Friday, December 20, 2013

David Wertman, FL/MA jazz musician, succumbs to cancer at age 61

NORTHAMPTON – Noted jazz performer and composer David Wertman, known for his swing and grace, who grew up in New York City and lived in Florida died Saturday, his wife Lynne confirmed.

He passed away at the couple’s Northampton home, beside musicians, family and friends, she said.

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David Wertman
10/01/52 –- 12/14/13

Friends and family are mourning the untimely passing of David Wertman.  On Saturday, December 14th at 6:50 PM after a difficult, but bravely fought, battle with cancer, his spirit peacefully left his body.  He was safe at home, free of pain, surrounded by loving close friends. A strong and principled man, a top-level bassist, a prolific composer and a brilliant thinker, Wertman continually strived to positively energize his environment through the power of music and love.  Friend and saxophonist, Lea MacQuarrie summed up what so many have been feeling: For Dave…  “music was still about Love.  It had to be.  He really wanted to bring Love to people through his music.”
He leaves behind his beloved wife of 33 years, Lynne Meryl, his brother Adlai , wife Janet and their three children – Liana, Holly and Elon, plus his parents Harriet and Louis Wertman.  Dave was predeceased by his brother Elon who left behind his wife Aimee and their children Emily and Brooke.  For David's family and numerous friends and colleagues all around the globe, his death is a tremendous loss.
David was a highly acclaimed musician, his recordings have been made available and reissued around the world; his performances have been enjoyed since the 1970s when he emerged as a major force in the New York City New Music scene.  While in NY, he formed the first edition of his “Sun Ensemble” and performed and recorded regularly with luminaries Billy Bang, Arthur Blythe, Marion Brown, Steve Reid, Brandon Ross, Terri Jenoure, Dave Pike, William Parker, Archie Shepp, Perry Robinson, Burton Greene, Lou Grassi, Abbey Rader and many others. Leaving New York, David made his way to Western Massachusetts where a cultural and political renaissance was about to blossom. Dave formed a group called “Winds of Change” with percussionist Tony Vacca and saxophonist Tim Moran.  Together they blended a socially progressive message with urban, West African and jazz musical traditions. “Winds of Change” became a mainstay at the newly opened Iron Horse Café and was exemplary of the burgeoning multicultural movement in the Valley.
In 1980 Dave and Lynne met and formed The Lynne Meryl Trio, interpreting classic Jazz standards from the Great American Songbook. The trio worked steadily for many years featuring, among others, pianists Tom McClung and Nat Needle.  In addition, Wertman played many sessions with guitarist Eric Bascomb, singer Ethel Lee and discriminating musicians throughout the region.  As Lynne put it "he rocked every band!"   Vocalist Meryl provided a voice for Wertman's originals, in the "Sun Ensemble" and later the "Spirit Ensemble",  which over the years included Tony Vacca, Bob Dagnello, Claire Arenius, Charlie Miller, Lea Macquarrie, Tim Moran, Tim Atherton, Paul Lieberman, Jack Pezanelli, Ken LaRoche, Neal Backman, Eugene Uman, Karen Copeland, Miro Sprague and many others.  "As a drummer who played lots of music with Dave over the years, I always appreciated the depth and feeling of his grooves on his bass, and the big open and gracious sound he had - Dave could take you on wonderful adventures because his spirit was so big and free." Claire Arenius
Wertman and his wife Lynne spent several years as “snow birds,” traveling back and forth between homes and gigs in Central Massachusetts and South Florida, achieving a richly satisfying, balanced life, performing and creating music while leaving ample time for another of their shared priorities - exploring the natural world.  In Florida, Dave played for years at O'hara's Jazz Club in Fort Lauderdale with the iconic Dr. Lonnie Smith and drummer Danny Burger.  Dave swung the big bands of Paul Cohen, Duffy Jackson, Michael Rose and toured with Ray Anthony, Erskine Hawkins, Les Elgart, Melton Mustafa as well as the tribute bands of Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Cab Calloway and Gene Krupa.  He performed as a first-call sideman in shows with Buddy Greco, the Four Freshman, the Ink Spots, the Shirelles, the Drifters, Patti Page, Wayne Newton, the Crystals and many others.  Lynne said “it was a joy to watch him play, so animated yet rock steady. He was so assured as he danced and swayed, he smiled and shined like the sun.  Everyone loved his guts and he swung so hard!” Tom Reney (Jazz Host on WFCR radio) recently praised Dave'’s bass playing, observing that even without drums his rhythmic pulse provided the swing and drive for a show that included luminaries Sheila Jordon, Karrin Allyson, Gary Smulyan and Bruce Barth.
