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Yanni arrives full of surprises

Yanni hits Spokane on Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Yanni hits Spokane on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Most people know the basic outlines of the Yanni story: He’s the man who plays piano on PBS with the Acropolis as the background.

He’s also the Greek-born (and American-educated) multi-platinum recording artist who will appear in concert Tuesday with his 17-piece orchestra at the INB Performing Arts Center.

Yet here are some things you may not know, gleaned mostly from a teleconference interview he gave last month with a group of reporters from around the country:

• Yanni never studied music theory. When he was a kid, he just “climbed up on the piano and taught myself.”

“I am so happy that I didn’t go to school and didn’t have anyone to tell me how to position my fingers correctly,” he said. “I’m into the creativity. … No teacher can guide you.”

• Not every Yanni song is instrumental. In 2006 he recorded “Yanni Voices,” an album full of collaborations with vocalists.

• He’s known for his Mediterranean influences, but his 2010 CD was titled “Yanni Mexicanisimo,” which features Yanni’s take on Mexican themes. He called it a project he did to “get out of my skin and “do something completely different out of left field.”

“I’ve been in Mexico so many times and I have so many fans there and they’ve been so kind to me …” Yanni told reporters. “I’m their adopted son.”

• His first L.A. band included another man who went on to become a PBS piano attraction, John Tesh.

• The hardest part of Yanni’s job? Inventing titles for his instrumental songs.

He said he tortures himself trying to come up with a title that points the listener in a certain direction, yet at the same time “leaves it open to interpretation.”

Thus, “Mist of a Kiss,” “Flash of Color” and “Echo of a Dream,” all titles on his latest album, “Truth of Touch.”

• He used to be a rocker – a kind of Yanni B. Goode.

“I used to play in rock ’n’ roll bands so I let a little bit of the rock player out in a couple of songs like ‘Vertigo’ (from ‘Truth of Touch’),” he said. “I wanted to kick it out a little bit.”

• Yanni gets a little vertigo from playing music.

“It’s like flight, you’re flying,” he said. “When you’re hitting something that’s turning you on, you get goose bumps. It’s a rush. It’s very exciting and that’s what I’m hoping to do to the audience.”

• He is aware that not everybody in the audience is totally thrilled to be there.

“Somebody brought them there, you know,” Yanni said. “But I know that they’re going to walk away satisfied. I know they’re going to at least look at this orchestra and listen to this sound and know they’ve never heard better sound in a concert. And I know they have to be impressed with the virtuosity of the musicianship.”

• And finally, in the “not-a-surprise” category is this: Lots and lots of people will be thrilled to be there.

“I think I have the best orchestra with me that I’ve ever had and I think it is the best-sounding concert,” he said. “And it’s a combination of everything from the beginning of my career all the way to now.”

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