David Lanz has helped transform New Age music by drawing the genre away from meditation music and toward music for the mainstream listener. His album Cristofori’s Dream, released in 1988, stayed at the top of the charts for 27 weeks, and many consider his Christmas Eve album a holiday favorite.
Lanz was born in 1950 and was raised in Seattle, Washington. His father, Howard Lanz, owned a beauty salon and was also a self-taught chemist who experimented with his own line of shampoos, conditioners, and beauty products. His mother Helen, who worked as a secretary, played the piano and was active in Seattle choral groups. She introduced him to all kinds of music, especially that of popular American artists like Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra.
Lanz was playing the piano, composing, and playing his own pieces by age ten. “The first song I wrote, I was 10 years old. I never quit writing, through my teens and into my 20s and 30s. I wrote songs in whatever style I was playing—R&B, rock, pretentious rock, jazz,” said Lanz in the San Antonio Express-News. When the Beatles took America by storm in the early 1960s, Lanz fell in love with their style. Before long, he was playing bass clarinet in a high school rock band. After a few
Born David Howard Lanz in 1950 in Seattle, WA; son of Howard Ernest (a beauty salon owner) and Helen Louise (Sandell) Lanz (a secretary); married Linda Kathleen Graham, 1970; divorced, 1983; married Alicia Ann Bohner, 1984; children: one son, two stepdaughters.
Began playing his own compositions on the piano by the age of ten; performed in night clubs and piano bars; cowrote “Seasons in the Sun,” which hit number one on the pop charts, 1974; released first solo album, Heart-sounds, 1983; Cristofori’s Dream held number-one position on the Billboard adult/alternative New Age album chart for 27 weeks, 1988; on Narada, released Skyline Firedance, 1990; Return to the Heart, 1991; Bridge of Dreams, 1993; Christmas Eue, 1994; Convergence, 1996; Sacred Road, 1996; Songs from an English Garden, 1998; on Decca, released East of the Moon, 2000; Finding Paradise, 2002; contributed to the Grammy Award-winning album Acoustic Garden by Tingstad & Rumbel, 2002.
months, he returned to the piano and formed his own band. His mother named the group the Town Cryers, and they played at community dances.
Following high school, Lanz played piano in nightclubs and lounges, performing standard jazz, blues, and pop, while occasionally performing his own compositions. When regulars began requesting the music he had written, he knew he was on the right track. He also played for a while with a progressive Vancouver, British Columbia, band called Brahman. “I had a couple of years of playing in bands. I said I’d never play in a piano bar,” Lanz told the San Antonio Express-News. “Of course, I found a place that worked—a piano bar—and stayed there for five years. I played a lot of original material, vocal and instrumental, and did songs by Fats Domino, Mose Allison, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan. I love playing solo. I’m a natural-born ham.”
In the early 1970s Lanz was sharing a studio with Terry Jacks in Vancouver. At one point, Jacks came in to share a song with him. Lanz offered to put a piano part to the song. That tune, “Seasons in the Sun,” made it to the number-one spot on the pop charts for three weeks in 1974. Lanz made more money for that song that he had before, even though he thought the song was “complete bubble gum,” according to Jim Kerschner of Spokane, Washington’s Spokesman-Review.
Lanz continued playing piano in clubs until a side job changed the direction of his career. A friend who was leading a seminar on Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine wanted some music to accompany the session. Lanz made a tape, and discovered that people who attended requested copies of it. He took the music from the seminar and turned it into his first solo album, Heartsounds, produced by Narada Records. Suddenly, Lanz was on a path leading to becoming a New Age music star.
Initially uncomfortable with being labeled a New Age musician because he felt it implied a certain attitude and religious philosophy, Lanz preferred to call his music “contemporary instrumental.” Worse, he equated New Age with elevator music—and was not keen on the association. Neither was his mother, who asked, “You’re not a New Age musician, are you, David?” according to Don Heckman in the Chicago Tribune. “To begin with,” Lanz told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “those classifications are for people who own record stores and put together the charts. Our music is instrumental, but doesn’t fit into new age—which, to me, is meditation music—so I guess I’m comfortable with contemporary instrumental.”
In 1980 Lanz began to work and record with guitar player Paul Speers, whom he met through the owner of a studio where they were both recording. Lanz wrote the music and Speers played on most of the pieces, also helping to produce them. In 1988 Lanz released an album in tribute to Bartolomeo Cristofori, the eighteenth-century harpsichord maker and inventor of the modern piano. “I’d been playing for 30 years, and I’d never heard of this man,” he told the Houston Chronicle, “so out of gratitude, I decided I’ve got to do something.” He elaborated further in the San Antonio Express-News, “For starters, the dynamic range of the piano is as wide as any instrument gets. In terms of the number of octaves, the piano covers a great range. With a piano, you can pretty much pull off any song ever written. The piano offers the ultimate support because, as an instrument, it’s all there.”
Lanz’s tribute captured the attention of listeners, pushing Cristofori’s Dream to number one on the Billboard adult/alternative New Age album chart, where it stayed for 27 weeks, making him the first New Age artist to hit number one on Billboard’s list. There was no changing course now: Lanz was officially a New Age musician. In 1993 the album was certified gold.
In concert, Lanz likes to share stories about each piece. “The chance to play the music is great,” he remarked on his website, “[b]ut concerts are also opportunities to expose the audience to more of myself than just the songs.” He also likes to joke about the New Age stereotype, calling himself a SNAG, his acronym for Sensitive New Age Guy. “I try not to play what I’ve called ‘music to drool by,’” Lanz said wryly in the Denver Post. “[Victor Borge] was one of my mentors, and comedy and storytelling have always been part of my show,” he told Toledo, Ohio’s Blade. “[Borge] makes fun of the whole classical thing as kind of hoity-toity and pretentious,” Lanz continued to Kershner in the Spokesman-Review. “And some of the people think some of the New Age musicians are self-absorbed. But I have a hard time taking life seriously, although, on the other hand, I’m really serious about my music. But there’s a lot of humor in life. Why not have a good time on stage?”
Lanz doesn’t mind seeing his audience cry, though. His 1991 release Return to the Heart was written when his wife Alicia was unexpectedly reunited with the daughter she had given up for adoption 21 years earlier. “Alicia was thrilled,” Lanz says on his website. “She had been trying to find Pamela for years. Pamela flew to Seattle to meet Alicia, and they had a reunion which was very touching. While they were getting to know each other, I started to write music based on what was going on. At my concerts, during this song, I can see people taking tissues out. It’s one of the more emotional moments.” A portion of the revenues from Return to the Heart are donated to the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., as are royalties from Lanz’s song “Dream of the Forgotten Children.”
Lanz sees the laughter and tears from his concerts as emotionally, and perhaps even physically healing. He often gets letters from hospital workers who say his music helps their patients. He knows of some surgeons who request that his music be played in the recovery room. This view of music as a tool for healing came strongly into play following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Earlier in the year, Lanz had received a Grammy Award nomination for his album East of the Moon, half of which featured an orchestral vision of a world at peace. After the attacks, he was initially unsure of what to do. “For a few minutes, I considered canceling my tour, more from a fear reaction, and then I sobered up,” he recalled during an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “This is what I do…. Music can help people. Cancer patients in hospitals watch the Three Stooges because laughter helps them heal. I think music is more important than ever. I play a little music, and I invite people to let their thoughts and prayers go out to the people who need it.”
Lanz found a new group of fans in a series of piano books published by Hal Leonard. “At first, they said, well, piano books don’t really sell, but it might be nice to have some New Age stuff,” Lanz told Kerschner. “Well they blew out about 5,000 of those songbooks in about half or a third of the time it usually takes. Now I have all of these piano teachers with their students coming to my concerts.” He quipped further, “Kids also like it because I’m alive.”
Following the success of his piano books, Lanz made a video entitled Through the Hands of David Lanz. This unusual how-to tape gives an overhead view of the keyboard. “Lanz concentrates on getting viewers familiar with tempo, style, and mood instead of using visual gimmicks to teach beginners to play Mozart overnight,” commented Billboard. “He carefully dissects four of his own compositions, and then plays each in its entirety.”
In 2002 Lanz contributed to an album with Eric Ting-stad and Nancy Rumble entitled Acoustic Garden, which won a 2003 Grammy Award in the New Age category. This recognition testifies to Lanz’s success in helping New Age music to evolve from meditation and elevators into popular instrumental music.
Heartsounds, Narada, 1983.
Natural States, Narada, 1985.
Nightfall, Narada, 1985.
Winter Slostice, Narada, 1985.
Night fall, Narada, 1985.
Woodlands, Narada, 1985.
Cristofori’ Dream, Narada, 1986.
Skyline Firedance, Narada, 1990.
Return to the Heart, Narada, 1991.
Convergence, Narada, 1990.
Sacred Road, Narada, 1991.
Bridge of Dreams, Narada, 1993.
Christmas Eve, Narada, 1994.
Songs from an English Garden, Narada, 1998.
An Evening with David Lanz (live), Narada, 1999.
East of the Moon, Decca, 2000.
Finding Paradise, Decca, 2002.
Romantic: The Ultimate Narada David Lanz Collection, Narada, 2002.
David Lanz Solos for New Age Piano, Hal Leonard, 1991.
David Lanz Collection: New Age Piano Solos, Hal Leonard, 1992.
David Lanz: Christmas Eve, Hal Leonard, 1994.
Sacred Road, Hal Leonard, 1996.
David Lanz: Songs from an English Garden, Hal Leonard, 1999.
David Lanz: East of the Moon, Hal Leonard, 2000.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 4, 2001, p. F8.
Billboard, January 17, 1998, p. 67.
Blade (Toledo, OH), December 7, 2001, D1.
Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1992, P3; March 20, 1994, p. 20.
Denver Post, October 8, 1993, p. 23.
Houston Chronicle, April 24, 1989, p. 3.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, October 2000.
St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota, MN), November 4, 1993, p. 12B.
San Antonio Express-News, December 15, 1995.
Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), December 15, 1995; December 17, 1995.
“David Lanz,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (January 15, 2003).
David Lanz Official Website, http://www.davidlanz.com (January 15, 2003).