Yiannis Chryssomallis (Greek: Γιάννης Χρυσομάλλης, Giánnis Chrysomállis; born November 14, 1954), known professionally as Yanni, is a Greek composer, keyboardist, pianist, and music producer who has spent his adult life in the United States.
Yanni continues to use the musical shorthand that he developed as a child, blending jazz, classical, soft rock, and world music to create predominantly instrumental works. Although this genre of music was not well suited for commercial pop radio and music television, Yanni received international recognition by producing concerts at historic monuments and by producing videos that were broadcast on public television. His breakthrough concert, Live at the Acropolis, yielded the second best-selling music concert video of all time. Additional historic sites for Yanni's concerts have included India's Taj Mahal, China's Forbidden City, the United Arab Emirates' Burj Khalifa, Russia's Kremlin, Puerto Rico's El Morro castle, Lebanon's ancient city of Byblos, Tunisia's Roman Theatre of Carthage, India's Laxmi Vilas Palace, and the Egyptian pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza.
At least sixteen of Yanni's albums have peaked at No. 1 in Billboard's "Top New Age Album" category, and two albums (Dare to Dream and In My Time) received Grammy Award nominations. Yanni has performed in more than 30 countries on five continents, and through late 2015 Yanni had performed live in concert before more than 5 million people and had accumulated more than 40 platinum and gold albums globally, with sales totaling over 25 million copies. A longtime fundraiser for public television, Yanni's compositions have been used on commercial television programs, especially for sporting events. He has written film scores and the music for an award-winning British Airways television commercial.
Yanni popularized the combination of electronic music synthesizers with a full scale symphony orchestra. He has employed musicians of various nationalities and has incorporated a variety of exotic instruments to create music that has been called an eclectic fusion of ethnic sounds. Influenced by his encounters with cultures around the world, Yanni has been called a "true global artist" and his music is said to reflect his “one world, one people” philosophy.
Yanni was born November 14, 1954 in Kalamata, Greece, the son of a banker and homemaker. He displayed musical talent at a young age, playing piano at the age of 6. His parents encouraged him to learn at his own pace and in his own way, without formal music training. The self-taught musician continues to use the "musical shorthand" that he developed as a child, rather than employing traditional musical notation.
Yanni set a Greek national record in the 50-meter freestyle swimming competition at age 14.
In November 1972, Yanni moved from Greece to the United States to attend the University of Minnesota beginning in January 1973, majoring in psychology. For a time he earned money by washing dishes at the student union. Yanni later explained that learning English forced him to read each paragraph several times in what he called a slow and frustrating process, but which helped him memorize the material and do well on tests. He received a B.A. degree in psychology in 1976.
During his time as a student, Yanni played in a local rock band and continued to study piano and other keyboard instruments. Upon graduating, when he dedicated himself exclusively to music for one full year and found he was the happiest he had ever been, he said he decided music would be his life's work.
In 1977 Yanni joined the Minneapolis-based rock group Chameleon, performing with its founder, drummer Charlie Adams with whom he would work into the 2010s. While in Minneapolis, Yanni also worked with choreographer Loyce Houlton to provide music for dance works produced by the Minnesota Dance Theatre. After touring with Chameleon from 1980 to 1984, Yanni moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of movie soundtrack work.
1980s to early 1990s: Emergence and recognition
In 1980 Yanni recorded his first album Optimystique, which Atlantic Records re-released in 1984 and Private Music re-released in 1989.
Yanni formed a band in 1987 and began to tour in 1988 with an ensemble including pianist/singer John Tesh and drummer Charlie Adams, promoting his early albums Keys to Imagination, Out of Silence, and Chameleon Days. A highlight of the tour was a performance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra that elicited a positive review, considered seminal to Yanni's public recognition, from a Dallas Times Herald critic. Yanni's emergence was said to be "timed perfectly" with the growing popularity of contemporary instrumental music. In this time frame, Yanni wrote motion picture soundtracks for Steal the Sky (1988), Heart of Midnight (1988), I Love You Perfect (1989), She'll Take Romance (1990), When You Remember Me (1990), Children of the Bride (1990), and Hua qi Shao Lin (1994).
Yanni gained visibility as the result of his November 1990 appearances in People magazine and on The Oprah Winfrey Show with actress Linda Evans, with whom he had been in a relationship since 1989. However, high-visibility appearances on public television, best-selling records and videos, and overflow concerts earned him recognition beyond his relationship with Evans.
Dare to Dream, released in 1992, was Yanni’s first Grammy-nominated album. It included "Aria," a song based on Léo Delibes' The Flower Duet (Lakmé, 1883) and popularized by an award-winning British Airways commercial. A second Grammy-nominated album, In My Time, followed in 1993.
