Tari’s Theme: May the Fourth Be with You 

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 7, 2024
May the Fourth be with Bryan Tari at the Granada

Bryan Tari was just 18 years old when he was one of 84 pianists chosen to simultaneously and collaboratively perform a truncated version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue under the baton of conductor John Williams for the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The pianists – all men, dressed in powder blue tuxedos meant to represent the composer – were seated in three sets of pairs opposite each other within each of the LA Coliseum’s 14 archways (84 in all), the centerpieces of the performance launching the quadrennial games. 

“I was probably the youngest one there, and I was seated toward the end,” Tari recalled. “I actually got a closeup for six seconds and two and a half billion people were watching on TV.” 

Forty years later, Gershwin and the Coliseum are a sweet memory, but Tari still has John Williams on his mind, as he has put a lot of his piano attention on the film scorer’s compositions that date back even a few years before that storied memory was formed. The classically-trained pianist, who studied opera piano with Warren Jones of Music Academy fame and opera conducting with Los Angeles Opera founder Henry Holt, has created his own piano arrangement of themes from Williams’ Star Wars scores. 

Tari, who taught himself how to imitate the big band sound of more than 100 favorites from the Great American Songbook, said he thought taking on Star Wars in 2014 would be fun because he’s a big fan of the film franchise. 

It turned out to be a much bigger task, requiring something akin to Jedi mind tricks to master. 

“I’ve played so many different kinds of music, so I figured I’d just do Star Wars, but it wasn’t long before I realized I was in way over my head,” he recalled. “There was no sheet music for me to work with, nothing to go on. But I just kept working on it, watching the movies over and over again and looking for a logical way to make a medley of the themes.” 

After 18 months he was still spinning his wheels, but an insight proved the path. 

“I had to get into John Williams’ head, and he’s so much smarter than I am,” Tari said. “I needed to actually get an understanding of how he worked, and I had to use everything that I’ve learned from opera and from classical and from playing The Planets – everything from my life – to be able to do this.”

Three years after he started, Tari completed The Star Wars Fantasy Piano Medley, which includes the original movie’s opening and closing sequences, music from the Throne Room, Luke and Leia and Darth Vader’s themes, the Imperial March and Across the Stars, among other segments that also range from Episode 1-6. 

Tari has performed it several times in town, largely at the Lobero, where the audiences have roared with approval at the end of the 16-minute piece. On May 4 (May the Fourth) he’ll be proudly playing the piece again along with themes from the Superman and Godfather scores and a few other favorites on stage at the Granada, the other grand house in downtown Santa Barbara, which last month screened the original Star Wars movie as part of the theater’s Centennial Celebration.

“Nobody does this in the world. Not even John Williams,” Tari said. “Of course he could, but I don’t think anybody would take the time to have the patience. I’m even surprised that I pulled it off.” 


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