An evening “Under the Stars” with Jim Brickman turned into a night under the umbrellas, too.
But a passing drizzle or two couldn’t douse spirits Saturday night at Cain Park, where the Shaker Heights pianist behind No Words, By Heart, and Visions of Love held a celebratory concert marking his first twenty years in music.
The show—held in the park’s historic Evans Ampitheater—capped a weekend-long “Brickman Bash” during which diehard fans and premium ticketholders dined with the musician and toured his old hometown haunts. Thursday’s launch included a dinnertime Q&A with Brickman at Lockkeeper’s in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Friday featured a Nautica Queen Cruise luncheon, a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and a “Jingle Jam” at Shooters in the Flats, where Brickman held his first bona fide concert in 1994.
Saturday started with an intimate performance at Cleveland Institute of Music’s Mixon Hall (Jim’s alma mater) and a leisurely drive through Little Italy. Supper at Nighttown Jazz Club whetted appetites for Brickman’s big gig in Cleveland Heights.
Brickman—whose relaxing instrumental piano pieces and duets with high-profile singers have delighted listeners since he broke out of Ohio with No Words—really seemed took the outdoor occasion to heart. He said it was his first time playing solo at Cain; he attended shows there as a child and performed there with Shaker Heights Youth Theatre.
“My heart is tied to this place,” confessed Brickman, surveying the brick architecture and lush green foliage.
The concert began with Brickman sitting alone in the spotlight at his concert grand Yamaha piano, tickling the ivories on old-school hit “Rocket to The Moon.” The lovely “Romanza” and heartfelt “Love of My Life” followed, with the pianist fielding vocals previously recorded by superstars Michael W. Smith, Donny Osmond, and Clay Aiken.
Jim’s got a pleasant voice and acquitted himself nicely, but he said he realizes piano is his (ahem) forte.
“I think of myself as a songwriter first,” he surmised, greeting his already-enraptured listeners. “And when you’re lucky enough to have hits, you should play them.”
Brickman said he hadn’t done an outdoors show since an appearance at Blossom Music Center nearly a decade ago. The revelation added an air of nostalgia to the already rustic, whimsical proceedings.
But there’s a reason Brickman favors indoor venues: His bread-and-butter these days consists of holiday-themed albums and wintertime tours. His last Cleveland stop was in December at Playhouse Square, where he and co-stars Anne Cochran and Tracy Silverman regaled a packed Palace with “The Magic of Christmas.” During his mid-song banter at Cain, Jim disclosed that he’s already working on another seasonal CD.
“That’s what I do now,” he joked. “I write Christmas songs in July.”
By way of example, Brickman debuted the new “Christmas in Brazil” with the returning Silverman, whose electric violin soared over the delicate piano notes. Brickman explained later that he writes from his imagination, allowing him to conjure images of snowflakes and mistletoe even when the mercury reads well into the seventies.
Anne Cochran, also back with the boys, furthered the Christmas-in-July theme with her own “I Wish It Was Christmas All Year Long.” She dedicated the song to her husband, who insisted their Christmas tree remain standing after December 25th just because it makes him happy.
“We’re past the halfway point, so we’re just leaving it up!” laughed Cochran.
Silverman likewise dazzled on “Serenade,” bowing his way through a sampling of rock staples by Deep Purple (“Smoke on the Water”) and Led Zeppelin (“Black Dog”) on his custom six-string instrument. Depressing his effects pedals at his feet for added distortion (and even a little wah-wah), the fiddler injected an element of funk-and-punk into the otherwise easy-listening itinerary. In an ongoing schtick, Brickman feigned surprise over Silverman’s “impromptu” guitar god-style solo at the song’s conclusion:
“I didn’t know you were gonna take that to quite as many places as you did,” he said.
“But there was some Burt Bacharach in there, too!” Silverman protested, alluding to his quotation of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” likely woven into the spotlight in deference to the weather.
The lovely Cochran (who attended high school with Brickman) shined on the eloquent “Simple Things” and “After All These Years” as daylight receded. Anne announced that Mayor Frank Jackson had presented Jim with a proclamation to commemorate “Jim Brickman Day.” The pianist mischievously wondered aloud whether that meant every July 18th thereafter would be his special day, too—but the fact that Cochran had to bring it up at all underscored Brickman’s humility: Brickman might be making hit records and acclaimed PBS specials with fancy Hollywood types, but he’s still just a regular music-loving guy from Shaker.
