Yanni (Contemporary Musicians)
Many people think they've never heard Yanni's music. Yet in the early 1990s, the keyboardist's work was heard by more people than perhaps that of any other composer; from commercials to soundtracks to sporting events, this Greek-born synthesizer wiz has been everywhere, establishing a fan base beyond his diehard New Age constituency.
When, in 1972, he left his home in Kalamata, Greece, at age 18, Yanni Chrysomallis had no plans to become a New Age music star. Although music had always been a passion, the study of psychology overrode it. Having read all the works of Sigmund Freud by the time he was 16, Yanni chose to go to the United States to study psychology at the University of Minnesota. Just two years away from a graduate degree, however, it occurred to him that "to have a Ph.D. at 24 and go into practice and have children and do the same thing over and over againt would drive me crazy," he confessed to a reporter from People. And with that, music took over. He did learn something useful from psychology classes, however: that was where he learned to speak English.
As a child, Yanni mastered the piano without lessons. He played for hours trying to re-create the music he'd heard on the radio or at the movies. Having perfect pitch certainly helped. In time he even developed his own system of musical notation, something he still uses. But as a youth, Yanni also found room for sports; he is a former member of the Greek National Swimming Team and broke the national freestyle record at age 14.
After leaving school, Yanni worked as a studio musician, toured for years with the cult rock band Chameleon, and often spent fifteen-hour days at the keyboard. The distinctive musical style that developed from his hard work and talent urged him toward a solo career. In 1986 Yanni's demo tape caught the ear of Private Music's Peter Bowman; he was convinced that the musician had something special. Later that year, Private Music released Yanni's first solo album, Optimystique. From there Yanni went on to very quietly develop a tremendous following.
Bowman made the top of the New Age charts his first objective for Yanni. Although he generally categorizes his music as "adult contemporary," Yanni does not object to the New Age designation, as do some contemporary instrumentalists who are lumped into that category. "When I was studying psychology," he told Keyboard 's Bob Doerschuk, "I learned that one of the worst things you can do to patients is to label them. If you call someone a neurotic, he'll go into his box and behave like a neurotic. But we have to use labels, because they help us to communicate quickly and understand each other. That's why the New Age label doesn't bother me.... I want my music to be heard. I want it to affect people. I want to connect with my audience at an intimate level.... I don't want anybody to think that you have to be a spacehead to enjoy my music. If I can affect you emotionally and get under your skin, then I'm succeeding."
Indeed, "having an effect" means everything to Yanni. "It is my intention to share my emotions with the listener, but I also want to allow the listener to take this music and make it their own," he stated in a 1993 Private Music press release. "The only way people can fully relate to it and enjoy it is when it means something in their life.... Instrumental music, used correctly, is very direct and extremely accurate in describing even the most subtle human emotions. My music does not describe the circumstances, but how the circumstances make you feel. Since the music projects no gender, and there are no lyrics to be interpreted, the listener can personalize it, and in a far more precise way."
In addition to his albums, Yanni has secured a niche in television and is developing a successful film scoring career. "In the old days," he told Doerschuk, "I was so interested in soundtracks that when I saw a movie I loved that had music I didn't love so much, I would take a copy of the film home, recut it, and write a new soundtrack for it. I've done 50 or 60 films that way. Now, finally, I get to do this for real." Yanni has created music for numerous television movies, though his most widely heard television work has probably been in the area of sports. His music has been used on The Wide World of Sports and on broadcasts of the Tour de France, the World Figure Skating Championships, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the World Series, and the Olympic Games. In 1992, Yanni even composed the theme for the ABC-TV nightly news program World News Now. Beyond the small screen, his compositions have appeared in the theatrical release Heart of Midnight, and he has collaborated with British entertainment impresario Malcolm McLaren on an award-winning commercial for British Airways, as well as scoring music for a U.S. government film biography of Pope John Paul II.
Having scaled the New Age charts, Private Music made plans to focus on the romance inherent in much of Yanni's work; his relationship with actress Linda Evans has been a boon to this marketing angle. Yanni, who met Evans in 1989, remarked to People, "This is not a situation where love is blind and we're walking around on cloud nine. It's that we are on cloud nine and we allow ourselves to be there and to love it." Evans fell in love with the artist's music before meeting the man. When she did meet him, she confessed in People, "I looked at him and I had no idea.... No idea! If I had known what he had looked like, I never would have had the nerve to call him."
New York Times music critic Stephen Holden described Yanni as "a shrewd showman" and elaborated, "Wearing a mustache and curly locks that fall below his shoulders, and clad in a puffy white shirt, white trousers, and shiny white shoes, he has refined a sensitive swashbuckler look that might be found on the cover of a romance novel. While playing the keyboard, he sometimes dances around, tossing his head back in rapt intensity." Evans, for one, loves it. "Maybe a regular person would just throw up, but I play his music all the time," she admitted in People. Evans, whose attitude undoubtedly reflects that of many of Yanni's women fans, hand-picked the songs that would appear on Yanni's Reflections of Passion disc.
Reflections was, in fact, a career retrospective of Yanni's most romantic compositions that also included three new selections. The release was part of Private Music's plan to reach a wider audiencene that does not usually buy instrumental musichile maintaining Yanni's already large and loyal New Age following. Evans had quite an assortment from which to choose for Reflections, it being the composer's sixth album.
Keyboard 's Doerschuk assessed Yanni's earlier albums Keys to Imagination and Out of Silence as featuring "concise but vividly orchestrated instrumentals. Though they were quickly slotted into New Age bins, their prominent melodies and often propulsive rhythms encouraged listeners to move rather than to meditate." Romance, though, figured strongly in a later album, In My Time. Brain Soergel of Pamona, California's Daily Bulletin said of that record, "There's too much to like ... [it is] a masterpiece of mood music, an unabashed Cupid's arrow straight into the heart." Writing shortly after the release of In My Time, United Press International's Vernon Scott noted that Yanni's "symphonic style, lilting melodies and such musical basics as harmony and counterpoint ... trigger responses in listeners of all ages everywhere."
Some dissenters could even see a bright side to Yanni's work. Jim Aikin, in his review of Reflections of Passion for Keyboard, owned up, "I have a tendency to ignore Yanni because he's so blatantly enthusiastic. And not subtle about it, either. But as this best-of collection demonstrates, when he goes for the emotional jugular he hits it every time.... If you've never experienced Yanni and find yourself unaccountably yearning to, Reflections of Passion would be a dandy place to start."
Not everyone, however, has waxed rhapsodic about the artist. New York Times contributor Holden described a 1993 Yanni performance thus: "A typical composition has the sound and form of an instrumental theme for a televised sports event, soap opera or newscast divested of melody and padded out to four or five minutes. Playing a battery of electronic instruments, he ... [inserts] motifs that evoke the hoariest Hollywood cliches of Middle Eastern, Far Eastern and other regional styles. The largely shapeless pieces huff and puff with a galloping energy that suggests an action-movie soundtrack. Although there are meditative moments, the mood is predominantly upbeat, with vigorous rock drums and percussion continually spurring things on and introducing crescendos that go nowhere."
Despite the occasional pan, Yanni has managed to score numerous gold and platinum records. Reflections of Passion, for instance, went platinum, topping Billboard 's Adult Alternative chart for a record-breaking 47 weeks, landing in the number one spot on the New Age album chart, and even crossing over to become one of the fastest-rising albums on Billboard's pop album chart. 1992's Dare to Dream went gold within two months of its release and was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Age Album. Yanni also received the 1993 World Music Award for Best-Selling Greek Recording Artist of the Year, capping off the summer of that year with his In My Time set certifying gold.
By 1998, Yanni was one of the most well-known New Age artists in the world, with more than 20 million records sold and 35 gold and platinum awards. Over half a billion people had seen his television specials, and his last two tours had broken attendance records all over the world. However, that year was so grueling for Yanni that at the end of it, he walked away from performing and touring, not sure if he would ever tour or record again. In addition to being burned out from working too hard, Yanni was also hurting over the breakup of his nine-year relationship with Evans. The result was a deep depression, which Yanni took five years to recover from.
In 2003, Yanni returned to the public eye with a biography, Yanni in Words, and a new studio CD, Ethnicity, as well as his first tour in five years. The book eventually rose to the number 14 slot on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2004, Yanni was honored with an honorary doctoral degree in human letters from the University of Minnesota. According to Amy Horst in the America's Intelligence Wire, Alumni Association Executive Director Margaret Carlson said, "When we started to think about somebody who really symbolized how the University of Minnesota shaped their life and transformed their life and they went on to change the world, Yanni seemed to be the person."
Even without his impressive record and ticket sales, Yanni would no doubt still reap as much enjoyment from life. He rigorously follows his father's advice to always "taste life like a fruit," and he thrives on his music. "My music heals me," Yanni stated in the Private Music promotional literature. "It is the most valuable and unexpected gift that I get in return for the effort of creating it. That it has a similar impact on the listener is very rewarding."
Optimystique, Private Music, 1986.
Keys to Imagination, Private Music, 1986.
Out of Silence, Private Music, 1987.
Chameleon Days, Private Music, 1988.
Niki Nana, Private Music, 1989.
Reflections of Passion, Private Music, 1990.
In Celebration of Life, Private Music, 1991.
Dare to Dream, Private Music, 1992.
In My Time, Private Music, 1993.
(Contributor) I Love You Perfect (soundtrack), Silva America/Koch, 1993.
Live at the Acropolis, Private Music, 1994.
Tribute, Virgin Records, 1999.
If I Could Tell You, Virgin Records, 2001.
Ethnicity, Virgin Records, 2003.
Yanni, Yanni in Words, Miramax, 2003.
Billboard, July 7, 1990; November 24, 1990; April 24, 1993.
Boston Globe, May 11, 1991.
Daily Bulletin (Pomona, CA), April 4, 1993.
Los Angeles Daily News, March 24, 1993.
Keyboard, May 1988; September, 1990.
Hollywood Reporter, June 16, 1992.
New York Times, December 12, 1990; June 11, 1993.
Oakland Press (Oakland Co., MI), March 21, 1993.
People, November 16, 1990.
Performance, February 28, 1992.
Washington Post, May 13, 1991.
United Press International (wire service report) May 7, 1993.
USA Today, March 31, 1993.
Yanni Official Web Site, http://www.yanni.com/ (August 3, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was provided by Private Music, 1993.