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Jim Brickman brings his holiday concert to the Van Wezel Nov. 29.

For Sarasota ninth-grader Jordan Evans, winning a piano festival sponsored by Pritchard Pianos last week, giving him the chance to perform onstage with songwriter-pianist Jim Brickman, has to have been a major thrill. It’s one Brickman himself can relate to, since the Grammy-nominated musician won a contest back in his own high school days that he says changed his life.

“It thrust me into the world of radio and professional musicians,” Brickman recalled in a phone interview a few days after he helped to select Evans (out of about 20 aspiring pianists) to join him for his Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall “Comfort & Joy” concert on Nov. 29.

Brickman says he didn’t come from a musical family, but when at age 4 his parents sent him to a group keyboards class, “I was just drawn to it, enamored with music. My parents saw that whenever we went anywhere where there was a piano I would just go right to it. And eventually we got one at home.”

His first paid gig was serving in high school as an accompanist for a children’s theater. “It was hard,” he admits, “creativity on demand. But it was enlightening, too. I also found a piano teacher who understood that I was really a songwriter and improv player, not someone just dedicated to classical music. That opened my mind to other avenues.”

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Jordan Evans, left, won the chance to play onstage with Brickman, right, during last week's piano festival.

 

Maybe that’s why he was impressed with Evans, who took the time to prepare a medley blending one of Brickman’s original songs, “The Promise,” with the holiday classic “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” What Evans makes of this opportunity, Brickman says, is up to him. “I know what it would have meant to me, growing up,” he says. Brickman has given other young singers and performers the chance to play with him before and explains, “Some see a value in the long term, some don’t. For some it’s just a nice thing that happened; others use it. Jordan is very, very talented, but whether he’s got a ‘thing’ or not, we don’t know yet. He also happens to be a very talented golfer. And at his age I wouldn’t have said, in a million years, that [the career he’s had] was what I wanted to do.”

Brickman adds that it was “so surreal,” hearing all of the contestants play his songs. “It’s sort of, ‘Wow, that’s cool.”

The Nov. 29 concert will feature a mix of traditional hymns and carols, presented in “more interpretative, unique arrangements” along with some of the composer’s holiday originals. He has quite a wealth to draw from spanning his 20-plus-year career. For tickets call (941) 953-3368 or go to vanwezel.org.

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