Pianist Jim Brickman recently appeared on the stage of K-State’s McCain Auditorium. Brickman is a songwriter (and sometimes a singer) who performed about two dozen of his compositions, a small majority of them instrumental numbers, during a two-hour show.
Brickman program inserts were handed out by ushers as the audience entered the building. These full-color, coated-stock, light card-weight trifolds introduced us to Jim Brickman the leisure industry. He has an Internet “store.” He has a weekly radio show and has written a couple of books. He has “partnered” with a greeting card company. His tour is sponsored by a hotel chain.
One can sign up to be a “VIP Member” (apparently of his fan club) and can “follow” him through connections with several Internet services and applications. Oh, and he will host a Caribbean cruise next winter. The cruise, which has its own website, was mentioned again in the pre-recorded audio introduction of the performer. And then Jim mentioned it a couple of times in the first act. As did his guest star, a singer named John Trones.
The songs were performed with surprising uniformity of tempo. For a comparison, Funkadelic offers more rate variation. While Brickman insisted that the lyrics suggested hopefulness, the tunes themselves were relatively weepy or, for glass-half-fullers, romantic. Several of his numbers have been hits. In fact, Brickman insisted that he had heard one of his songs while in the Gents at the airport in Wichita.
And this demonstrates what was most attractive about the concert. Brickman is one of the best adjusted performers we are ever likely to hear. He does specials on PBS and invites us to call in during his appearance on one of the television shopping networks (“in between the toasters and the fake jewelry” he told us, unblushingly). He knows his place and isn’t ashamed.
This turns him loose to do a relaxed show of comedy commentary in between the songs. He talks self-deprecatingly about his early piano studies in Cleveland, for example. This was a touchstone for him.
The comedy was really at its best when Trones joined Brickman on stage. The tenor dressed like Matt Monro, but he played Dennis Day’s character from the old Jack Benny show, the intellectual light-weight who managed to insult the star without, apparently, intending to do so. Trones got off a run of jokes about how old “America’s Romantic Piano Sensation” was, for example. Pretty funny jokes, well delivered. Mispronunciations and misunderstandings of the names of hometowns of audience request writers were pretty funny, too. “Saliva” was his way of referring to our neighbor fifty miles west. The first syllable of “WAM-ego” sounded like the duet who wanted to be awakened before we go-go. Trones didn’t know what to make of “KCMO.”
But he sang his four or five songs pretty well, finishing with “The Gift.” As was true throughout the show, the arrangements here all went off at the same rate. Brickman doesn’t much differentiate embellishments from melody, which meant his right hand seemed to be constantly busy—so constantly that this habit helped the illusion that there was only one song played all evening.
This excepts the referential songs, with their quotes from old pop hits, hymns, and nursery songs. Brickman actually sang a couple of Muppets numbers. I thought the hymn medley the musical highlight of the evening. In the middle of one song I thought I was hearing part of Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park.”
The just decent-sized McCain crowd seemed to enjoy the show. And perhaps they’ll tune in for the shopping from home TV program. Or maybe they’ll check Brickman’s Facebook page to see a picture of themselves, taken by Trones with Brickman’s camera’s phone. Now there’s networking.