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Interviews

Kenny Werner: New, Transcendent Sounds

By Published: October 11, 2010
He notes that after his study of Jarrett and his band, "I would say I stopped what I would call the official student phase. I'm still a student today, but I would say the official student phase. I moved away from piano players being my inspiration and the orchestra composers became my influence as a pianist. More and more I found my strength in not thinking of myself as a pianist, but thinking of the midrange of the piano as the French horns. The upper register as the strings and flute. The lower register as the lower the low brass and basses. Or sometimes I thought of the ocean, or some stuff that might sound dumb to you. Anything but music, because there was a kind of pianist, especially around my time, that was a very intellectually gifted pianist (but) you could tell they were listening to piano players too much. It didn't touch me. I myself, if I was thinking about piano trios and what anybody else did, could not reach anything profound.



"But if I sat down and imagined that nobody's ever touched a piano before I'm about to play it now, and then I imagined the sensual impact or the imagery, then I could imagine an orchestra. Or a machine. Sometimes I'd be playing a rhythm and in my mind it was the synchronicity of a machine. Or an ocean. Something other than a piano and certainly something other than a pianist. I could soar in a way that just was me. From the mid-'80s on, there weren't any piano players that I would be influenced by. I would be more influenced by imagination and sounds in the world," including Indian music.

The source of the Indian influence did not come from music from that country. Instead, it came from Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
—who also, at times, had his ear tilted toward those sounds.

"One of the most influential records for me was Miles Davis' In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969). The thing about those Miles Davis bands is that you didn't pay attention to the soloists, though they were some of the greatest soloists in the world. A vibe came out. It was the whole and it would carry you. Nothing did that for me more than In a Silent Way. I'd put it on and go off into a tangerine dream. I would go into altered states of consciousness. I think I was looking for an alternate reality and looking for any vehicle for alternate reality; the good ones and some of the dead ends. That was very influential."

Those influences extend to all aspects of Werner's career. His piano trio work started in the early 1980s, (primarily with bassist Ratzo B. Harris
Ratzo B. Harris
b.1955
bass
and drummer Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
b.1957
drums
); his work with singers like Roseanna Vitro
Roseanna Vitro
Roseanna Vitro
b.1954
vocalist
and Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley
b.1947
vocalist
, and his work on fine recordings like 2007's Lawn Chair Society (Blue Note).

He continues to be a superb performer, having played with a long list of greats like Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
b.1937
saxophone
, Toots Thielemans
Toots Thielemans
Toots Thielemans
b.1922
harmonica
, John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
, Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
, Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
, Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
, Potter, Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
, Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
and many more. His most recent creative piano trio sees him merging his sweet sound with Ari Hoenig
Ari Hoenig
Ari Hoenig
b.1973
drums
on drums and Johannes Weidenmueller on bass.

Also this year, the French label Outnote recently released New York—Love Songs, a solo disk. "They wanted you to pick a city and write, or play, or both, odes to that city," says Werner. "I picked New York. It is my favorite city." Following his muse, the pieces weren't about the complexities of the piano.

"All the pieces that are impressive pianistically, I ended up not using. The pieces that put me into 'that space' is what I put on it," he explains. "It's the only record I ever made that you could sort of go into a hypnotic state by listening to it and not be disturbed by virtuosity for the entire record. I can listen to one of my records once. But this one could be on all day because it gathered my consciousness into one spot. It kind of did to me what In a Silent Way did. I'm excited about it from the standpoint of spiritual energy.

"In a way I think it was more meaningful than to do a variety of piano pieces. I guess I'm moving away from that. I don't think I was ever than much beguiled by the idea of virtuoso piano playing. I'm certainly moving more away from that now."

Wherever Werner is moving, plan on it being a place where emotion is prevalent and art can breed.

Selected Discography

Kenny Werner, With A Song In My Heart (Venus Records, 2008)

Kenny Werner, Lawn Chair Society (Blue Note Records, 2007)

Kenny Werner, Democracy: Live At The Blue Note (Half Note, 2006)

Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner, Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner, (Universal, 2002)

Kenny Werner, Beauty Secrets (RCA Victor, 2000)

Kenny Werner, Unprotected Music (Double-Time, 1998)

Kenny Werner, A Delicate Balance, (RCA, 1998)

Joe Lovano, Celebrating Sinatra (Blue Note, 1997)

Lee Konitz, Zounds, (Soul Note, 1993)


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