The hidden key is taking it easy

Jazz pianist Kenny Werner is a firm believer that music should be played intuitively.

Kenny Werner 88 300 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kenny Werner 88 300
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Watching Kenny Werner work can be deceptive. While he's making his way through a jazz number, the 56-year-old pianist almost seems disinterested in what he's doing. Not for him the scowls, frowns and corporeal contortions of the likes of fellow ivory ticklers Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau. Instead, Werner hardly looks at his keyboard, and the flurries and chords seem to emanate out of the end of his fingers almost without intent. The man is the essence of uncontrived cool. Werner will be here later this week to give five concerts, along with local flutist Ilan Salem, as part of the Hot Jazz Series. He approaches his craft with consummate ease. "There should be a deep connection between yourself and the sound you are producing," he notes. "You should always be moving, looking for the areas you like, and moving intuitively." Werner expounded his philosophy in depth a number of years ago, when he published a book entitled Effortless Mastery. In it, he talks about how some musicians are more concerned about how good their sound is, rather than just going with the flow. "I can hear when a musician is not moving intuitively, and they are thinking about their style. You need to have tremendous skill to play naturally." Apparently, that does not just pertain to playing music. "We walk and talk intuitively and, when music is close enough to you, you get closer to connecting with the real you." That, presumably, becomes easier as we grow as people and get a better idea of who we are. "An artist spends most of his life uncovering who he is - however ugly that can get. The music expresses who you are, including the things we hate about ourselves. As you get older you become more benevolent and gain wisdom. That helps artists too." IN MUSICAL terms, Werner has been there and done that, and maintains a rapid learning trajectory. His last album, Lawn Chair Society, is an enticing mix of straightahead jazz and all manner of musical explorations, with some electronic lacing thrown in for good measure. The forthcoming tour here will be largely based on an album Salem put out last year together with Werner, called Twists and Turns. Considering Werner's openness and ability to embrace new directions, one wonders whether he imbibed some of the spirit of this part of the world creating the album. Surely, artists - particularly jazz artists - also bring their cultural baggage to their work. "Ilan is a fine musician and I enjoyed playing with him at the Rimon School workshops a few years ago. But you don't necessarily get the cultural baggage coming through with the artist. Everyone, to an extent, neutralizes their cultural baggage through jazz training, and that supersedes the culture, although some tunes do embrace their own culture." But Israeli culture is not foreign to Werner. He has already played here on several occasions and, like most New York-based jazz artists, he comes across players from this part of the world in the Big Apple. "In New York everyone is from everywhere, so you don't always notice that a jazz player may be from Israel. If there is an added value to Israeli musicians it is that they can take a very aggressive approach to the music and, if they are good, they can be a powerhouse." The bottom line for Werner is just going out on stage, communicating and growing. "If a musician is deep into his own emotions and spiritual essence, that radiates to the audience, and they get that about themselves too. People should become more human when they leave the auditorium. Art is not important, it is about us, the people." Kenny Werner and Ilan Salem will perform with bass player Johannes Weidenmueller, Israeli drummer Eitan Itzkovich and guest guitarist Amos Hoffman. The Twists & Turns shows will take place at the Camelot Club in Herzliya (February 5), the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem (February 6), Tel Aviv Museum (February 7 and 8) and Abba Hushi House in Haifa (February 9). For more information go to: