A Man & His Mustache: Yanni’s “Nostalgia” was inspired by his beloved homeland of Greece

By on August 6, 2019

We’re taking another dip into “Take Off to New Age,” which is where we found the video for “Nostaglia,” the biggest hit for Greek-born new age composer Yanni (pronounced “Yawn-ey,” which is ironic because his instrumental recordings are often used to induce sleep).

This unique vintage episode first aired on the USA cable network on October 22, 1988, and you can now find it streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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“Yanni’s first record, Keys to Imagination, was voted ‘New Age Album of the Year’ by Japan’s Adlib magazine,” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott informs us at the beginning of the video for “Nostalgia.”

Not to get too nitpicky about it, Pat, but Yanni’s first release as a solo artist was his 1980 independently-released album Optimystique.

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Keys to Imagination, however — recorded at Yanni’s home studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota — was his first for the Private Music label.

This video was directed by Peter Baumann and Linda Evans (Yanni and “The Big Valley”/”Dynasty” actress were a longtime couple from 1989–1998).

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Yanni — who back then sorta looked like a hirsute Vegas stage magician, often dressing like one onstage in wizard-sleeved blouses — is best known for his epic original instrumental pieces, played on synthesizers and often accompanied by heavy string arrangements, linking the traditions of classical and modern music together.

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Yanni has said “Nostalgia” is one of the more challenging pieces he’s played in concert (because of the complexity), and he often dedicates it to the people of his homeland of Greece, where he hasn’t lived since 1972.

His September 1993 performance of “Nostalgia” at the two thousand year old Herodes Atticus Theater at the Acropolis of Athens — included on his 1994 breakthrough album Live at the Acropolis — is considered a new age classic.

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Yanni’s appearance on Oprah’s TV show helped promote sales of more than seven million copies of the live album, and the VHS and DVD video cassettes have been seen by more than a half-billion people at this point.

His 1995 concert tour hauled in more than $12 million, the sixth highest total of that year, besting Elton John, Tom Petty and even Lollapalooza ’95, among other top-earners.

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Read more about Yanni and his mustache below (some of it is actually “fake news” we made up).

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Yanni with his parents Sotiri and Felitsa Chryssomállis

Yanni was born Yiannis (“Giánnis”) Chryssomállis on November 14, 1954, to Sotiri and Felitsa Chryssomallis.

He was raised in the Acroyali neighborhood of Kalamata, the second most populous city of the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece.

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Yanni began to play the piano at age six, but he refused to take formal lessons, preferring to play the music he was hearing in his head.

He was also a champion swimmer, and in 1969, at age fourteen, he broke the Greek National swimming record for the men’s 50-meter freestyle event.

By November of 1972, at age eighteen, he was leaving Greece behind for America, to pursue a psychology degree at the University of Minnesota.

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Four years later, he’d graduated after becoming an expert in Sigmund Freud’s theories (just ask his mother), but decided to pursue music full-time instead.

Like a lot of long-haired musicians in the early ’70s, Yanni played in local rock ‘n’ roll bands in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. That’s where he once met Prince, who actually suggested that he grow a mustache.

It took Yanni just a few days to grow his beloved black whiskers, which he nicknamed “Stavrós” (Linda Evans reportedly called it her “Little Shiny Black Sword” because it stabbed her when they kissed).

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Yanni and the mustache — which despite regular shampooing reportedly smelled just like those stuffed grape leaves called dolmas — became inseparable and continued working together for the next forty-plus years.

One of the more successful Minneapolis bands Yanni played in was the progressive-rock ensemble Chameleon, who toured around the northern part of the U.S., and put out two albums with Yanni in their lineup before he left to pursue his increasing interest in new age … er… “contemporary instrumental” music, releasing that first solo album, Optimystique, in 1980.

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By the mid-’80s, Yanni and his famous mustache had relocated to Los Angeles, where he pursued working on film soundtracks.

It was one of Yanni’s demo tapes which ended up in the hands of Tangerine Dream‘s keyboardist Peter Baumann, who would end up putting out his album Keys to Imagination — recorded on a 32-track Mitsubishi studio deck — in August of 1986.

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Since then, Yanni has become a worldwide phenomenon, regularly selling out concert tours around the globe and his albums — he’s recorded fourteen studio albums, at least seven live albums and released tons of compilations so far — frequently top the Billboard New Age charts (and occasionally show up on the Hot 200 pop album charts too).

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As for The Mustache, a number of years ago — when he was doing a lot of ocean diving and swimming at the time, and having trouble with his mask underwater — Yanni finally decided it was time for the two of them to part ways.

Today, Stavrós and John Oates’ mustache — which Oates has nicknamed “Hector” — have recently partnered up and they plan on doing a short tour this fall. Check with your local hair stylist or barber for dates and venues.

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Night Flight’s “Take Off to New Age” — which also features music videos by Andreas Vollenweider & Friends, Patrick O’Hearn, David Orr, David Van Tiegham, Eddie Jobson, Kitaro, Philip Glass, Michael Manring, Mark Isham, Acoustic Alchemy and Ravi Shankar — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus..

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.