1990s: Acropolis, world concerts, exhaustion and renewal
Yanni's breakthrough concert, Live at the Acropolis, was filmed in September 1993 at the 2,000-year-old Herodes Atticus Theater at the Acropolis of Athens, an album, VHS and Laserdisc being released in 1994. Acropolis was Yanni’s first live album, and used his core band with a full sixty piece orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra which was arranged and conducted by Iranian-American musician Shahrdad Rohani.
Without financial backing, Yanni risked $2 million of his personal fortune in the Acropolis production in a strategy to boost his artistic profile and open new markets for his music. The resulting video was broadcast on PBS and became one of its most popular programs ever, seen in 65 countries by half a billion people. It became the second best-selling music concert video of all time (after Michael Jackson's Thriller), selling more than 7 million copies worldwide.
In March 1997, Yanni became one of the few Western artists permitted to perform and record at the Taj Mahal in India. Yanni followed in May 1997 with performances at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, becoming the first Western artist in modern times permitted to perform at the historic site. These two events formed the live album and video, Tribute, released in November 1997.
After negotiating the demands of gaining permission to perform at the Taj Mahal and Forbidden City in 1997, breaking up with Linda Evans in early 1998, and completing a long world tour later in 1998, Yanni halted his music career. Yanni later related that he had become depressed, and returned to Greece to live with his parents for three months before traveling the world. He didn't do an interview for two years, later explaining, "I traveled. I wanted to see other people's ideas of life, get out of the American dream."
2000s to 2010: After a hiatus, new perspectives
In 2000, after the two-year hiatus, Yanni released If I Could Tell You, his first studio album in seven years. The album sold 55,000 copies in its first week and landed at No. 20 on the Billboard charts, his highest debut to date. Yanni described the album as more of an even-tempered "listening" album, less dramatic than the live concert albums Live at the Acropolis or Tribute. He explained that he himself created all of the album's sounds, including apparent vocalizations, through the manipulation of sound in his studio.
The music in Yanni's 2003 album Ethnicity represented many of the world's cultures, Yanni saying it uses ethnicity to reflect the color and beauty of a multicultural society. The album was released near the publication date of Yanni's autobiography, Yanni in Words. On October 23, 2003, Yanni performed a keyboard instrumental version of The Star-Spangled Banner before Game 5 of the 2003 World Series.
For the first time in his career, Yanni brought vocalists to the forefront in the Ric Wake collaboration Yanni Voices, the artist's first studio album in six years. PBS broadcast video of a November 2008 Voices Acapulco concert weeks before the album's March 24, 2009 release by Walt Disney Records' Disney Pearl Imprint, the album release preceding a tour produced by Pearl's Buena Vista Concerts division.
The album Mexicanisimo, released in November of Mexico's bicentennial year 2010, was a tribute to that country through Yanni's collaborative interpretation of its folk music. It involved collaboration with singer-songwriter Pepe Aguilar and singer-actress Lucero.
--> Click "play-button" below to launch video. (Yanni - Nostalgia - Live at Royal Albert Hall)
2010s: New sound designs, and a return to world tours
The Truth of Touch album was released in February 2011, Yanni's first studio album of new material since Ethnicity eight years earlier. Truth of Touch's varied content reflected contemporary instrumental, electronic, and cinematic influences, and crossed over into popular, new age, and world music. Though Yanni said that Truth of Touch was started by experimenting with new sound designs, Allmusic's James Christopher Monger said that the album shows Yanni returning to his instrumental roots, and should appeal to fans of his music from the mid-1990s. Three of fifteen tracks on the predominantly instrumental album included vocals from respective Yanni Voices vocalists.
In April 2012, Yanni released the Live at El Morro, Puerto Rico live album CD and DVD which were recorded and filmed at two outdoor concerts on December 16 and 17, 2011 on the grounds of the Castillo (Fort) San Felipe del Morro ("El Morro"), a UNESCO World Heritage Site in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The recorded concerts were broadcast on PBS beginning in March 2012, the production constituting Yanni's tenth collaboration with that organization.
Yanni performed in China in the February 9, 2013, CCTV Spring Festival Gala (annual audience 700 million) with Chinese zither artist Chang Jing in what was the first year that CCTV had invited foreign artists to perform.
Yanni's 2010s tours included new vocalists, distinct from the 2008–2009 Yanni Voices vocalists, though the setlists remained predominantly instrumental.
In March 2014, Yanni released his seventeenth studio album, Inspirato, a collaboration with operatic tenor Plácido Domingo and producer Ric Wake that, like Yanni Voices five years earlier, highlighted vocal performances. In Inspirato, distinguished operatic vocalists performed remakes of songs that Yanni had previously released over his career, the songs' titles and lyrics being predominantly in the Italian language.
In March 2015, Yanni released the title soundtrack for a Chinese documentary movie Hexi Corridor.
