Interview by Paul Salfen
World renowned piano great Byron Janis, the subject of a biopic by Martin Scorsese, talks about his latest CD “Live On Tour,”, living with pscoriatic arthritis and continuous paranormal experiences that started in his teens, many dealing with Chopin. He’s played for 17 American Presidents, is married to Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria, and is best known for discovering Chopin’s unknown Waltzes.
Janis details the paranormal experience in his memoir Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal, which he co-authored with his wife, Maria Cooper Janis.
Byron Janis is internationally renowned as one of the world’s greatest pianists. He made his orchestral debut at age 15 with Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra and, the following year, was chosen by Vladimir Horowitz as his first student. At 18, he became the youngest artist ever signed to a contract by RCA Victor Records. Two years later, in 1948, he made his Carnegie Hall debut which was hailed as an unparalleled success. He has played with every major symphony orchestra in both the U.S and abroad.
Mr. Janis was the first American artist chosen to participate in the 1960 Cultural Exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union and was hailed on the front page of The New York Times as, “an ambassador in breaking down ‘cold war’ barriers.” His many recordings appear on the RCA and Mercury Phillips labels. His two latest recordings for EMI are “Byron Janis Plays Chopin” which received National Public Radio’s “Performance Today Critics Choice Award” and the Chopin/Liszt CD “Byron Janis True Romantic.” Sony Classical has recently released an 11-CD box set titled “Byron Janis The Complete RCA Collection.” A letter of honor from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was presented and in the letter he stated, “For a remarkable 69 years, your tremendous talent has thrilled audiences around the world, and your consistent presence on New York’s performing arts scene has made you a fixture of our City’s thriving cultural life.” Michael Bloomberg then declared that May 4th is “Byron Janis Day.”
He has made numerous television appearances on such programs as The Tonight Show, 20/20, CBS Sunday Morning and Good Morning America, amongst many others. In recent years, he has been concentrating on writing music for stage and screen as well as a cycle of art songs. He has composed the score for a major musical production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and has written the score for The True Gen, a feature documentary on the 20-year friendship between Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway.
In spite of the development of psoriatic arthritis that was first diagnosed in both hands over thirty years ago, Mr. Janis has continued to play and has become a spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation as its National Ambassador to the Arts.
Recently, he has become a Yamaha Artist and has been appointed as the first Presidential Advisor to the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute. He has recently launched the extraordinary new technology of Yamaha’s Disklavier CFX Piano.
In celebration of Byron’s 85th birthday, Sony Classical marked this milestone by bringing together Byron Janis’s complete RCA Victor recordings for the first time in one collection. The Byron Janis Collection brings together his entire discography on RCA, with no fewer than seven first on CD releases.
The list of honors he has received both nationally and internationally attest to the preeminence of his reputation and to the courage he has displayed in refusing to become overwhelmed by a disease that would have brought the career to most other artists to a standstill. A TV documentary on his life, The Byron Janis Story, is now being aired nationally on PBS and his memoirs, Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal, published by J. Wiley, was released in November 2010.
He was recently written into the Congressional Record of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, honoring him as musician, diplomat and inspiration.