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JUST ASKING

Songwriter Jim Brickman doesn't mind if audiences recognize his earlier compositions more than his new ones. That's to be expected. After all, his early works were classics.

Who doesn't know the haunting melody of "G.E., We Bring Good Things to Life," or the slimmed-down hedonism of "Just for the Taste of It, Diet Coke"?

But for Brickman, the good times are now. He's one of the top-selling artists on the Adult Contemporary charts, hitting No. 1 in the past year with the single "Valentine" off his "Picture This" album. "Picture This" was his second gold album, a follow-up to "By Heart."

Brickman will perform at Artpark on Saturday at 8 p.m. That afternoon, he will be playing samples of his work and signing autographs at Media Play, 3050 Sheridan Drive, starting at 3 p.m.

He spoke with us from Los Angeles, where he was just moving into a new home.

When did you make the transition from commercial writing to recording and touring?

The live performing and the record stuff has been pretty recent, in the past three years. Before that, it was not something that I thought in a million years I would be doing.

Commercials helped me be aware of radio and how it worked. I threw my CDs in the back of the car and drove around the country visiting radio stations, just like Elvis and Loretta Lynn did in the old days.

Most instrumental artists don't have vocalists on their recordings. Why do you?

That's a wonderful opportunity to have new people hear my music. A song like "Valentine" (with country singer Martina McBride on vocals) gets played three times as much as an instrumental. I get to flex my songwriting muscle more, I work with singers I admire, and it brings a whole new audience to my music.

How old were you when you began playing the piano?

I was 4 years old. It was something that came completely naturally to me, but there's not a musical bone in anyone else in my entire family. They can't even sing "Happy Birthday" on key.

So did they encourage you to practice?

My piano teachers thought I had no talent because I was resistant to playing a lot of the things they wanted me to play. I was not extraordinarily talented as a kid. ... I liked it but I wasn't very good at it. My mother says the piano teacher would call and say, "Look, he's not very good at this," and she would say, "Hey, but he likes it so much, why should he quit?"

How does the audience react when you start playing your commercials?

(He laughs.) They totally go bonkers. It's unbelievable! It's like the consciousness of America. Instantly there's a relate-ability to who I am: "That's him? I know him! I know that!"

Is there any commercial music you wish you had saved for your own recordings?

Sometimes I'll be playing along something that's really romantic or emotional and people think it's a song, and it's the G.E. commercial. The ones I like are the ones that make you feel. That's what my music is all about. In the shows we enjoy ourselves, but there is a little bit of that hope, dreams, wishes concept all the way through.

Does that come from growing up in Cleveland?

I'm sure it does. There you have a real sense of home, of family, and even of a work ethic. There's no challenge to living in Los Angeles. You don't even need a coat.