Christopher Linman’s mother could never afford the piano lessons she had always wanted for herself, so when Christopher came along, she scraped together whatever money she could to make sure he had that privilege.
“We were pretty much broke, but she paid for those lessons. That was her determination,” he said.
Linman was a five-year-old living in London — his parents met in Germany and had since separated — so, of course, he did not know that he would go on to be one of the D.C. area’s most prominent musicians.
He took classical piano lessons three days a week and took his musical exams at the Royal College of Music — the institution that brought up such musical behemoths as Andrew Lloyd Webber, James Horner and Gwyneth Jones.
“Right across from the school was the London Royal Albert Hall, a big performing arts center. I would see it across the street and think, ‘One day, maybe I’ll get to do that,’” he recalled in an interview with the Times-Mirror.
He moved to Ashburn as a teenager and began to expand his musical tastes to include pop and jazz. He would often find his next obsession in the bargain CD bin, which exposed him to the work of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. (His appreciation of the crooners is further reflected in his smoky, relaxed speaking voice.)
It was once Linman started to write his own material — and was named the winner of the Broad Run High School talent show, where he played his original tune “Heaven in the Sky” at age 14 — that he began to see a potential music career in his future.
In the years that followed, he continued composing his own music and eventually landed a once-a-month job as the in-store pianist at Nordstrom at age 21 — the youngest pianist that location had ever employed — though it took a couple tries.
“The first time I auditioned, they said, ‘No, you’re not really ready. You should go learn more songs, get a bigger repertoire and come back in a year.’ Which I did,” he said.
It was that perseverance that gave Linman the platform he needed to get noticed by people in the music industry. He soon booked regular gigs at a number of popular spots in the D.C. area, including the Watergate and Capitol Hilton hotels.
“I just started playing more and more, and before I knew it I was playing every day, though I did have other jobs,” he said.
Those other jobs were mainly in the food industry: He delivered pizza, scooped ice-cream, waited tables and was a drive-thru attendant. He also was a Home Depot cashier, a package deliverer and a stereo system salesman. Though he eventually retired from all non-musical work, he appreciates the character his many part-time jobs helped him build.
“I actually am glad that I did those jobs, because it really makes you appreciate what you have and what it takes to make a living,” he said.
“Everybody thought I was crazy,” Linman said, speaking to his decision to go all in on music. “I mean, nobody thought this was a good idea – to become a full-time musician never sounds like a good idea. And there was a time when I had nothing — I was sleeping in my car for about six months — but I kept going.”
Linman decided that the most logical way to reach the “next level” was to learn to sing properly and to begin collaborating with other musicians. He took private voice lessons at Northern Virginia Community College and began networking with other professional musicians in the area.
His first time singing in front of an audience with a full band was in 2001 when he played a show at The Kennedy Center — a massive and terrifying breakthrough.
“It was the first time people had to pay to see me play. It was $30 a ticket. I thought no one was going to show up,” he said.
The place was sold out. Linman would fill every seat in The Kennedy Center several more times in the years to follow.
Along with an ongoing recording career — he is working on a forthcoming jazz album — Linman has worked as the music director for the Tysons Ritz-Carlton Hotel since 2010 and has held the same position at the St. Regis Hotel in D.C. since 2017. He performs at the St. Regis on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and at the Ritz on Fridays and Saturdays.
Linman hopes to broaden his career in several ways in the coming years — in particular, he hopes to begin composing for film. He goes to the movies by himself twice a week, and he has long been fascinated by the music behind his favorite films, especially the work of Hans Zimmer.
“Just to score any film would be a dream come true, because that’s what I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said.
Despite his remarkable level of success, Linman says a career in music has been extremely difficult to pursue, and thus makes sure to stay grateful for his many opportunities.
“I don’t take any of this for granted. I know it’s a difficult business to be in,” he said. “People don’t believe that I’m really this positive every day, but the truth is I really am, because I know what it’s like … to have absolutely nothing. I am really a grateful person.”