, "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" is a little peppier, "Cruella De Vil" exudes a jazz vibe, and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" offers a refreshingly unique rendition of an oft-covered song with a more lavish production and just a touch of ethnicity.
Not all the tracks are without lyrics, however. Country star Josh Gracin joins the pianist for Dumbo's "When I See an Elephant Fly" and Kassie DePaiva (of the long-running ABC soap "One Life to Live") lends her voice to "Baby Mine" from the same film. Brickman collaborates with Kimberley Locke on "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes," only one of three tributes to Cinderella. The other two are the album's two enjoyable original productions. Beautiful, Prince Charming's love song to his princess, which comes to life with the help of comedian Wayne Brady, whose vocals shine with outstanding talent. Lila McCann joins in for the other, "I'm Amazed," a song that captures Cinderella's rapture over the events of her newfound fairy tale life. The stand-out track is a piano-only Mary Poppins medley, incorporating five of that movie's most memorable performances in one impressive arrangement.
The Disney Songbook is a welcome addition to Brickman's repertoire. Fans of the performer and of the music alike will appreciate the beauty of each performance as familiar favorites receive new life. Suitable for both relaxation and concentrated admiration, Brickman's style of piano pop is conveyed in a way here that is never overstated. Jim Brickman recently set aside a few minutes to with UltimateDisney.com about this new release, what Disney has meant to him, and where he's headed next.
UltimateDisney.com: How long have you been playing piano?
Jim Brickman: My goodness, um, since I was about four years old. I've played my whole life. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I was kind of your average piano player. I don't think you'd ever know that I would be talking at this point if you had seen me at my first piano recital, but I loved playing and it was part of my world, so you know, it was great.
So when did you decide to go after it professionally?
Well, I was in band in high school and that kind of thing and really my entrée to the business was commercial jingle writing. I wrote TV commercials and radio jingles and that was kind of what I thought really my career was going to be, because it was that for so many years. And I actually did some work for Disney when I was doing commercials. I did the opening of Disneyland Paris with them and a lot of the music; it was really, really, really, really cool.
Definitely. And you worked with Sesame Street and the Muppets too, right?
Yes, I did, sort of. I mean, I was an intern there. I didn't have any like credit or anything like that.
Did you ever get to meet Jim Henson?
Yes, in fact, today I was with his family, this morning, doing a dedication of the Muppet stamps. So I did a duet with Kermit this morning of "Rainbow Connection," which was very fun.
Were you a Disney fan growing up?
I was a huge Disney fan.
Really? Did you go to the theme parks?
I went to Disney World, because you know I lived in Cleveland so that's where you go. You don't really go to Disneyland because it's too far away (laughs). Kind of like where you are; it's more like it's closer proximity.
So have you always wanted to do a Disney album since you started putting out albums, or did you just recently decide that you wanted to try one?
Well, you know all my albums are original music, and so this represented a great opportunity for me to be able to interpret great music in my particular style and let my audience kind of see this music represented in my particular point of view. So, yeah, it's really cool. I mean, I've always loved the music and if somebody was gonna ask me, "Okay, you can't play your own music. You have to interpret someone else's. Would it be jazz standards, Broadway, Christmas, Disney...?" I would pick Disney.
Were any of the songs more difficult for you to interpret for what you were going for?
Well, I didn't record any of the ones that fell in that category (laughs), because I figure if they don't come naturally to me, they're not gonna sound good on a record. They have to be in my hands and they have to feel like I'm meant to be playing them. If they're even a little off, like for example, "Colors of the Wind," or "Just Around the Riverbend," I mean, I'd play through some of these and I'd think, "It just doesn't feel... I love this song, but it doesn't work for me."
Was it difficult to narrow it down to the ones that you were going to include on the album?
It was. I was limited. First I thought I could have like 18, but they were like, "No, you have to have 12 or 13." And we knew two of those were going to be original compositions.
Do you want to tell me a little about those two original tracks?
Well, I thought it was really cool to be able to take Cinderella, since it's tied so much with the release of my album, and write songs that were inspired by it. So the one song, "Beautiful" with Wayne Brady, is written from the prince's point of view "from the moment I saw you" -- from the ballroom scene, primarily.
And then "I'm Amazed" is really from a sort of Cinderella point of view, that "I can't believe this happening to me" sort of thing. And it's written in a 3/4 time waltz time, so that if you actually put the visual up against it, you know, it would look as if they were dancing to that song, but in a more contemporary pop style.
