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The Mind Over Finger Podcast

Dec 18, 2020

In this episode, I speak with world-class pianist and composer Kenny Werner who’s prolific output of compositions, recordings and publications continue to impact audiences around the world, and author of the impactful book, Effortless Mastery, Liberating the Master Musician Within

In our conversation, Kenny expands on:

  • His incredible journey, leading to the exploration of effortless mastery
  • How the need to play well is the thing we should – yet will never – surrender
  • How focus behaves like water
  • How to let “the master” play
  • Fear-based practicing and performing
  • How detachment can help us play better than ever & where lack of flow in performance comes from
  • Effortless Mastery in a nutshell:
    1. Go into the space (it’s easier than you think, and Kenny shows us how…) and play a note in that state
    2. Move around the instrument freely while in that space (think Ouija Board! Or try playing something as fast as possible.)
    3. Play something you know really well in that state of effortless mastery
    4. Practice in that state (and the state becomes your teacher!)


Kenny is an artist and pedagogue of great depth and I know the things he talks about today could transform your approach to practicing and performing! 



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For Kenny’s full discography and credit list, click here.  For Kenny’s educational credits, awards, published works and educational videos, click here.  For musician and press quotes about Kenny, click here.




Kenny Werner is a world-class pianist and composer. His prolific output of compositions, recordings and publications continue to impact audiences around the world.

Kenny was recently awarded the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his seminal work, No Beginning No End. No Beginning No End is a musical journey exploring tragedy and loss, death and transition, and the path from one lifetime to the next. Utilizing over 70 musicians, Kenny's third album for Half Note Records is an expansive composition featuring Joe Lovano, Judy Silvano, Wind Ensemble, Choir and String Quartet.

Born in Brooklyn, NY on November 19, 1951 and then growing up in Oceanside, Long Island, Kenny began playing and performing at a young age, first recording on television at the age of 11. Although he studied classical piano as a child, he enjoyed playing anything he heard on the radio. In high school and his first years of college he attended the Manhattan School of Music as a classical piano major.

His natural instinct for improvisation led Kenny to the Berklee School of Music in 1970. There he sought tutelage of the renowned piano teacher Madame Chaloff. Her gracious wisdom and inspiration became a driving force in Kenny's conception: music conscious of its spiritual intent and essence.

From Boston, Kenny traveled to Brazil with the saxophonist Victor Assis Brasil. There he met Victor's twin brother, Brazilian pianist Joao Assis Brasil. He studied with Joao, who provided another piece of the puzzle for Kenny's conception that would lead to Effortless Mastery, his landmark opus on how to allow the master musician from within to manifest.

Kenny started his own trio in 1981 with drummer Tom Rainey and bassist Ratzo Harris. The Kenny Werner Trio matured for fourteen years, wowing audiences in America and Europe and recording four albums along the way.

Kenny had written many original compositions featuring trios and other small group configurations, but in the mid 1980s, he became the pianist for the Mel Lewis Orchestra (currently known as the Village Vanguard Orchestra). Challenged by Mel and Bob Brookmeyer to write for the band, he produced his first compositions and arrangements for jazz orchestra, consequently leading him to write for the major bands in Europe including the Cologne, Danish, and Stockholm Jazz Orchestras, The Umo Jazz Orchestra of Finland and several times as the guest composer and soloist with the Metropole Orchestra of Holland. Since then Werner has had many commissions to write for large ensembles such as jazz orchestras, full orchestras and most recently, wind ensemble, choir and string quartet as featured on his latest CD, No Beginning, No End.

Several outstanding musical partnerships began in the 1990s. Kenny continues to play duo with Toots Thielemans, the legendary harmonica player. For twenty years he has played with and arranged for Betty Buckley, a Broadway legend. They made six albums together and she has sung his arrangements for small band and orchestras across the globe.  He also has had a nearly forty-year friendship and musical collaboration with Joe Lovano. They have recorded on a number of each other's projects.

In 2000, Kenny formed a new trio with Ari Hoenig on drums and Johannes Weidenmueller on bass.  They played nearly a decade together and released three albums, with Kenny acting as composer, arranger, and pianist.  Their last album, Peace - Live at the Blue Note, released in 2004, began a wonderful relationship with Half Note Records, the recording arm of the Blue Note Jazz Club.  He created three CDs before the release of his masterpiece, No Beginning No End.  In 2007, Kenny Werner released his first album for Blue Note Records. Lawn Chair Society, featuring Chris Potter, Dave Douglas, Scott Colley, and Brian Blade, received critical acclaim for its fusion of electro and acoustic elements.

Kenny's groundbreaking work on Improvisation, Effortless Mastery - Liberating the Master Musician Within, was published in 1996. Using his life experiences as a microscope into the artist's mind, Effortless Mastery is a guide to distill the emotional, spiritual, and psychological aspects of an artists' life. Today it is one of the most widely read books on music and improvisation. The book is a required reading at many universities. Werner, without intention, touched off a revolution of inspiring musicians to do inner work on the mind, body, and soul in attempt to upgrade their musical experience from the mundane to the profound. The book is also popular with artists of other mediums and business professionals.  Kenny continues to teach and give clinics in the United States and abroad. He is currently on the Jazz Piano Faculty at New York University.



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A HUGE thank you to my fantastic producer, Bella Kelly!

Most sincere thank you to composer Jim Stephenson who graciously provided the show’s musical theme!  Concerto #1 for Trumpet and Chamber Orchestra – Movement 2: Allegro con Brio, performed by Jeffrey Work, trumpet, and the Lake Forest Symphony, conducted by Jim Stephenson.

Thank you to Susan Blackwell for the introduction!  You can find out more about Susan, her fantastic podcast The Spark File, and her work helping creatives of all backgrounds expand their impact by visiting