Composer-entertainer escapes from stress of career to recapture essence
By WAYNE BLEDSOE, email@example.com
March 19, 2004
For a decade, keyboardist/composer Yanni seemed to be trying to constantly top himself - a concert at Greece's Acropolis, India's Taj Mahal and China's Forbidden City.
"Friends started saying, 'Where are you going next, the moon?' recalls Yanni with a slight chuckle.
Yet things came to a sudden halt in 1998. The king of what was doggedly called "New Age" music disappeared from view.
Calling from his home in South Florida (he also has a home in his native Greece), he can't help but rub it in just a little that it's sunny and 75 while most of the East is dealing with cold temperatures and gray skies.
"But then, I'm always on tour in January, February and March, so I'm hardly
ever here to enjoy it," he concedes.
Born Yanni Chryssomallis, Yanni grew up in Kalamata, Greece, and became a national swimming champion in his teens. He moved to the United States to attend the University of Minnesota, where he earned a degree in psychology. All along the way, though, he composed and performed music. In the early
1990s, his instrumental albums began catching the ears of New Age fans.
Actress Linda Evans of "Dynasty" fame championed his music on national television, giving his career a boost, and the two began a love affair.
The romance and the musician fell apart near the end of the decade - both the result of Yanni's workaholic tendencies.
"I was pushing too hard, and at some point I hit a brick wall like everyone said I would," he says.
"In 1998 I had just done 120 shows. I'd been to China, performed at the Taj Mahal in India, done some huge risk-taking and was under a lot of stress. My career had been nonstop for 10 years. Like most of us, I thought I was invincible. I would live three days in the studio with no sleep, but I found my limit by exceeding it."
After completing his tour commitments, Yanni went to Greece and spent time with his parents. He went from having every moment of his time called for to seemingly limitless free time.
Initially, he says, he "climbed the walls," with nothing to do. He forced himself not to sit down at a keyboard to compose bits of music that would come to him.
"For a whole year I did not touch a piano," he says. "For a while I thought I might never play the piano again, but I wanted to know that I could live without music."
His sister had saved letters from fans who had been touched by Yanni's music.
"Someone says you helped them through the loss of a sister or a brother or through chemotherapy, it gives you a sense of responsibility," says Yanni.
"And when I was going through a very scary time, those letters really began turning me around."
He took long walks with his father in the mountains and had long talks. He also began working on his autobiography.
"It was the right time to have written a book," says Yanni, who spent two years on what became "Yanni In Words."
"It was time for retrospection and introspection. I thought I'd try it, and if I didn't like it, I didn't have to publish it."
Yanni says he wanted the book to be honest and let people know how "normal" he is - "in some instances how dumb I am," he says with a laugh.
He had fears that his playing ability would be gone when he resumed piano, and that when he returned to performing, his fans would have disappeared. He was wrong on both counts.
In 2003, he both released a new album, "Ethnicity," and began a tour that included many of the musicians who made up his orchestra in the 1990s, as well as some additions.
"There has to be something new and surprising, but it can't be like a cold shower either," says Yanni.
He says he is learning when to give himself breaks, rather than driving himself too hard again. But at the moment, he's just glad to see that audiences are as happy with the show now as they were five years ago.
"It's nice to see that no one gets up and leaves," he says.http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/music/article/0,1406,KNS_349_2739631,00.html