You mentioned Wayne Brady. Is he as much fun to work with as I imagine he would be?
Totally fun. Totally fun. He's a great guy, and very smart, very funny, very quick, and a great dancer, great singer. He's like what they call a triple threat, you know?
Definitely. And you work with Kimberley Locke also, along with several other people. What was it like to work with a former American Idol?
(Laughs) Well I've known Kimberley for a long time, and we've always talked about doing something together, and Disney really likes her. And I wanted to do an interpretation of that song that was traditional, but with a little bit more of a pop influence. She's great; she's a really great singer.
And you worked with her on the Disney Wishes! CD, right?
Which I thought was a really great album and a great project.
Yeah, it was. It was a cool album.
Are you involved with any other charities, or are you involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation?
I am involved with Make-A-Wish, and it's been one of my charities of choice for a couple of years. Our Christmas tour always is dedicated to that, so yeah, we're involved with Make-A-Wish.
You're on tour right now also, right?
And on into 2006. Which of your songs are you concentrating on? Are you looking at the Disney songs or your past albums?
This tour is a very eclectic mix (laughs). It's Disney, it's Christmas -- we're starting a Christmas tour in November -- right now, it's Disney, it's the hits, and it's some of the inspirational songs from my last album called Grace, which is an album of hymns and inspirational songs.
And you've got a PBS special coming up too, is that correct?
Yeah, coming in November/December, so thats' awesome, because we shot it at Disney World. It's absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful, it really is. It's just gorgeous-looking.
Yeah, I saw a clip from it on the website, and it definitely looks that way.
Yeah, it's beautiful and I think it's going to be a big hit, so I'm excited about that, 'cause it's just -- it celebrates the things that I think that we need a little bit more of in the world today, you know? Families, positive messages, encouragement...
Absolutely. Did you get a lot of time to just hang out in the park when you were down there filming it?
A little bit. You know, we got our Mickey and Minnie time and we got our Splash Mountain time; we got our Teacup and Dumbo time and all that. Yeah, we had fun.
On this CD alone, you work with a lot of people, and throughout your whole recording career, you're kind of known for your collaborations. Is there a particular artist that you haven't yet had the chance to work with that you would like to?
There are a couple of people that I talked to about this album that I wish could have worked out, and just (didn't for) timing and stuff. But I like eclectic choices, like, I would have loved a Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen collaboration or something like that. I just think it's taking unique voices and matching them to what they do is something that I've always loved to be able to do, so I always like to pick from people who are either completely icons like Olivia Newton-John or Donny Osmond or people like that or newcomers that maybe my audience hasn't heard yet. I like to do that too.
And then you've got a Carnival Cruise program that you're part of?
Yes, it's the "Sail with Jim Brickman," would you like to come? (laughs) It's a portion of the ship that we're gonna have private concerts and meet-and-greets and get-to-know-yous and karaoke nights all throughout the Caribbean. So, it's going to be totally fun. I'm excited about it.
I just got back from my first cruise this summer, and I can just imagine how much fun that would be to have a special program going on like that.
Do you have any other projects up your sleeve for the future at this point?
Actually, I'm touring like crazy... doing that first. And then I'm just starting work on actually a tutorial DVD of how to play the piano, how to write songs, you know, stuff people always ask me about-- how to play in a certain style and stuff, and so I've been working on that. And then I'm not exactly sure what the next record project is gonna be, but i presume it'll be something for next Christmas.
That sounds really interesting. Do you have any advice right now for aspiring musicians?
Well, I mean the best advice to any aspiring musician is to just get out there and play, and so many people say, "You know if I just lived in LA or something, I would be discovered," or something, but it's not true. It's really just getting out there. And the problem is that now with things like American Idol, people think that it's, you know, a contest rather than just getting out there and doing what you love to do. And the more you do it, whether it's a wedding or a smokey bar or whatever, you get better and better at it every day that you do it and you get better in front of people. You get more experience and it's really a matter of just getting out there. It's not who you know, it's just... working hard and showing people what you can do in any situation you can find.
Going back to The Disney Songbook, of the 13 tracks that you recorded for this, do you have a favorite?
I think to me that the really nostalgic songs like "When You Wish Upon A Star" and "Someday My Prince Will Come" -- the really core classic Disney stuff to me is the most beautiful.
Hear Jim Brickman's responses:
Interview conducted September 28, 2005 by Aaron Wallace.
Interview conducted September 28, 2005 by Aaron Wallace.
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