UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan- "Music is my life!" Every note, every melody, every song is transformative for Maestro Byron Janis. “At times it becomes like somebody else is playing the piano," he described. As an internationally renowned concert pianist, he’s traveled the world fine tuning his craft for more than eight decades. "You have to have passion and perseverance," he explained. "I will go into my 90th birthday next year, I don’t believe it!"
A storied career, soon to be made into a biopic produced by Martin Scorsese, that almost never happened following a childhood hand injury. “I was rushed to the hospital and they operated on the finger," he described. "They cut the tendon, they cut the nerve and until today, from 11 years my [left little] finger is totally numb." He and his wife, Maria, invited us into their home as they celebrate a new milestone: the release of his first album in 20 years. "It feels nice because I had a bunch of cassettes I had listened to and I decided some of them were good enough to release."
The album contains all never-before-released live recordings dedicated to his son. “Stephen passed away last February," he said. "[It was a] total shock to us.” One song is extra special as it was composed in honor of Maria’s father. You may have heard of him, the legendary Gary Cooper. "They have very much the same sense of humor and very much the same sensitivity," she smiled. These two have been married for 51 years and inspire each other every day. “My love is more for you than yesterday, but it’s less today than it will be tomorrow," Maria gushed.
A true partnership best illustrated by the album’s cover art, which she painted. “There’s a certain position Byron gets in that I know," Maria laughed. But one of their biggest sources of strength and solidarity came from a shared secret. “I was very worried, I did not want other people to know I had arthritis because they look for mistakes," Byron explained. "One of the things that’s happened is it’s narrowed my reach."
He eventually came clean and for years has been sharing his story to inspire others, through his ongoing involvement in the Arthritis Foundation. “The look on your face when you’re working and talking to these kids who feel they’ve given up and Byron sits down and plays something for them and their faces light up," maria described. While the maestro says it’s becoming harder to play every day, he still tries. Because for him, a life without music, is no life at all.
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi