This morning I received an email announcing the broadcast of this documentary on Byron Janis, one of the greatest American pianists of the 20th century, and it brought me back to my student days. One of my teachers was absolutely crazy about his playing and introduced me to his recordings, most notably of the 2nd and 3rd Rachmaninoff concertos. This would have been when I was about 15 or 16, and since then I've collected every recording I could on CD of his colorful playing.
He comes from a generation of many wonderful American pianists: William Kapell, Gary Graffman (another favorite of mine), Leon Fleisher and Van Cliburn. Interestingly, every single one of their careers were impeded by some sort of tragedy: Kapell was killed in a plane crash, both Graffman and Fleisher lost the use of their right hands, Cliburn by some accounts suffered a mental breakdown after the deaths of both his father and manager, and Janis, who suffered through years of painful and debilitating arthritis.
They all have wonderful aspects to their playing, but Janis', for me, was always the most interesting and colorful. This little piece, called The Harmonica Player by David Guion, is a great example of the charm that was, and still is, so interesting to me about his playing.