Every so often, Walt Disney Records breaks the mold of soundtracks and official theme park albums to bring us something different. Over the years, artists from all over the globe have released their own spin on Disneyís vast library of music. Recently, weíve been treated to diverse collections such as Chip Davis and companyís ďMannheim Steamroller Meets the MouseĒ all the way to the soaring vocals on Michael Crawfordís ďThe Disney AlbumĒ. Each artist brings with them their own talents, but what they all seem to share is a profound love of Disney Music.
The latest performer to record his take on Disney Music is renowned pianist/songwriter Jim Brickman, who is releasing ďJim Brickman Ė The Disney SongbookĒ on Tuesday, October 4th. The album is a collection of 13 tracks celebrating Disney music both new and old, featuring two all-new songs inspired by Walt Disneyís Cinderella. Fans of the album will also want to be on the lookout for Jimís PBS Special Live from Walt Disney World this November. We got the chance to talk to Jim about his music, performing, and creating this newest album with Walt Disney Records.
MouseInfo: Weíve been getting acquainted with your music and now that youíre putting out the Disney Songbook album, itís a nice tie-in to get the chance to chat with you!
Jim Brickman: Thank you!
MI: For those that donít know of you and your music, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
JB: My goodness. Well I grew up in Cleveland Ohio, I played piano, like a regular kid, most of my life, and I wasnít like a virtuoso or anything like that. You would never ever think that I would end up doing this. I loved music. I was a huge Disney music fan. Growing up in Cleveland playing in bands I just loved it. My first real job was working for Jim Henson and the Muppets doing songs for the Muppet show and stuff like that. I was sort of an intern there, so that was my first kind of big break back when I was a teenager and I was 17 years old. I got to hang around there a little bit. After that I went into commercial music, doing jingles for radio and television commercials for all kinds of stuff like kitty litter, toilet bowl cleaner, soda pop, all kinds of different products. Really my love of music and doing commercials led me to wanting to do my own songwriting and my own point of view really. Thatís what led me to doing my own albums in my early 30ís. So it was sort of a late start in the record business. Itís only been about 10 years.
MI: Itís been a pretty amazing ten years for you. Youíve really developed a style that is your own that people have grown attached to. How did that lead you to this album, The Disney Songbook and what was that experience like for you?
JB: I just loved doing it. Iíve been a huge Disney fan ever since I was a little kid, and also because itís so hopeful and so positive, and I think that aspect of it really blends itself to the type of music that I play myself and I write myself. It seemed like a natural fit for me to interpret these wonderful songs and really get a chance to explore the Disney catalogue and pick out a lot of the nostalgic stuff and a lot of the more current things and really make the best of both.
MI: what was the process like for selecting the tracks, and for the songs that you didnít write yourself, what was the process for arranging and interpreting them?
JB: I probably started with 100 different songs.
MI: so there were quite a fewÖ
JB: yeah, well there are so many great songs! I started with that list, and I really ran the gamut. I sat down and played the stuff that I knew in my head by heart. I didnít read it out of a book or anything; I just tried to find the things that would come most naturally to my sensibility. The really melodic stuff like Beauty and the Beast or When You Wish Upon a Star kind of fits into my style and kind of rolls off my hands. So the stuff that I was really connected to, showed a variety, and paid homage to the early things like Snow White and Cinderella, and the more current stuff like Mulan and Beauty and the Beast.
MI: How long does it take you arrange and reinterpret a song before you get it into a place where you want it and itís ready to be performed and recorded?
JB: I actually donít work that hard at honing in on what it should be. I really believe that the first interpretation is the most honest and the most real, so the solo piano stuff that is on the album is really more emotionally consuming rather than time consuming. Itís more like you have to be in the right space to play it. Itís not like I feel like I missed a note, I donít write it out. I never want it to feel clinical; I always want it to feel very fresh and in the moment. I never want it to feel overworked.
MI: Itís obvious listening to the album how much emotion youíve put into it. I think thatís particularly evident on the Mary Poppins medley which is really fantastic and moving.
JB: Thank you so much.
MI: Well it shows through in lots of tracks. In the songs where you have an artist performing with you, they bring so much to the album as well. You have a great track called ďBeautifulĒ which you co-wrote and performed with Wayne Bradyówhat was that like to create?
JB: Wonderful. One of the things I think at this point is almost even a responsibility to do is to make an album that is eclectic in a lot of different tastes of music. Music gets a bad rap so to speak on categorizing itself. I love that you can have a country artist like Josh Gracin on the same album as an R&B act like Wayne Brady. For a lot of people who donít know that Wayne can sing that beautifully itís a great and welcome surprise rather than being just an obvious choice. Even though Iím a huge fan of people like Celine Dion or something like that, I think thatís what people would expect me to do.
