Born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 19, 1951 and then growing up in Oceanside, New York, Werner 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.
From Boston, Werner traveled to Brazil with the saxophonist Victor Assis Brasil. There he met Assis' twin brother, Brazilian pianist Joao Assis Brasil. His studies with Joao would lead to the writing of the book Effortless Mastery.
Werner started his own trio in 1981 with drummer Tom Rainey and bassist Ratzo Harris. The Kenny Werner Trio matured for fourteen years, touring in America and Europe and recording four albums along the way.
Werner 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 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 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 musical partnerships began in the 1990s. Werner continued to play duo with Toots Thielemans, the Werner harmonica player. He has played with and arranged for Betty Buckley, a Broadway star. They made six albums together and she has sung his arrangements for small band and orchestras in the USA and abroad. He and Joe Lovano have recorded on a number of each other's projects.
Werner's work on improvisation, Effortless Mastery – Liberating the Master Musician Within, was published in 1996. He continues to teach and give clinics in the United States and abroad.
In 2000, Werner 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 Werner acting as composer, arranger, and pianist. Their last album, Peace – Live at the Blue Note, released in 2004 under Half Note Records, the recording arm of the Blue Note Jazz Club. He created three CDs before the release of his work, No Beginning No End. In 2007, 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[by whom?] for its fusion of electro and acoustic elements.
Werner was awarded the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his work, No Beginning No End, which explored tragedy and loss, death and transition, and the path from one lifetime to the next. Utilizing over 70 musicians, Werner's third album for Half Note Records is an expansive composition featuring Joe Lovano, Judy Silvano, Wind Ensemble, Choir and String Quartet.
He is currently an Artist-in-Residence at New York University.
- 1985 & 87: National Endowment For the Arts performance grants.
- 1993: National Endowment for the Arts Grant to present a concert in tribute to Mel Lewis.
- 1995: grant awarded by NEA to compose a piano concerto dedicated to Duke Ellington, performed in February 1996 by the Cologne Radio Orchestra.
- Distinguished Artist Award for Composition from the New Jersey Council of the Arts for a piece entitled "Kandinsky" from his CD, Paintings.
- 2010: Guggenheim Fellowship Award for the CD "No Beginning No End"
- Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood, Solo, 1981
- 289 Bridge St. with Joe Lovano, Billy Drewes, Bill DeArango, Ratzo Harris, Tom Rainey, 1982
- Introducing the Trio with Ratzo Harris, Tom Rainey, 1989
- Uncovered Heart with Eddie Gómez, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, John Bernard Riley, Edson Cafe Adasilva, 1990
- Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 34, Solo, 1994
- Copenhagen Calypso, Solo, 1994
- Gu-Ru with Tim Hagans, Billy Drewes, Jamey Haddad, Ratzo Harris, Tom Rainey, 1994
- Live at Visiones with Ratzo Harris, Tom Rainey, 1995
- Meditations, Solo, 1995
- A Delicate Balance with Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, 1998
- Unprotected Music(Double-Time Records with Marc Johnson, Joey Baron, 1998)
- Beauty Secrets with Billy Hart, Joe Lovano, Betty Buckley, Mark Feldman, Drew Gress, Heide Stubner, Mary Wooten, Dave Ballou, Tony Malaby, Todd Reynolds, Victor Schultz, Ari Hoenig, Johannes Wiedenmüller, 2000
- Beat Degeneration with Johannes Wiedenmüller and Ari Hoenig, 2000
- Peace with Johannes Weidenmüller and Ari Hoenig, 2004
- Dreamtales with Claudia Villela
- Democracy with David Sánchez, Matt Shulman, Brian Blade, Scott Colley
- Shadows with Marcin Oles, Bartlomiej Oles, 2006
- Naked In The Cosmos with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra
- Lawn Chair Society with Brian Blade, Scott Colley, Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, Lenny Picket, 2007
- With a Song In My Heart with Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Ari Hoenig (drums), 2008
- Walden with Benjamin Koppel, 2010
- No Beginning No End with Joe Lovano, Judi Silvano, winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, 2010
- Institute of Higher Learning with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, 2011
With Joe Lovano
- Tones, Shapes & Colors (Soul Note, 1985)
- Village Rhythm (Soul Note, 1988)
- Landmarks (Blue Note, 1990)
- Universal Language (Blue Note, 1992)
- Flights of Fancy: Trio Fascination Edition Two (Blue Note, 2000)
With Maria Schneider
- "Effortless Mastery": Book published in 1996 by Jamey Aebersold Jazz, Inc.
- Channeling Music: Organica, Spring 1988
- Play for the Right Reasons - Organica, Winter 1990
- Hostile Triads - The Piano Stylist & Jazz Workshop, April–May 1991
- Audio Recordings of WCUW Jazz Festivals - Jazz History Database
- Kenny Werner - The Official Site
- Kenny Werner's album "No Beginning No End"