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Pete Bernstein's forthcoming gigs here will be something of a homecoming. The 39-year-old New York-based jazz guitarist will be here next week on a five-concert tour - taking in Herzliya, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa - and will perform the works of iconic jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. He will team up with Israeli guitarist Ofer Ganor (with whom he has played before), local bass player Miki Vershi and drummer Shay Zelman.
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Bernstein didn't start out as a jazz musician. "I grew up listening to contemporary pop and rock and some older blues stuff," he says. "My parents had some Beatles stuff, and there was Jimi Hendrix and BB King, and there were a couple of jazz records in there too, but that was about it for jazz."
All that changed when Bernstein heard Montgomery. "I could hear the blues roots in what Montgomery was doing. I was just blown away by it all. For me, Wes was the best jazz musician."
From then on, Montgomery devoted much of his spare time to unraveling the mysteries of jazz guitar, and eventually enrolled at New York's New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. "That was great. I had some great teachers, and met guys like [drummer] Jimmy Cobb, who were from the generation of people like Wes and Miles [Davis] and Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. I eventually recorded with Jimmy Cobb."
However, while being inspired by Montgomery and his contemporaries, Bernstein soon learned he had to do his own thing.
The forthcoming round of performances will not be Bernstein's first visit to Israel. He was last here in 1979, having moved to Herzliya for three years while his father held a job at an Israeli office. "I went to the American School in Kfar Shmaryahu," he recalls. "The art teacher there was the first person who showed me how to play guitar. I bought my first guitar from her."
Pete Bernstein will perform at the Camelot Club in Herzliya on May 8 at 8:30 p.m.; Jerusalem's Gerard Behar Center on May 9 at 9 p.m.; the Tel Aviv Museum on May 10 at 9 p.m. and May 11 at 9:30 p.m.; and at Abba Hushi House in Haifa on May 12 at 9 p.m.