On October 30 and 31, 2015, Yanni performed two concerts on the grounds of the Egyptian pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza, his first performance in Egypt. The concerts included fireworks and a video broadcast from International Space Station commander Scott Kelly, and were recorded in 4K HD for subsequent broadcast on PBS. To convey an image of stable security after the Egyptian Crisis (2011–14), an Egyptian security force of 3,000 people secured the concert area.
In December 2015, Yanni produced a song, "Seven Billion Dreams," for a NASA video that marked the 15th anniversary of the International Space Station.
In January 2016, Yanni released his eighteenth studio album, Sensuous Chill, which, being built around synthesizers, programmed rhythms and electronic sounds, was said to "come full circle" to his early-1980s albums.
In the 2010s, Yanni’s international tours included performances in over thirty countries on five continents, including (alphabetically) Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, Oman, Panama, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States (including Puerto Rico).
Honors, awards and distinctions
In addition to performing at historic venues such as Royal Albert Hall (London; 1995 & 2014), Yanni has been permitted to perform at such world landmarks as the Acropolis of Athens (Greece; 1993), the Taj Mahal (Agra, India; 1997), the Forbidden City (Beijing, China; 1997), the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; 2011), the Kremlin (Moscow, Russia; 2011), the Castillo San Felipe del Morro ("El Morro" UNESCO World Heritage Site, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S. territory; 2011), the ancient city of Byblos (UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lebanon; 2013), the Roman Theatre of Carthage (Tunis, Tunisia; 2014), Laxmi Vilas Palace (Vadodara, India; 2015), and the Egyptian pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza (Egypt, 2015).
Rising in popularity with the new age music boom of the 1980s and 1990s, Yanni's music became more well known through adult alternative radio airplay, appearances on public television and in television commercials, as well as international music tours. Yanni's music has been used in television shows and televised sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Wide World of Sports, U.S. Open tennis championships, the U.S. Open (golf), the Tour de France, the World Figure Skating Championships and the Olympic Games. He also wrote music for ABC's World News Now.
Yanni's "Acroyali/Standing in Motion" was determined to have the "Mozart effect" by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (April 2001) because the composition is similar to Mozart's K 448 in tempo, structure, melodic and harmonic consonance and predictability, characteristics thought to decrease seizure activity and to enhance spatial-temporal performance."
During Yanni's October 2011 tour of China, Yanni became the first Western artist to be invited to adopt a giant panda (bear) cub at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, a "privilege... usually reserved for countries rather than personalities." "Officials from the research base invited the musician to adopt the animal, saying their decision was made from the inspiration and harmony that derives from his music." Yanni named the panda "Santorini," also the name of a Greek island, explaining that the Greek word irini means 'peace'."
In February 2013, Yanni and Celine Dion were the first non-Chinese artists invited to perform (separately) in China at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, a CCTV televised event with an annual audience of 700 million.
Billboard named Yanni their No. 6 "new age album artist of 2014". He was named to the same list in 2012 (ranked No. 5), 2011 (No. 1), 2010 (No. 4), 2009 (No. 3), 2007 (No. 4), and 2006 (No. 4).
Yanni's albums Dare to Dream (1992) and In My Time (1993) received Grammy Award nominations for Best New Age Album."
The PBS specials Live at the Acropolis and Tribute received Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Lighting Direction (Electronic) for a Drama Series, Variety Series, Miniseries, Movie or Special, in 1994 and 1998, respectively. Lee Rose and David "Gurn" Kaniski Lighting Designers.
At least sixteen Yanni albums peaked at No. 1 in Billboard's "Top New Age Album" category, more than anyone except Jim Brickman and Mannheim Steamroller.
In addition to earning a B.A. in psychology in 1976 from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Yanni received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the same institution on May 6, 2004.
Charitable and humanitarian activities
Yanni has had a collaborative relationship with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in its fundraising efforts since the early years of his career, reportedly raising more than $13 million for that organization. The Yanni Live at El Morro, Puerto Rico production (2012) was Yanni's tenth collaboration with PBS.
Yanni has assisted the conservation efforts of the World Wide Fund for Nature (the World Wildlife Fund, WWF), sponsoring a symbolic "Panda Adoption Kit" program in which he guaranteed $50,000 in donations. Yanni has also been a spokesman for NASA.
Yanni has performed concerts in troubled areas of the world, such as in Tunisia one week after the July 17, 2014 terrorist attack that killed 14, and in Egypt to convey an image of stable security after the Egyptian Crisis (2011–14) but between whose two Great Pyramids concerts occurred the October 31, 2015 terrorist downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 in the Sinai Peninsula.
Yanni's autobiography, Yanni in Words, co-authored by David Rensin, was published in February 2003, coinciding with the release of his Ethnicity album. The book became a New York Times best seller in the nonfiction category on March 2, 2003.
Discography (Original studio albums)
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Concert tours and live albums
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