THIS IS A LONG POST, even by MY
standards, so if you don't feel like reading it, don't. Just do me a favor and don't make a snide remark about how long-winded it is. I have a lot to say about this, m'kay?
I wonder if Mike was sitting there thinking "Is Bill going to chime in on this?" I must admit I'm a little hesitant to offer an opinion because this derisiveness toward Yanni, and many other new age artists, is one of my biggest gripes with the entire ambient fan base and many of its artists. I understand people just not liking Yanni's or anyone else's music, but the tone of the criticism is always so harsh.
Anyway, I don't know how many of you have actually listened to more than a sampling of his music. Saying he is without talent, though, is just ignorant. The man can
play keyboards and he has
composing talent. You can hate what he composes, which is fine, but he is obviously musically talented.
Yanni was signed by Private Music back in the 80s, the same label that Patrick O'Hearn started on. The label was founded by ex-Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann. Yanni's earliest releases, Keys to Imagination
and the excellent Out of Silence
are totally electronic keyboard driven, esp. the latter. It was only later that Yanni developed his more, shall we say, melodramatic and romantic side, concentrating on the piano as his lead instrument etc. He also started playing live and this led to his breakthrough recording (meaning breaking into popularity with the masses), Live at the Acropolis
. When that recording was selected by PBS (the American national public television network) as a pledge drive premium, and in conjunction PBS ran the video of the concert (many times) during pledge weeks, things really took off for him. His music had become more theatrical, more about the concert show at times and the visual presentation (he toured all the time, usually with a small orchestra of sorts). His music was also probably influenced by his now infamous love affair with celebrity Linda Evans. But who wouldn't be inspired by love, to be honest? Assuming you ever fell in love, of course, which I have more than once. I think people who criticize him for that aspect of his life are just nuts. Celebrities meet and they do fall in love...it happens (Brangelina, etc.). He didn't become famous because of that, it happened because he became famous. I find it hilarious that Yanni was much more "famous" at the time than Linda Evans. To opine that SHE made him is laughable. They merely fell in love. End of that story.
I was lucky (yes, lucky) enough to get comp tickets (this was in my magazine days of W and W) to see him play live on his Tribute
tour and I have to say I was impressed and, remarkably, so was Kathryn - not an easy task, I assure you. Sure, the production was kinda Vegas-ish, but the guy can really play and his arrangements were solid and tight, plus he surrounded himself with some seriously talented musicians. If his music was at times overblown and even grandiose, or too sugary and sweet, well, as someone who enjoys a LOT of new age music, you can see why I like it at times.
I recall at least one phone conversation I had with Spotted Peccary founder Howard Givens back in the late 90s during which he expressed frustration with folks who complained about Yanni. He was of the same opinion as me, that Yanni had undeniable talent and his music wasn't that bad or at least not as bad as people would have you believe.
If you listen to the music on Out of Silence
, which I own, and then listen to the first Greg Klamt release, Fulcrum
, or the recordings of Brain Laughter or John Flomer's Mysterious Motions of Memory
(all on Spotted Peccary), you can appreciate why Howard said what he did, since Yanni's music is similar in sound to those albums, none of which have ever been blasted the way that Yanni has been.
Strangely enough, EM pioneer Suzanne Ciani's music has followed an eerily similar path to Yanni's. She started out as totally electronic, yet having a strong melodic base, with sweeping, even romantic influences (on albums such as The Velocity of Love
) but evolved into more of a piano player who toured with a band and whose music changed into something more mainstream and "pop" oriented. Coincidentally, Ciani also started out on Private Music.
I'm not saying that Yanni didn't develop over time into a somewhat schmaltzy pop/adult contemporary music star. He kinda did, although again, he's no worse than many others who seldom are criticized to the same degree he is. FWIW, I find that in new age music, Enya is more insufferable because, unlike Yanni, she never has really changed her tune. Yanni has experimented with world music influences, for example.
And if Yanni takes himself a little too seriously....well, come on...like you can't think of some ambient and EM artists who don't do that too? Vangelis? Klaus Schulze? and then there are some ambient artists who I won't mention who can come across as being SO pretentious!
In those early years, Yanni was an electronic music artist, esp. on Out of Silence
, which if you have a taste for dramatic quasi-Berlin esque tuneage, you just might surprise yourself and enjoy it.
Finally, as for how he was on every album cover...trust me, a LOT of artists put their pictures on their CD covers. Ambient music is the ONLY genre in which artists don't make this a normal practice, for the most part. New age music is the opposite...look at folks like David Arkenstone, Suzanne Ciani, Robin Spielberg, Chris Spheeris, George Skaroulis, etc. Plus, let's be honest, the man (Yanni) was
good looking, or at least if you were a 30-40 year old female, he was. (I have no problems saying that I considered him attractive). But to say that's WHY he sold all those albums is just flat out ignorant.
Hate his music all you want. Heck, I hate some ambient artists' music. And mock him if you must, but don't download one or two tracks from his rather deep discography and think you "know" what his music is about. Finally, I'd say that if you think Kitaro is talented but you don't think Yanni is, you're being hypocritical. Why John Tesh is compared to Yanni, I don't know. Kitaro is much more like Yanni than Tesh EVER was. It's one reason I don't care much for Kitaro these days, as I feel about recent Yanni music - too over the top and bombastic. Both men are talented but both should, IMO, go back to their roots.
End of novella-length rant.