May 25, 2024

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Interview with Kenny Werner: Some memories are actually not appropriate to share! Live full concert video 2018

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Kenny Werner. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Kenny Werner: – I always enjoyed entertaining as a little kid. Then I saw a father of a friend of mine play piano at his birthday party. I was seven years old. Got really excited and ran home and ask my parents to get me a piano.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound? 

KW: – Early on I never thought about having a sound. I just thought about playing. In in the early 70s I had two piano teachers that tuned me into sound directly or indirectly. Madame Chaloff of Boston and Joao Assis Brasil of Río. Long story, but in different ways they got me on the path that I am on now. I get my sound by receiving it from the piano and from my hands. I don’t get my sound from “doing anything.“

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

KW: – It’s interesting that you suggest “pertaining to rhythm.“ That’s all I practice really. I found that I was naturally gifted for melody and harmony, but I came to rhythm quite late and had to go back and “get it.“ My process is to take certain rhythm‘s and work on them not just until I can play them, but until they “play themselves.“ By then I have not just learned a new rhythm. I have developed new muscle memory for rhythm.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

KW: – There is no dissonance in my mind. I play dissonance consonantly. I realized that my dissonance would be more personal if I didn’t assume the usual associations. Like playing a lullaby with my entire four arms all hitting the keys at the same time. If I think lullaby, it actually has a sweet sound, which one would not associate with those kind of clusters. I find to think of something differently is the play something differently and that creates something more personal or even original.

But more to say on this, dissonance and consonance have ceased to have the usual meaning to me. They are different textures and I move thru them as seamlessly as I would enjoy sweet and sour in my Chinese food or enjoy dessert after savory meal. This particular record indulges more in the sweet. But often, I’ll move to the sour for the deliciousness of the change in texture.  I don’t “prefer“ anything. I move  intuitively from dissonance to consonance, fast, slow, low, hi, loud, soft. The moves are more from personal sensual satisfaction rather then intellectual choice.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <The Space>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. 

KW: – This album, more than any I’ve ever made, was played from “the space.” People who have read “Effortless Mastery” know what I mean by the space. Play from the space instead of playing from the conscious mind. I really allowed myself to receive whatever would come from that space, which is also referred to with many other terms, such as Universal Consciousness.

I just finished a project with a new quartet and wrote many new pieces for it. It won’t be out for another year and it will only be on LP. But I was very happy with the result. It has on it, James Genus, Dave Liebman, Terri Lyne Carrington and myself.Writing new music was a challenge because I really believe in “spontaneous composition“ these days. I used to call that free playing. But now I think of it as receiving compositions as yet  unwritten. I like that so much that I have to fight the urge to think of all new written composition  as superfluous. In fact the name of one of the new pieces is “Superfluous.“ That said, it’s a beautiful new album and I’m quite  excited about it. My main project now is that I am writing a new book, finally a second book in over 20 years. It will be called “Effortless Mastery: BecomingThe  Instrument.“ And my work at the Effortless  Mastery Institute at Berklee College of Music is my main passion right now. I am the Artistic Director.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

KW: – Up to the individual.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

KW: – I have no interest in playing unless people are listening. In that since I am a populist, or I am the same entertainer that I was at four years old.

However I’ve had a lifelong experiment with seeing how sophisticated, complex or dissonant I can become and still bring the audience with me. It’s my quest to find out if it’s complex music they don’t hear or the unavailability of the artist in playing it. I’m finding they can take a lot more than we thought they could and they could even be grateful for the experience. But I get inspired by having an audience. I don’t sit around my house playing and knocking myself out. At home I practice. The point of the practice is to feel freer on all levels, mostly rhythmic and technical levels when I am emoting for an audience. That’s how I’m built I guess.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

KW: – Some memories are actually not  appropriate to share! But I like sharing this early experience. I was invited to play on the Charles Mingus record “Something Like A Bird.” There was a piece that had soloists trading with each other, sort of battling. They needed the second keyboard player to battle with Mingus’ piano player, Bob Nellens. I played Fender Rhodes. I was basically starting my career and all the players in the room where the heaviest players in New York, therefore in the world. Right before we were about to run the piece the producer came into my booth and said, “now don’t get nervous, but if Mingus doesn’t like what you’re doing he will tell you to leave.” Well, that was a great thing to tell young player! I could see myself being sent home in front of this group of the greatest players in the world.

We ran the piece down and then I waited in the silence. The producer came to the booth and with a smile said, “Mingus says you can stay.“

That was a great experience.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

KW: – I think there are young players that are are already redefining jazz in the language of young people as listeners. And they are garnishing big audiences. It may not be what older players call Jazz, but neither was what they were playing to the older players in relation to them. That’s the way of jazz. It is getting more popular because of these new forms that integrate rap, hip hop, whatever else the modern popular forms are. These musicians are serious, they’re not selling out. They are speaking the language of their times. Older players like myself have to except, and it’s even better to respect and honor, the fact that this is the way not just of music, but of life.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

KW: – Letting go, surrendering. Releasing my negative tendencies seems to be the meaning of this particular life of mine. I do believe in reincarnation and I always thought the point of this life was to be the most famous and greatest musician, which, of course, I didn’t achieve. I realize that although being a musician is my identity in the world, more than anything else, the real task this time around is somehow to get clearer, more fluid and become a channel for the betterment of anyone I come in contact with, or anyone that hears my music. In my case I am also an author so I would have to include my words in that statement. One is on  most solid ground when one is helping another. It’s the lesson I chip away at and probably will be preoccupied with for the rest of my life.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

KW: – I often tell my students half jokingly, “don’t be discourage that Elvis Presley is revered and John Coltrane is barely known. You’re just on the wrong planet, so be not disheartened.“

The thing I would change on this planet is that the most accomplished musicians playing the most highly evolved music in all categories were the most revered, honored and wealthy musicians on the planet.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

KW: – I don’t listen much. I like to watch movies and really good TV shows. I do listen to simple chants sometimes for making the inner connection and study orchestra pieces for the purposes of unlocking the orchestration.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

KW: – I guess it would be nice to be in the York, circa 1840 to about 1955. What an amazing time for music in this city. It was also a time of awakening for writers, television producers, believe it or not, and all the arts.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

KW: – Why is it so hard to tune into the simplicity of moment? Why are most of us burdened with fear of the future or regrets of the past?

Why do all the best foods taste like soil and leaves and the worst foods so delicious? Why is up so challenging and down so easy? If there’s such a thing as enlightenment, why doesn’t God just lay it on us? Although I kind of know the answer to that last one. We’re here to learn. No strife, no problems, not much learning. But God could’ve made sugar good for us wheat grass bad. But he did it the other way around.

Why was he so generous with hangers? Did you ever notice that there’s always enough hangers? Did you ever buy a hanger? I believe in a God that is an energy like the sun. I don’t believe believe in a God that “does things.“ I don’t believe in putting a verb after the word God. Because if you believe God‘s going to do this or that, I have to ask, why on earth did he do so-and-so?

I think that’s it for the questions.

Oh, maybe one more: why is gluten a bad thing? Everything is gluten-free now. I have to bring my own little vial of gluten and spread it on my food!

JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers and for your questions. The fear of the future or regret about the past in my opinion is connected with the new technology and the time machine. I certainly believe God and do not discuss his affairs …

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

KW: – Harness what? I wake up each day hoping to connect with my Higher Self. I know, just like the flow of music, that all the right choices will be made from that space. Even the wrong ones.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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