Kenny Werner: The New Jazz Age

On March 19, world-class jazz pianist and author Kenny Werner performed at the Sacred Heart Community Theatre. Werner played alongside the members of his trio: Joannes Weidenmueller on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. The performance also included a few pieces performed by Werner’s protege Vivienne Aerts, a Dutch performer and assistant professor at Berklee College of Music. 

The trio performed original pieces including “Little Blue Man” and “Blue in Green.” While this may have been the first time some audience members heard Werner’s music, one in particular had been inspired by his artistry for years.  

Adjunct Professor of Music, Darren Litzie, said, “He’s incredible. I discovered him and transcribed his music in college. I love how he performs as if he is playing for the first time.” 

Throughout the show, Werner engaged with the audience by providing background on how he came to write each piece and how he incorporated some of his techniques from his book, “Effortless Mastery” into the performance.  

Werner wrote “Effortless Mastery” in 1996. According to Werner’s website, this book is considered his “landmark opus on how to allow the master musician from within to manifest.” 

Werner explained that he was inspired to write the book based on his experience with a classical piano player and friend named Joao Assis Brasil.  

“He had me just dropping my fingers on the keys. So rather than play, he walked away and he wanted me to do nothing but that for two weeks which freaked me out,” said Werner. “After that time of doing nothing, that was when it was time to play. My hands started to play by themselves, and they were playing better than I ever could have.”  

Werner continued to learn from Brasil as well as develop his own tactics that he outlines in his book. He dives into methods for artists such as muscle memory, value of mistakes, patience, and improvisation. Werner released his second book “Becoming the Instrument” to build on these concepts and inspire artists to practice self-love within their performances. 

In addition to Werner’s accomplishments as an author, he has also made significant strides as a lecturer. While originally called into The New School in Manhattan to administer a midterm music exam and make some extra pocket money, Werner saw the prospect for a new career.  

“I was an improviser. So here I am sitting there. I look at the test and the first question is ‘what is the first chord of ‘Body and Soul,’’’ a famous jazz song. And the students keep guessing different notes and I keep saying they are wrong,” said Werner.  

“But then I finally tell them, ‘any note can be the first chord of ‘Body and Soul,’” said Werner. “So, they keep calling out different notes and I show them that any chord can start the song. It was probably the best harmony lesson they ever had.” 

Eventually, Werner had received calls to conduct private lessons and was compelled to display his knowledge onto others. 

“I discussed it with my wife. Maybe it was time to switch to teaching. I was ready to have courses in which I could construct on my own,” said Werner. 

Werner began teaching at Berklee in 1970. Soon after, Werner became the Artistic Director of the Effortless Mastery Institute, named after his book, in which students are taught his methods of practicing and performing.  

According to the Berklee College of Music website, “The institute focuses on principles put forth in Kenny’s book ‘Effortless Mastery’ and helps students reclaim their inner voice and their connection to music, allowing them to perform on the highest level.” 

Werner continues to inspire others each day through his books and music. He also continues to provide young artists with advice in pursuing a career in music. 

“Just let go of the need to change and be satisfied with slow incremental success,” said Werner. 

About the author

Staff Writer/Assistant Web Manager

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