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Pete left us on , May 2nd, of a brain haemorrhage. He had just completed months of chemotherapy.
Pete and I met when he provided the intro music for the very first MothFM Top Ten show, and we have remained firm friends from that moment, collaborating on a few pieces, with musical conversations before each new release, and of course giving me the honour of airing each single with the 1st Global airplay's too
An amazing man, father, husband, friend and awesome musician. I’ve only known Pete since 2014, but in those few short years I have been blessed by his awesome spirit and a great inspiration to me in my moments of darkness a few years back.
His music will live on, especially with TheMothFM, he should be remembered for his amazing spirit, kindness, sense of fairness, love and of course his soulful music. He would want people to be kind and help others that need help.
Pete was only 71, he didn’t want to die and now he’s playing his guitar at that great gig in the sky.
He’d say “Let the music play on”
With much love for his wife Tina and family.
For 20 years, Pete Gitlin hosted Thursday Jungle Jazz Jam at the Chandler Pita Jungle, sharing the stage with hundreds of musicians, from high school students making their first live performances to any number of the Valley's most accomplished jazz musicians.
Gitlin started playing music as a teenager in rock bands and launched a recording career as a smooth jazz guitarist with 2008's "Full Circle and the Great Temptation," the first of several recordings with producer John Herrera of legendary Phoenix jazz band Turning Point.
Gitlin died on Sunday, May 2, after suffering a stroke, having recently completed months of chemotherapy for cancer. He was 71.
Tina Gitlin, the guitarist's wife, who fell in love at first sight at a Pita Jungle gig, says, "He was a wonderful man who brought a lot of light into the world. I feel extremely blessed to have had him in my life. I always told Pete 'Thank you for always putting a song in my heart and a smile on my face,' because he truly did."
Gitlin grew up in Manhattan, lost his father at 17 and took off for the West Coast just in time for flower power, having had his mind blown by the Beatles.
As Sierra Gitlin, his daughter, came to understand it, "My dad was a total hippie. He used to play a little wooden recorder on the Sunset Strip with a tin cup on his belt, busking for spare change. Then he'd play the clubs at night with psychedelic rock 'n' roll bands."
By 1968, he was spending time in Haight-Ashbury, "just a full-blown San Francisco hippie."
It suited Gitlin's worldview, one he carried through life as the product of a family of social activists.
"He was arrested for chaining himself along with some other demonstrators to a courthouse in New York City to protest the imprisonment of some freedom fighters in Mississippi," Sierra says.
"So he, like John Lewis said, got into good trouble. And when his father came to bail him out, he told him he was proud of him for standing up for what was right."
That's how he raised his own kids.
"When I would go to my dad for advice in a situation that there maybe wasn't good advice for, when things were confusing or unclear, what he always said was 'Move from a place of love and all will be okay.'"
Over the last few months, as he was battling cancer, Gitlin took to Facebook, sharing his thoughts and feelings with friends and signing each post, 'Love and light, Pete.'
Sierra tears up as she talks about those posts.
"To me, that encapsulates everything about him," she says.
"He embodied love and light in really everything he did. And people felt that and responded to it. Universally across the board, everyone we've heard from says these same things. So it's not just me, his biased daughter."
Those same qualities informed Gitlin's approach to music.
Former bandmate Andy Ziker, a drummer, met Gitlin where a lot of local players met the multi-instrumentalist — at Pita Jungle.
He became the house drummer for the weekly series, at which Gitlin tended to play bass although guitar was his main instrument, in the early 2000s.
"More than any jam session I've ever been part of, as part of the house band or a visiting musician, it was just such a giving environment where you didn't even need a sign-up sheet or anything," Ziker says.
"Pete handled that with ease, got people to play one or two songs and kind of kept it moving without there being any hard feelings."
Gitlin loved shining the spotlight on other musicians, a quality that made him perfect for hosting a jam night. "He wasn't into music for an ego boost," Ziker says.
Tommy Anderson played in several groups with Gitlin in the course of more than 20 years of friendship, from the rock group Luke Warm and the Not-So-Hots to the Beatles tribute act the Beatless.
"Pete was an amazing asset to Arizona music," Anderson says, pointing to the Jungle Jazz Jam. "Everybody owes a debt of gratitude for him giving them opportunities to get up there and play with these world-class musicians."
Stevie Ray Ellis met Gitlin shortly after moving to the Valley from Detroit to work at Avnet, where Gitlin was vice president of global marketing.
"I was a worker bee," Ellis says. "And Pete was an executive. But we heard about each other being musicians so we finally were able to get together one night. And we never stopped getting together. Pete has been in every band I've had for the last 20 years.."
Ellis was in Luke Warm and the Not-So-Hots, a cover band that also featured Anderson.
"He was never a bandmate to me," he says of Gitlin. "Me, Tommy and Pete, we were brothers."
Anyone who played with Gitlin, Ellis says, was touched by that experience in a positive way.
"He played with some of the best and some of the newest musicians," Ellis says.
"He didn't care. If you had a passion for music, he was gonna help you. What he did with that 20-year run at Pita Jungle was unprecedented. Every Thursday night for 20 years. There were so many people that were just inspired and moved by his musicianship, by his friendship, by just his consistency of being a great guy."
Gitlin picked up fretless bass after moving to Phoenix from Boston and landing the Jazz Jam gig at Pita Jungle.
