Peter Wertheimer dies at 72 – playing with love

Romanian-born Wertheimer exuded a sense of generosity of spirit and delicate emotion. With his flowing gray locks, impressive goatee and rotund girth, he struck a striking figure.

Peter Wertheimer (photo credit: RONIT ALON)
Peter Wertheimer
(photo credit: RONIT ALON)
The above heading “Playing with love” appeared with the article I wrote about wind instrument player Peter Wertheimer four-and-a-half years ago. The pretext for our meet up was the To Peter with Love tribute show, which took place at the Enav Center in Tel Aviv on June 14, 2015. Wertheimer died on Sunday at the age of 72.
Although I do manage to recall snippets of quite a few of the thousands of interviews I have conducted with musicians over the years, some stand out in my mind and, in Wertheimer’s case, in my heart.
Romanian-born Wertheimer exuded a sense of generosity of spirit and delicate emotion. With his flowing gray locks, impressive goatee and rotund girth, he struck a striking figure. And he was a wonderful musician.
He regaled me with tales of his challenging and exciting youth in Bucharest, whence he relocated at the age of 16 after his violinist-conductor father was fired following an application to make aliyah.
Wertheimer said he couldn’t remember exactly why he left the family home in Satu Mare in Transylvania, over 600 kilometers from the Romanian capital.  “I don’t really know why I went away. Things were hard for my parents, and I guess I didn’t want to be a financial burden to them.”
That was typical of the man, and that selflessness came through in his work, too. I first encountered him around 1980, at a modestly proportioned basement joint called Hamadregot Theater, on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. Red Sea Jazz Festival founder and pianist Danny Gottfried, veteran drummer Areleh Kaminsky, bassist Eli Magen and saxophonist and flutist Roman Kunsman shared the stage with Wertheimer.
Over the years he graced all kinds of stages and musical contexts, and was just as happy playing children’s songs and gypsy numbers as putting it out there in an avant-garde jazz setting or soloing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
I came to the interview in 2015 armed with an LP I’d picked up a while before called Istoria Jazzulul. It was a Romanian swing jazz record from the 1960s. I bought it because I spied Wertheimer’s name in the personnel list. Before we parted, I asked him if he would sign the record cover. He wrote, in English: “Dear Barry, Honor to be in your company. Respect and love. Peter Wertheimer.”
It was an honor to have met the man and hear him spin his magic.


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