MI: Thatís one of the joys of the album is that all of the artists are unexpected choices, and they really fit wonderfully for the tracks they perform with you.
JB: I hope so. You really have to go for your gut feeling and you canít analyze too much. Thereís no real right answer to it, you have to just do what comes naturally. If it comes naturally to me, hopefully when people hear it they connect to it in the way that I feel about it rather than trying to perform it or over-record it or over-sing it or something like that.
MI: how do you feel about the process of making an album versus doing a live performance like your upcoming PBS special?
JB: I love performing. I would do thatÖ if I didnít have to record I wouldnít. I donít like the process, I would much rather perform live. Itís sort of like being a good cook. Itís hard to know when itís done, if it needs another pinch of salt. You always know that itís going onto this piece of digital information and that it will always be that. Itís kind of a daunting thing. It outlasts peopleís lives and is something that is always there as that performance. In a live performance itís of the moment and itís unique to that particular experience in that city and with those people and it never can be duplicated. So itís sort of laborious in that I donít like to pick at it that much. I like it to be fresh. With the vocal tracks, thereís a lot of production involved, so I really rely on a great partner like David Grow who is a wonderful producer to guide me. I think itís important to always keep learning as much as you possibly can as youíre doing it. You canít just rely on old tricks or say that nobody will know the difference. Itís always important to keep challenging. There were certain things like Bare Necessities which is an exclusive bonus track, or Elephant Fly that doesnít really fall through my hands that naturally and itís something I had to challenge myself with, which is good.
MI: Youíre obviously playing the work of composers that have stood the test of time to say the least. What Disney artists or composers have inspired you or do you admire?
JB: The Sherman Brothersóyou canít really talk about Disney music with the Sherman Brothers. The thing I really love about them is that their writing is purposely theatrical in nature. Itís the same with Alan Menkenóit moves the story along. It wasnít written to be isolated, but whatís cool about it is that once it is isolated, it stands on its own. Thatís a very challenging thing when youíre writing theatrically. In a sense, most of the Disney composers are writing as part of a preexisting story. Theyíre not creating a character, theyíre taking whatís there and finding a way to communicate and interpret the thoughts of that character, moving it along.
MI: And because it is so theatrical and wide-reaching, Disney albums have a way of exposing people to music and artists they might not have considered before. Do you hope that this album will introduce fans of Disney Music to your music and your other works?
JB: I really hope so. This is the first time other than Christmas albums that Iíve ever interpreted popular music. You have people who are already fans of the music who want to hear this particular interpretation. One of the things that is unique about this particular album in that sense is that you donít hear a lot of instrumental versions of these songs. You hardly ever hear Beauty and the Beast done as an instrumental, itís always sung. So that was a great opportunity. I think that a lot of timesÖ Zip-a-dee-doo-dahóthereís only so many times you can hear a version of that song before you think youíve heard all the versions there are. But there arenít many that are instrumental.
MI: For people who hear and love these arrangements, is there any chance weíll see them made available in printówill the sheet music be made available?
JB: Absolutely! I just came from that meeting right now as a matter of fact. There will be both an Easy Piano version and a literal version of what I play on the album. Those will be out the first couple weeks of October. As soon as those are able to be preordered, all the information will be available on my website. Itís very cool and I hope that a lot of piano players find it.
MI: Especially since the sheet music that generally gets released in the Disney genre is often a very simple arrangement that doesnít always represent the songs at their best.
JB: Right, Right! Thatís what Iíve tried to do with this as well as my Christmas records, to take a more contemporary pop approach to it and a piano style approach instead of just reading whatís there.
MI: People will get a chance to hear you play these songs liveóyouíre doing some appearances next week, and then youíre starting a tour, but everyone can catch your PBS special that was done live at Walt Disney Worldís Magic Kingdom. Can you tell us about that?
JB: It was wonderful. Doing it at the Magic Kingdom, at night, with the stars and the beautiful breeze and having an audience there with Cinderellaís Castle as the backdrop, it doesnít get much better than that.
MI: The clips weíve seen so far look amazing and weíre really looking forward to it. If this album is successful do you think you could ever see yourself doing a follow up album, a Disney Songbook Volume 2, if you will?
JB: Oh I would love to! Nobodyís asked me to yet thoughÖ
MI: Weíll have to put a few requests in then, see what we can do.
JB: I loved doing this album, itís been the most wonderful experience Iíve had in a long time in my career. The new partnership with Disney has been wonderful, and the people have been great. Itís been a pleasant experience all the way around. Thereís a massive tour that weíre starting that will go through 60 cities. Iíll get to play a lot of this stuff live all over the country and my website has all the tour dates, in addition to all the street-week stuff happening next week, and the tour behind that.
Walt Disney Records - Jim Brickman Site including video of the music video "Beautiful" with Wayne Brady.
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10-04-2005 08:07 PM #1
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Interview With Jim Brickman
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