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Composition for the Dearly Departed

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Kenny Werner
By NAT HENTOFF

For years, jazz musicians have told me how much they value Kenny Werner as a pianist and teacher. According to premier jazz harmonica player Toots Thielemans, for example, “He is a total musician. He feeds my heart and brain and pushes me into fresh territories." Students at various teaching clinics around the country agree.

Now Mr. Werner has created a large-scale composition, “No Beginning, No End" (Half Note Records, available on Amazon), that is on the level of such other extended jazz composers as Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. Its five-part suite with 40 musicians is followed by a 40-voice choral work, a string quartet and an improvised, serene closing coda. The suite opens with “Death Is Not the Answer."

This album, which led to Mr. Werner's winning a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, is a profound, sometimes soaring tribute to Mr. Werner's 16-year-old daughter Katheryn, killed in a 2006 car crash. Its transcendent expression of grief reached my own inner being as a father of two daughters.

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