Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2009: Jimmy Cobb

Kenny Werner:
Effortless Mastery

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Born in Brooklyn in 1951, pianist Kenny Werner has formed a niche for himself as a performer, a composer, and an important voice in the conversation about the spiritual underpinnings of music. Kenny was introduced to music at age 4 when he joined a children’s song-and-dance group. By 11, he had recorded with a 15-piece orchestra and appeared on television playing stride piano, and while still in high school, he began attending the Manhattan School of Music.

Eventually, his love of improvisation led him to transfer to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he studied with the great Madame Chaloff. Later, he was mentored by Juao Assis Brasil, a concert pianist who helped him develop his philosophy of music-making.

In the late 1970s, Werner’s performance career began to take off, and he found himself playing with such greats as Charles Mingus and Archie Shepp. He would go on to perform and record in a variety of formats, recording solo piano albums, duos with bassists Rufus Reid and Ray Drummond, and eventually as pianist in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Other performance credits include work with Bob Brookmeyer, Ron Carter, Tom Harrell, and Joe Lovano, among many others.

Besides his impressive work as a sideman, Werner has been a successful leader for decades. From 1981 until1995, he led a trio with bassist Ratzo Harris until 1995 and drummer Tom Rainey. He has also led trios including such heavy-weights as Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Billy Hart, Drew Gress, Ari Hoenig, and Johannes Weidenmueller. Recent recordings like Democracy (Half Note 2006) and Lawn Chair Society (Blue Note 2007) feature him in slightly larger ensembles.

Werner is well-known in the jazz community for his spiritual approach to music-making. His book Effortless Mastery, published in 1997, opened doors for a generation of struggling musicians. Werner teaches musicians to become absorbed in their music-making with a joyful, child-like attitude. Werner articulates his own goals this way: “I want to continue to lose myself more and more in the bliss of music. Not only do I benefit from the intoxication, but the audience resonates with their own bliss. In this way, the music wakes us all to who we really are.”

Werner is appearing in Winnipeg with a stellar group: Randy Brecker on trumpet, David Sanchez on tenor saxophone, Scott Colley on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. All of these musicians are themselves well-known as leaders and their performance is sure to be an exciting—and deeply moving—musical experience.

Will Bonness is one of Winnipeg’s busiest jazz pianists—and at the moment one of our musical ambassadors to New York City!

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