"So he went from being this great guitar player to being this amazing fretless bass player," Anderson says. "At first, I didn't even know he played guitar. But he's equally good, if not better at guitar."
And as Ziker says of him suddenly switching to the fretless bass like that, "To start playing bass in a jazz context with difficult changes and harmonization is probably not the easiest chore."
When other bassists would sit in on one of those jam sessions, Gitlin would switch to guitar.
"That's, I think, when he took a little bit more of the spotlight," Ziker says.
"Pete as a guitar player was wonderful, a warm sound, played a lot of chordal solos. He had such a relaxed sound that came out, but he always had an intense look on his face."
The other time he stepped into the spotlight was in introducing other players as they joined the jam.
"He was very humorous, almost like a standup comedian," Ziker says.
"He would say funny things and keep everything light and moving along, which is exactly what you want because a jam session can involve a lot of bruised egos. You only have one or two songs to go up there and do your best and sometimes it doesn't work out. Pete kept it friendly."
Music played a major role in Gitlin's life even when he was focused more on family.
"My first memories are of him playing guitar and singing," son Justin Gitlin recalls.
"Sierra mentioned that his guitar playing was the sound of the house. And I thought that was so true. He would be sitting with us, playing his guitar for us and giving us a soundtrack. Which inspired us to pick up music. I've been a lifelong musician. Sierra has, too."
Sierra says, "I don't think it's that music meant so much to him. It's like it was him. They're inseparable. It was his creative life force. He had many other talents, and was also just brilliantly smart, an intellectual, with a tremendous sense of humor."
He could've done anything, Justin says. "But music is what he was meant to do."
It's amazing to Justin to know his father set all that aside to focus on his family.
"Between the ages of, I think, 30 and 50, he put everything aside to raise me and Sierra and make sure we had everything we needed," Justin says. "He still played guitar all the time. Then, after we were both out on our own, at 50, he sort of created this new life in Phoenix."
Gitlin started doing music full-time in 2008 after retiring early from a very successful career as the vice president of global development for the Fortune 500 company that moved him to the Valley, Avnet.
Justin says he found a letter on his dad's computer, written shortly after he left Avnet to focus on music.
"It said, 'I can already see my bank accounts heading in the opposite direction, but my stress level is heading in the right direction, and I'm getting to play music. It's just a beautiful moment."
Sierra recalls her father telling her, "This is the universe opening a door for me. And I'm gonna walk through it and take advantage of the time."
Anderson says, "That was just the next step in his evolution was to get these ideas down and really make a mark. That's one thing with records is it makes you kind of immortal in a small way. And they're just really world-class recordings."
Even on his own recordings, Gitlin liked to shine a light on other players.
"He'd play the opening melody or closing melody and sometimes little solos," Ziker says.
"But he would feature singers and saxophone players and other musicians. It wasn't about showing off his chops. It was about the composition and spotlighting others. I always thought that was cool."
Gitlin's guitar chops were not "of the Eddie Van Halen variety," Ziker says. "He wasn't a shredder. He probably could've been a shredder if he wanted. But he didn't want to be that."
Gitlin's style was more melodic.
"Pete was a fan of the Grateful Dead and the Beatles," Ziker says.
"He was in hippie-rock groups in the '60s and '70s. I mean, I realize Jimi Hendrix played around that time, but Pete's thing wasn't like Hendrix. It was more about melody."
Being in a band with Gitlin was always a pleasure for Anderson.
"He never got flustered," he says. "He was just smooth, even-keeled, easygoing. You could throw anything at him and he could keep up. I think part of that is just being a jazz player."
"Pete was an avid golfer," Ziker says. "A scratch golfer, an excellent golfer."
It was while golfing last summer that Gitlin started feeling winded, the first indication that something was amiss. He later fell while walking with Tina and their dogs around the neighborhood. That fall prompted a visit to the doctor.
"They thought there was something wrong with his heart," Ziker says.
"So he went in and eventually they found a tumor located between his heart and his lungs."
Diagnosed last September with a very rare form of aggressive cancer called leiomyosarcoma, he had the tumor removed and went through chemotherapy, posting on his Facebook page about a month before his death that the cancer was gone.
"It seemed like he was really on the road to recovery," Justin says.
He got an eagle on the golf course just two weekends before his death and squeezed in his first gig since COVID-19 shut down all the venues.
Sierra watched the show on Facebook Live.
"He was just happy as can be," she says. "In his element, sitting in a chair, but dancing. It was just so wonderful to see."
Then, last weekend, he suffered a stroke.
"It was quick," Sierra says. "It was as relatively painless as one can hope for their loved ones. And we had all had these last several months and this last really good month to connect with him."
It's how he would've wanted it to end, she says. To have his final days be full of life and living.
"I feel like he's the consummate showman, leaving on his own terms and sort of leaving people wanting more," she says.
"It breaks my heart, but it's on-brand for him. It's very him and it's in its own way very beautiful Even though his absence for us will never ever be filled."
Ziker says he considers himself lucky to have gotten to play so many gigs with Gitlin through the years.
"It was fun every time," he says. "As long as Pete was on the gig. I'm sure it was like that for other people. As long as Pete was there, everything was cool."
Ellis sees his passing as a major loss, not just on a personal level but also for the scene at large.
"With all the great work he's done at Pita Jungle the last 20 years, bringing people together to celebrate jazz, it's a blow, that's for sure," Ellis says.
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