Kenny Werner: New, Transcendent Sounds
Kenny and Katheryn Werner
These feelings of Werner's are not just about the new recording. They carry forward in his ongoing musical journey.
"If a musician has an emotional relationship to chords," he says, "[he or she] can use them to much greater effect. Because they know this chord starts to lift me up; this chord really confirms the futility of things; this chord denies the futility of things. You can set up a play. I tell my students, you can't just know chords. You have to have a relationship with them. That's a game within a game... students, and even other musicians, are not as profound as they could be. They're thinking about music. If you just think music, it can only go to a certain depth."
Werner, heavily involved in education, wants his students to be emotionally aware when it comes to music, and their experiences play a part in that.
"Think about what happened the day you had a baby. Did you write a tune within that week? Is it not the deepest tune you've ever written? Think about breaking up with someone, because not too many people have had an experience like I've had to think of. How sad were you? How did you play that day? What tune did you write? How heartfelt was it? The cruelty of it, I always say, is that the sadness wears off," he says with a chuckle. "The sadness was such an incredible motivation for the technology of music that you already knewbut now it has a purpose."
Because strong emotions eventually wear off, Werner says. "I have to get interested in writing something with something less because I don't think that anything could impress me emotionally as deeply as [the tragedy] did. How do I go from here and find meaning in what I'm writing, I guess is what I'm saying. Because I have plenty of improvement to do in the technical field of orchestration. That's my lifelong study. But how am I going to find a motivation as deep as that? On the other hand, I sure hope the fates don't provide me with a motivation as deep as that. Thank you very much. I don't need all that just to get a piece of music out."
However, "It took me to another place in terms of what music means. I don't want to come off of that. It's too powerful," he explains.
Living lifeas Charlie Parker ("Bird") opined and as Werner espouses creates paths that can lead to greater wisdom. It's something Werner admires in musicians like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. "What Herbie does, he moves like leaves in the wind. I don't see myself being able to do what Herbie's doing. I think you just have to become 70 to find out what that's like. You can't practice what he's doing. You have to be his age. The same thing with Wayne. Chris Potter and I were talking about Wayne. Nobody can play more horn at this point in time than Chris Potter. And yet he marvels at how little it takes for Wayne to do something that transcends all of that. I think that takes us back to the Eastern concept of transcendentalism. What transcend means is that things we think are important disappear. And what is left is what is, it's what we tune into."
"That's what I'm trying to express" in my No Beginning No End, Werner explains "When you're not transcending, you are punched in the stomach and in the face by things that happen to you. Or you feel lifted up by things that happen to you. I call the bad stuff the clouds and the transcendent part the sun. Because the clouds change every day. They disappear. They come back. Sometimes the clouds are so thick that you would think there is no sun. Yet you never doubt the sun. Those clouds are going to change from day to day and sometimes they're not going to be there. So aspiring to transcendence means paying as little attention to the various cloud formations as possible, while keeping your eye on what never changes. What is always. Total light."
He adds, "I look at it as more of a survival technique. We're artists. If nothing happens to you, it's hard to say anything. if you don't synthesize that into a voice, it might strangle you."