=== Jim Brickman Biography ===

Jim Brickman

Table of Contents:

  • EARLY YEARS: Described by his mom as a "dynamo" at age 1 and "musically inclined" at age 3, Jim was playing the piano by the time he was 4 years old.
  • SUCCESS HAS 'LIMITS': Jim began his commercial jingle business from his college dorm room and within time he had a long list of high profile clients.
  • NEW ROMANTIC SENSATION: It took lots of hard work to get his music heard, but his personal songs took off like a rocket.


Jim Brickman was born November 20, 1961 in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in the Shaker Lakes area of the city. His mom, Sally, said she never imagined he would end up the solo piano sensation that he has. However, in an interview published in his fan club newsletter, BrickNotes, she noted that his flair for performance began at a very early age.

Here are some of the notes she made in his baby book:

  • Age 1: He was a "dynamo."
  • Age 3: He "seemed musically inclined" and "enjoyed making up rhymes." She also wrote in the newsletter that he spent a lot of time listening to early sixties popular children's records, rocking on his horse in rhythm with the music.
  • Age 4: Despite enrolling him in piano lessons at such an early age, Sally wrote that it didn't take any effort to get him to practice. She said the piano was "a joy" for him. In fact, she said the only problem was that he would constantly improvise, turning classical works into pop-like numbers. The neighborhood piano teacher wasn't impressed.
Childhood photo

 Real Audio sound clip...

During Jim's appearance on the syndicated radio program "Personal Notes," he told host Dave Koz that he wouldn't dream of parting with his childhood piano.

Click here to listen to the clip...

His first keyboard wasn't very impressive at all: a long piece of green felt with notes drawn in with a magic marker. By age 10, it was time for his first real piano — a beat up Yamaha upright. More than 25 years later, it's still his primary piano.

"It's like Linus-has-a-security-blanket kind of a thing," he said on the syndicated radio program Personal Notes. "It never even occurred me that I should buy a piano. ... It's been my piano forever. It's where I wrote all the stuff I like."

Besides that personal attachment, Jim also says he just wouldn't feel comfortable composing music on a grand piano, saying in a strange way it would almost be intimidating.

"It would almost be like the piano was calling out to me, saying, 'Be brilliant on me because I'm this beautiful instrument, so you better be good when you sit down and play me.' "

While Jim has said he never thought he would grow up to be a performer, he and childhood friend Anne Cochran were in a band together while they attended a Cleveland high school. He also carried his love of music with him into his college years: he studied composition and performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music at the same time he was taking business classes at Case Western Reserve University.



Jim's first career — and his first taste of success — began while he was still living in his college dorm room.

 At 19, he was hired by Jim Henson Associates to write tunes for Sesame Street.

These days, while he performs "The Rainbow Connection" in concert, the song is not one of his compositions. Rather he performs the song because it reminds him — and the audience — of Jim Henson, perhaps better than any other song can.

Jim Brickman

In addition to his work for Henson, Jim was already writing commercial jingles while still in college. Eventually, he combined his love for music with his business training and opened Brickman Arrangement, his commercial jingle company.

Despite finding wild success as a commercial jingle writer, Jim wasn't completely happy. In a biography posted on the Windham Hill web site, Jim said he found writing jingles too "limiting."

"Eventually, I got bored doing jingles, and it became creatively limiting because I had to fake being trendy much of the time. I realized I never sat down and played the piano, except for work. I wanted to make music that was more personal, more real and from the heart."



That's when Jim put his business training and determination to work for himself a second time.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1989, figuring the city would give him more options as far as what he could do. And he figured if he wrote and performed "pretty" music, someone was bound to like and buy it. He wrote six songs, booked some studio time and cut a demonstration album, then traveled across the country, meeting radio station program directors, doing market research.

 "I asked them, 'Would you play this on your radio station? It's solo piano,' " he told the Gallery of Sound. "Most people said, 'no,' but I got the sense that it was a time in adult contemporary radio where they were looking for something a little bit new and different."

When it came time to pitch his concept to record companies, he says most thought he was nuts. It was Windham Hill that finally offered him a deal, liking the music and finding the concept interesting.

Jim Brickman

After the "No Words" album was recorded, he filled his car trunk with CDs, then went on the radio station road tour once again — this time to actually get the music played on the radio.

"I did it by myself at the very beginning, meeting radio station DJs just like Elvis did," he told the Berkshire, Mass., Eagle. "That's the way it used to be, and it kind of surprises me that it's not the typical way anymore, because you still have a product that you're trying to get people to hear."

"No Words" produced one Adult Contemporary hit song: "Rocket To The Moon". While the song never placed on Billboard magazine's charts, it was played on several radio station across the country, and appeared on adult contemporary charts in publications more intently focused on a radio programming audience.

In some ways, Jim says "No Words" remains one of his favorite albums. When he was writing the music for it, he had no idea it would eventually be released to the public. He says because of that, the album best expresses some of his deepest emotions.

"No Words" album cover

Jim's following albums each did better on the Billboard magazine charts:

  • By Heart: This was Jim's first album to chart on Billboard's Hot 200 album chart. It was on the charts for a total of four weeks, peaking at position 187. The album also contained Jim's first adult contemporary hit single, "By Heart." The duet with Laura Creamer was on the magazine's AC singles charts for 14 weeks, peaking at position 16.
  • Picture This: This is Jim's most successful album to date. It held the number one position on Billboard's New Age albums chart for eight weeks, it peaked at position 30 on the Hot 200 albums chart, and it contains three hit adult contemporary singles: "Hero's Dream," which peaked at 24, "Valentine," which peaked at 3, and "Picture This" which peaked at 23. "Valentine," a duet with Martina McBride, was also a huge hit on the Country charts and reached position 50 on Billboard's all-inclusive Hot 100 Singles chart.
  • The Gift: The album held the number one position of Billboard's New Age album chart for one week, and peaked at position 48 on the magazine's Hot 200 Albums chart. The song, "The Gift," peaked at position 3 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Singles chart, 51 on its Country Singles chart, and 65 on its Hot 100 Airplay chart.

All three albums have since sold more than 500,000 copies and have been certified gold.

 Real Audio sound clip...

Jim said on the syndicated radio show "Personal Notes" that he thinks familiarity plays a large part in the appeal of his music. He told the show's host, Dave Koz, that part of it is that the songs sound familier — like you may have heard them before, even though you hadn't. But he says the piano itself has a lot to do with it, too.

Click here to listen to the clip...

Jim has thought about the appeal of his music and thinks it touches people for several reasons, the main being emotion. Not only is the music itself emotional, but with piano solos, there's nothing else to get in the way:

"I play acoustic piano. I don't play all that other stuff. I'm a true, acoustic, organic player. I feel that my talent is a very natural ability and that I should play an instrument that's made of wood and strings."

Jim says some of the appeal may also come from his jingle background, writing songs people think they know even though they've never heard them before.

But while the songs and instrument may be familiar, Jim's not one for doing the expected.

 During the radio road trips, the solo pianist focused on adult contemporary radio stations at a time when playing an instrumental song was practically unheard of in that format.

Then, after breaking into adult contemporary radio, he chose country singers to do the vocals on some of his songs. "Valentine" and "The Gift" became huge hits.

"My career has always been about bucking the system, breaking molds and challenging the staid and obvious."

Jim Brickman