A consummate musician, Wertman was, as Lynne noted: “spiritual, and generous with his encouragement of others to pursue their music.”  During less formal performances with their group, Dave would welcome friends to “sit in” and join in his deep groove. "The Lynne Meryl Band" held monthly "musical love fests" at the Charlemont Inn for years and years, where everyone found their moment on the stage. Always upbeat and encouraging, “Dave brought out the best in every soloist and made every band sound great.” He was self-taught, but this in no way limited his vast abilities: he had a huge repertoire and fantastic ears, he was proficient in music reading and technically advanced. He was meticulous, thorough and extremely musical.  Dave described his musical training as the  "“University of ‘da’ Streets"” and was quick to pay homage to the numerous mentors who welcomed him into their groups and nurtured his development while growing up in Queens and Manhattan.  He was also a self-taught architect who designed and built four, small, beautiful energy efficient homes. His creativity flowed freely into many arenas. He was always there to help a friend in need and had the perseverance to stick to and solve any task. Amy Bookbinder, long-time personal friend, recalled help received from David during a brief medical crisis; "His remarkable abilities to heal the body and soul were as lovingly and humbly offered through accupressure as in his transformational music - in his friendships and his music he was tuned in, always with an open receptive heart."
Dave Wertman will live on in the memories of his abundant friends, but it might be his compositions that ensure his legacy. Percussionist, Tony Vacca stated:  "“Man I loved working with him. In every setting his compositions were totally unique and at the same time so elegant and well designed. David … created a legacy for the next generation to learn from and emulate".”  Paris-based pianist, Tom McClung wrote:  "David inspired me and pushed me to new limits. …His compositions always have memorable, beautiful song-like melodies, frequently with tricky rhythms and unusual harmonies, but with an openness in form and spirit which give the soloists maximum freedom".”  His compositions were not limited to instrumental interpretations, Dave wrote profound, simple lyrics that resonate with sense and spirit; he later collaborated with his wife Lynne who stated: “He taught me how to improvise and sing jazz.  And in me, he found a life partner, thrilled to sing his songs of peace, love and spirit, to give a voice to his inspiring lyrics.  In later years we collaborated; he would write the music and I would write the words.  We would walk on the beach and work on tunes together.”
An outpouring of support came to David in his final months when news of his failing health became public. Dave remained humble and attempted to minimize the news of his illness to assuage worry.
He valiantly performed a few times during the Summer and Fall, most notably at the Loft Lounge with the Nancy Janoson Quartet featuring Lynne Meryl on September 27th, 2013.  Dave arrived energized and played enthusiastically especially during his original composition “Live Well and Prosper.” He launched into every tune with such fire and vigor that electrically charged evening.  He clearly conveyed a message to everyone in the room: the life spirit is a gift to us all, one to not take lightly. All who have had the privilege to listen to David Wertman, to dance to his rhythms, to hear the deep song of his generous presence have felt the surging volcano of that life force and are so much the richer for it. 
David Wertman was a world renowned artist and a great human being who will be truly missed.  May his memory, his teaching, his music and his love, live on forever.
Donations in the name of David Wertman can be made to the Cancer Connection in Northampton, Massachusetts:
For more information on David Wertman, visit his website:  
Please leave a comment, photo or memory on his Facebook page (now managed by Lynne). A memorial will be held in nature in the summer time.

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