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|May 28, 1997||
The world in your orchestra pitText and photographs by Suparn Verma
Karen, part of Yanni Chryssomallis' symphony orchestra, shot into fame after her solo performance at the Acropolis. "Earlier, I used to face a lot of opposition from purist players," she says. "But the Acropolis helped legitimise my form of music."
Karen, a sixth generation musician from the US, has decided to concentrate on her style. "It took me 10 years of hard work," she says, "to find out what I really wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do was jazz, church and gospel music -- and not the classical stuff I was doing then."
Working with Yanni has been a fair trade-off for Karen. "Initially, though, it was strange working with him. He could not understand why I played certain notes the way I did. There was a culture clash, too, but now, after six years of being together, he has a sense of what I'm trying to play. Besides, no one else offers outside talent such an opportunity. He writes the backdrop and we weave the cloth."
The other is his strongly-welded team. "Yanni's dedication and the level of perfection he expects from his musicians is so exaggerated that we rehearse continuously for seven-eight hours. He tapes every rehearsal and listens to the tapes till three in the morning. Yanni's extraordinarily perceptive mind has forged his music in a genre which does not exist."
Pedro's ambitions changed after he lost his daughter to brain tumour eight years ago. "Now, I want to be like Bach, who dedicated everything he created to God." To broaden the horizons of his art, he studied classical music in France, jazz in America and Indian classical with Hariprasad Chaurasia in India. "I can play Armenian music," he says modestly and is, at the moment, learning the Bangadeshi tipari.
Virtuoso performances overwhelm Danny who still has to recover from his encounter with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. "I met him two months ago; his performance left me shaking, I could not sleep that night." For all his enthusiasm, though, he misses his family a great deal. "I wish I could see the Taj with my wife. I really wish I could describe the feeling, but it's impossible. Seeing my son born is the only experience that beats it."
Danny teams up with Joel Taylor, who replaces Yanni's long-time drummer Charlie Adams. "Both Charlie and Joel are great drummers. Charlie was more aggressive, Joel is more from the heart."
"I have been doing a lot of work for commercials. I played the drums on the latest Coke ad, as well as the Surge ad which was premiered at the Superbowl. As far as films are concerned, I have played the drums in B-movies only," he grins.
What he treasures most, though, is his tour with Dr L Subramaniam. "Dr Subramaniam's keyboard player, a good friend of mine, wanted me to play along with him. I also played the drums in Salaam Bombay." Besides, he's done a lot of jazz with musicians like Allen Holsworth, Bobby Coldwel, Henderson and Jeff Lorber.
Joel signed up with Yanni in March, after Charlie left. "I have never been in a band before," he admits. "But this is a steady source of income and the money is decent. Besides, I play for the music. I try to be really accurate, Yanni likes that." During the Taj show, Joel presented two short solos in Within Attraction and Marching Season.
Alfreda Gerald, on the other hand, has a classical background and has been singing in the opera for the last four years. "Yanni wanted a lead vocalist and put the word out. The specifics were that the candidate should be a mixture of Aretha Franklin and Shaka Khan," she smiles. "The best thing about being with Yanni is I get to sing everything I know -- R&B, gospel, opera."
Alfreda modulates her voice to emulate the sounds of instruments, "I like to touch people with my voice, which I consider to be a gift from God. Before going on stage, I apply a lot of body oils to keep away the flies and drink hot tea."
Jeanette, who jokes her Christmas present last year was joining Yanni's troupe, started her career at the early age of four, as a singer on the Danny Kay television show. Having been brought up in a tour circuit family, she travelled the country with her family singing group for many years.
Finally, the wanderer settled down in Hollywood. "I have just released my album Catch A Dream. And I'll be recording new material based on my experience at the Taj as soon as I get back. In fact, I woke up this morning humming a new tune."
But the urge to branch out on his own was constant and, in 1978, he tied up with guitarist Ed Wing to form the East West Band which played a fusion of Asian and jazz music. From 1988, he worked with pop stars like Gladys Knight, Sheena Easton and Paula Abdul. Yet, it was only when he joined Yanni in 1994 that he experienced a sense of homecoming.
Ming, despite his waist-length tresses, has an impassive face. He prefers to let his work do the talking. The only time he opens up is when the topic veers towards Yanni. "I find Yanni's music very beautiful and inspiring. I am the glue here -- I hold everything together, the keyboard and the orchestra parts. I even support Yanni on the keyboards."
The dedgeridoo it is a four-foot-tall ancient instrument made from the eucalyptus tree. It is hollow because the termites eat the inside out. The instrument has no keynote; the player vibrates his lips softly to create ancient earthy sounds from the traditional aboriginal instrument. "The trick," according to David, "is blowing and breathing at the same time."
David, who also dabbles in dance and acting (he recently featured in the Island of Dr Moreau with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer) has released a 12 CD compilation called The Sounds of Australia. During performances, he wears his native attire which represents the sawfish and consists of a bark around his waist and small white circles painted on his body.
Armen is intimately involved in Yanni's creative process. "Yanni has surrounded himself with many talented people to make sure he has the right kind of musicians to create his music. Since he cannot read or write music, he writes his music in a shorthand which only he can understand. He plays his composition, records it and gives it to the music arranger who arranges it. That is when I meet the arranger and we start work. Yanni's music is very different, it has a bit of everything -- classical, jazz, rock and roll. That is why it appeals to everyone."
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