Pianist Jim Brickman writes the sort of pleasing, unobtrusive melodies you could put on when you're taking a bath, or having a romantic dinner, or unwinding after coming home from work.
As he says, written as background music.
But when he performs, people in the audience aren't doing anything else. They're just sitting there, watching Jim Brickman, Windham Hill recording artist.
In the foreground.
That's why onstage Mr. Brickman doesn't just sit down at the piano and play songs from his albums.
"The album's use is to be the backdrop of your life," said Mr. Brickman in a phone interview from his office in Studio City, Calif., where he also lives. "The performance is entertainment value. I tend to take that to the extreme."
At a sold-out performance tonight at the Imperial Theatre, Mr. Brickman will liven up the show by making it personal. He will tells stories about himself and play music that relates to moments in his life.
"People really get to know me," said Mr. Brickman, 35.
Mr. Brickman's place as a successful solo pop piano player is one he did not envision for himself while studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
At the time, he imagined he would be a studio musician or a record company executive.
From his dorm room he began writing commercial jingles. His side business wasn't especially popular at the academy.
"It was looked at like I was a capitalist and how dare you use this music to sell Kitty Litter," he said. "At the same point I would be of the belief, and still am, that music is music."
After three years as a student, he left for Chicago to pursue jingle-making full time, eventually working for such top clients as Pontiac, McDonald's and 7-Up.
From there, he went solo. He has two albums out on Windham Hill and spends about 250 days a year on the road.
Judging from the relentless gentility of the music he creates, one might assume that Mr. Brickman lives in something akin to personal nirvana.
He wouldn't go that far, but he is happy because he has been able to put out a personal creation and have people respond positively.
"I think there's a certain aspect of the music that is part of me inside," he said. "I think when I'm playing, I probably am in that state. It's a place where a lot of heart and soul goes, a lot of really intense feelings that get translated into music."
Mr. Brickman said those intense feelings will likely always yield melodies that are on the sunny side. He can't really imagine himself writing more aggressive or discordant music.
"It's not who I really am," he said. "Who I am is a really strong melody writer. I write songs that sound familiar even though you've never heard them before. It's my knack."