Indeed, Brickman’s practiced patter employs no small amount of self-deprecation; the Cleveland piano man still finds it a little funny to be heralded as “America’s New Romantic Piano Sensation.”
Brickman and Cochran recalled winning a “You Light Up My Life” amateur band contest sponsored by Cleveland’s G-98 (now 98.5 WNCX) back in 1977. The radio station’s national affiliates were incredulous when the then-teenagers showed up in New York without adult guardians, and their “big prize” turned out to be an opportunity to play a show at the Holiday Inn in Erie, Pennsylvania.
“Hey, you never know where you might be discovered,” Brickman quipped.
The pianist enjoyed a terrific rapport with his audience, making the already cozy Cain environs that much more personal with his storytelling. He discussed user applications for his music (weddings, proms, bubble-baths, baby-making) and highlighted some commercial applications (TV spots, Olympic broadcasts), too, before wrapping Act I with the triumphant “Glory” and majestic 1996 single “Hero’s Dream.”
Silverman kicked off the second half with another solo spot that saw him use the gadgets at his feet to cycle rhythm and bass parts for his violin, allowing him to effectively jam over the passages he just played, in an engaging sort of feedback loop. He even incorporated a bit of bluegrass (and some Steve Wonder) into the routine.
Cochran—having changed from evening gown into comfy jeans and white top—then reemerged to introduce special guest singer, Abe LaMarca (another Cleveland native). Accompanied by Silverman (and a prerecorded rhythm track), the couple mesmerized with their upbeat daybreak anthem “Rise and Shine.”
LaMarca’s inspirational new album, Stand and Deliver, is available now via his website (link below).
Returning to the stage sans sport coat (and in white pants instead of black), Brickman spear-headed a Faith Medley that incorporated fan favorites “Destiny” (with Anne and Abe on vocals) and “Lake Erie Rainfall” (solo piano). More laughter ensued when—by way of explaining “Rainfall”—Jim acknowledged that his two favorite subjects for songs are holidays and weather. He also said he gets “in the zone” when performing, and that his mind might wander to anything (including pizza) as his fingers dance over the keys. He encouraged listeners to let their thoughts go as well, and to hold hands or sing along if the mood struck—or even remind oneself about that gallon of milk you’re supposed to pick up on the way home.
“Entertain yourselves while we entertain you,” he invited.
On a more serious note, he described “If You Believe” as both a “good luck charm” and his “personal mantra.”
Expounding upon his musical influences (traces of which can be found in the songbooks in his piano bench at home), Brickman sampled show tunes “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He also paid homage to The Muppets, slipping into Kermit the Frog voice for “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and seamlessly seguing into the Paul Williams-penned “Rainbow Connection” and (Sesame Street throwback) “Sing a Song.” “Roses in December” and “The Gift” (with Cochran on vocal) tapped into more holiday vibes.
The entire ensemble—Brickman, Silverman, Cochran, and LaMarca—joined forces on farewell finale “Peace,” whose uplifting music and lighthearted message underscored the significance of entire affair. After his guests bid their adieus (receiving a standing ovation for their efforts), Brickman encored with pretty solo piece “Angel Eyes,” expertly sandwiching strains of “Valentine” (with Jim on vocal) smack dab in the middle.
Brickman disclosed during the show that his forthcoming album will feature guest singers Kenny Rogers and John Oates (of Hall & Oates), and that he’s got a New Year’s Eve gala booked at the Canton Palace December 31st.
The Cain Park crowd was skewed older, but this writer’s son celebrated his 10th birthday at the concert (his first Brickman show). We figured that evens things out.
A firefly landed on the boy’s finger near the halfway mark. Taking off, the luminescent insect flitted several rows down to the stage, where it then appeared to hover over Brickman’s microphone—lingering in front of his nose, as if to say hello—before ascending skyward into the night with the pianist’s gentle, cascading notes.
Sure, it might’ve been another lightning bug we were seeing at that point. But we fancy it was the same. And c’mon—that’s not as visceral a memory.
See? We write with our imagination, too.