Yanni is a self-taught pianist who began his musical career by giving recitals for family members. Early in his life, he was also a competitive swimmer in Greece and set a national record in the 50-meter freestyle competition. He later attended the University of Minnesota and earned a B.A. in psychology. After graduation, Yanni chose to try a career in music, although he could not read music and had no formal training. Using his own form of musical shorthand, he began writing original works that defy categorization.
While a student at the University of Minnesota, Yanni joined an up-and-coming local group called Chameleon, which was headed by drummer Charlie Adams. Chameleon earned some modest commercial success touring throughout the Midwest, particularly in the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and South Dakota. Eventually, Yanni grew tired of the rock and roll lifestyle and focused solely on his instrumental career as a soloist. He moved to Los Angeles and eventually formed a small band including Charlie Adams and John Tesh.
Dare to Dream was released in 1992. It was Yanni’s first Grammy-nominated album and featured Aria, a song popularized by an award-winning British Airways commercial. A second Grammy-nominated album, In My Time, was released in 1993.
Yanni's breakthrough commercial success came with the release of his album and video, Yanni Live at the Acropolis, which was filmed on September 25, 1993 at the 2,000-year-old Herod Atticus Theater in Athens, Greece, and released in 1994. This was Yanni's first live album and utilized a full orchestra in addition to his highly-skilled core band. Under the supervision of conductor Shardad Rohani, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performed one of its most memorable and, as Shardad Rohani expressed at the end of concert, magical performances ever. Subsequently, the concert was broadcast in the US on PBS and quickly became one of their most popular programs ever. It has almost continuously remained on the charts since its release and is the second best-selling music video of all time, selling more than 7 million copies worldwide.
In March of 1997, Yanni became the first major Western artist permitted to perform and record at the Taj Mahal in India. Later that year he performed at the Forbidden City in China. From these two events he created his next live album and video, Tribute which was released in 1997.
In 2000, after a two-year sabbatical, Yanni released his first studio album in seven years: If I Could Tell You.
Yanni also toured in 2003/2004 with the debut of the Ethnicity album extending his "One World, One People" philosophy. He kicked off his tour at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, and his next live album and video, Yanni Live, The Concert Event was released in 2006.
- Optimystique, (Original release, 1980, Re-release, 1984)
- Keys to Imagination, (1986)
- Out of Silence, (1987)
- Chameleon Days, (1988)
- Niki Nana, (1989)
- Reflections of Passion, (1990)
- In Celebration of Life, (November 12, 1991)
- Dare to Dream, (March 10, 1992)
- In My Time, (April 6, 1993)
- Yanni Live at the Acropolis, (March 1, 1994)
- Tribute, (November 4, 1997)
- If I Could Tell You, (October 3, 2000)
- Ethnicity, (February 11, 2003)
- Yanni Live, The Concert Event, (August 15, 2006)
- Yanni Live at the Acropolis, (1994)
- Yanni Live at Royal Albert Hall, (1995)
- Yanni One on One, (1996)
- Tribute, (1997)
- Yanni Live, The Concert Event, (2006)
Yanni's autobiography, Yanni In Words, co-authored by David Rensin, was released in 2003. It is a memoir which includes information about his early childhood in Greece, his college years in Minnesota, his success as an international music artist with his exploration into the creative process by which he composes, and his intense nine-year relationship with Linda Evans.
Some other uses of Yanni's works
- Two of Yanni's pieces (both unreleased to the general public) are used for sports telecasts: CBS Sports uses "Fanfare" for its coverage of non-major PGA TOUR events and the LPGA Championship. NBC Sports uses "In Celebration of Man" for its coverage of all championships sanctioned by the United States Golf Association.
- "Once Upon A Time", has been used by Hong Kong's TVB for its world weather forecast since the early 1990s during the international weather report. "Santorini" is also used for a daily report program in the same channels.
- "Aria" has been used in British Airways commercials.
- In addition to sports telecasts, part of Yanni's "Acroyali/Standing in Motion" has been played during the pregame lightshows of the New Jersey Devils.
- "Standing in Motion" is played during one of the water ballets at Epcot's Fountain of Nations at Innoventions Plaza.
- "Swept Away" and "Reflections of Passion" have been used in the video documentary of Michael Jordan, "Come Fly With Me."
- Official biography
- Yanni in Words. Miramax Books. Co-author David Rensin.