Peter Welker died in Sun City, Ariz. on Jan. 12, 2022 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Covid. The West Coast jazz musician, composer, arranger, producer, and sideman, whose ancestors and family have been in Eastham for 12 generations, was 79.
Peter was a trumpeter and led a sextet that was the house band at the Jazz Workshop in the North Beach area of San Francisco from 1961 to 1965.
Welker had a star-studded and illustrious career. He toured and recorded with dozens of bands and artists including Tom Waits, the Temptations, Jerry Garcia, Joe Walker, Jessie Colin Young, Van Morrison, Huey Lewis, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Cold Blood, and Santana. He produced and released four albums with his respective bands. He also helped found the Petaluma (Calif.) Music Festival, which raises money to support music instruction in local high schools. But he always found opportunities to play when he visited the Cape.
Peter was born on July 21, 1942, but his family is not certain where. Both of his parents were working musicians, traveling between New York City and Boston in those years. They divorced when Peter was young, and he was raised primarily by his mother, Bede Welker. She was blind, but that did not stop her from having a successful career. She performed as singer Bede Best on radio broadcasts in the 1930s and ’40s and was still playing clubs into the 1980s. Peter’s second album was dedicated to his mother and titled Paradise Is Awfully Nice — words she spoke to him when she was dying.
Peter’s career started when he was still a student at Brookline High School. In the late 1950s he attended Berklee College of Music, where his classmates included Gary Burton, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett. His teacher, mentor, and friend Herb Pomeroy would join him much later on two recordings.
During his Boston years Peter gigged on the Cape in the summers, working one year in Falmouth with a then little-known 15-year-old drummer named Tony Williams. Two years later Williams would join Miles Davis’s band as they pioneered jazz fusion.
Another of Peter’s favorite Cape Cod gigs was in Provincetown. Cabaret singer Hildegarde was in town for the summer and his band backed her. He had stories to tell ever after about the time they played with the brazen and worldly performer 30 years his senior.
Peter’s daughter, Jennifer Lee, remembers visiting Eastham in the early 1990s when her son was a baby. “My father brought his trumpet with him wherever he went,” she said, “and he never knew a stranger.”
One night, she recalled, she joined him at a beachfront bar overlooking the Atlantic. It was at the Wellfleet Beachcomber, she said, that he had his first and maybe only experience of sitting in with a “surfer band.”
Peter married three times. During his second marriage, his son, Jacob “Peachy” Welker, was diagnosed with leukemia. Peter put his career on hold for a time, and when Jacob died Peter’s broken heart was an almost impossible wound to survive.
He recorded and released the first album of his own, titled Para Peachy, and with his then-wife Judy organized the Carousel Fund, an event that helped parents of children with catastrophic illnesses. He also joined Jerry Garcia and mandolin player David Grisman on Not for Kids Only, a CD of children’s songs dedicated to Jacob Welker. Peter was invited to play on “Teddy Bears’ Picnic.”
He played games — cards, chess, crokinole — and usually won, even inventing a pinball-size tabletop game called “Get Small Baseball.” Every phone call with Peter started or ended with a joke: “A trumpet player walks into a bar…” and a story would begin.
Peter Welker is remembered by his cousins — this writer is one — his community in Petaluma, and many musicians across the country as a hugely generous friend and a hilarious character.
He leaves his daughter, Jennifer Lee, who remembers her father fondly as “a pretty interesting cat,” and her son, Elijah Jacob, both of Iowa City, Iowa, and his wife Carole Smith.
Peter died, unvaccinated, of Covid-19, in the hospital near his new home in Phoenix, where he and Carole had moved to be near her family.
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