Jeremy Pelt has gone from rising star in jazz to one of it’s brightest and well established players. Throughout his career he has managed to explore jazz on his own terms and that honesty comes through in his music. His latest release – Men of Honor finds him playing with some of the best musicians on the scene today. Jazzbrew.com had an opportunity to talk to Jeremy about several topics including his latest release, working with the legendary Louis Hayes and the popularity of jazz today.
Special thanks to Keith Rogers for his assistance in coordinating the interview and of course thanks to Jeremy for taking the time to answer my questions. He’s been a constant inspiration to me and countless other musicians.
JB: Can you talk a little about the title of your CD – Men of Honor? Where did the idea for the title come from?
JP: Men of honor came from doing some serious thinking about what I wanted to people to know about the band. This is special group made up of dedicated individuals, and that in itself is honorable.
JB: You have some really, really talented cats contributing to this recording. Can you talk a little about each and what you enjoy about their playing?
JP: JD Allen is a player that I’ve always thoroughly admired. He’s easy to play with because he knows how to listen, and that makes a big difference. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s a player of great patience. No notes are wasted. Danny Grissett is very reliable and very disciplined. His comping is amongst the best of his generation. An indispensable asset to any organization! Dwayne Burno is also very reliable. He’s a stong-minded player and his support is rock solid. He understands how to be a bass player, which I feel like some of the younger generation don’t grasp. Whenever Gerald Cleaver plays, it’s like he’s painting a picture. He’s very musically intrepid!
JP: I’m a big fan of original jazz composition. I feel it is vital to keeping the music fresh and current. You know you’re one of my favorite composers on the scene today. Can you talk a little about the process you go through when writing new music?
JP: Thanks! My composition process has changed over the years. It depends on what I want to accomplish musically on a particular song. For instance, “Illusion” is based off a question that I ask myself sometimes: How do you elongate the solo form without really changing the number of bars. My answer was to have each soloist start their solo at a different part of the form and have THAT starting point be the new top of the form. It’s like if one were to play a blues and there were three soloists. The first soloist starts on the traditional top of the form. The next solo starts his chorus on the iv chord and then that’s the new top of the form, then the third soloist starts his solo on the turnaround and then THAT’S the new top of the form! That’s the illusion. For other compositions, I’ll often start with a sketch and then it can take a while to develop into something. For example, “Avatar” from my CD “November”. All I “heard” for a YEAR was just that first bass line! It took me a whole year to figure out the rest!
JB: You’re a member of the Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy band. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and maybe what you’ve learned playing with a legendary musician like Louis Hayes?
JP: The thing I learned (and am still learning) from Louis Hayes, Jimmy Cobb, Tootie Heath, Roy Haynes and other drummers of that era that I’ve played with as well as keepers of the tradition like Kenny Washington and Lewis Nash is that drummers aren’t JUST there to keep time. They complete your phrases (if you’re hip enough to know how to phrase in the first place!). Quite frankly, I think that we’re in era where a lot of young drummers are very heavy handed and tend to OVERSTATE. With those drummers I mentioned, the magic in their playing is in there UNDERSTATED approach to playing. Youngsters will listen to cats like Elvin and Tony and hear a lot of drums and think that they’re bashing all the time, but they don’t stop to consider the fact that they were very controlled in their dynamics.
JB: I’ve seen a bunch of discussions about making jazz more popular or mainstream. Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you believe this is possible in today’s music/cultural climate without sacrificing the integrity of the music?
JP: I think that all music today is cross-pollenating into each other, so whether jazz will be “popular” or “mainstream” again is eventually going to be a moot point. Will it ever achieve the singular fame that it enjoyed in the roaring 20′s, 30′s, 40′s and 50′s? I’m inclined to say no. We’re simply not in that mind frame, musically speaking, anymore. It also depends on how you want to gage the meanings of today’s “jazz” and “mainstream”. There are bands like “The Bad Plus” etc. that are playing a lot of covers in order to r elate to today’s times, and they seem to be wildly popular. I’m not into that sort of thing though on a constant basis. That means, that you MIGHT very well hear me play a cover if it REALLY speaks to me, but I don’t want to base a career off of covering other popular bands music and jumping on their success band wagon. I don’t think the “Bad Plus” sacrifices the integrity of the music, because what they do is what they’ve ALWAYS been doing for years. It’s their concept.
JB: As a musician, how do you walk that fine line between creating what you want as an artist and providing the public with something you think they will like? Can those two goals coexist?
JP: Honestly, I don’t think on those terms. I want to please myself first. There’s an audience for EVERYTHING these days, so chances are SOMEBODY will dig what I’m doing. One great thing about being in a genre of music that has consistently for the past 40 years represented lower and lower numbers of record sales, is that there’s really no pressure to create something that’s “audience” friendly (from the record label’s stance). I think the last major bandwagon experience was when Lee Morgan recorded “The Sidewinder”! Look at the increased numbers of boogaloo records on Blue Note that followed.
JB: I know you are involved in the JazzMobile program and I’ve heard wonderful things about it. Do you enjoy teaching? I’m sure the participants gain something from you but do you find yourself learning anything new from them?
JP: I do enjoy teaching. What’s more rewarding for me is to learn how to present my ideas and clear and well thought out way (something which I’m still trying to hone).
JB: Many of the readers of my site are trumpet players and musicians themselves. Would you mind sharing a bit of advice with regards to dealing with the trumpet and improving as a jazz musician?
JP: The best advice I can give everyone is to KEEP LISTENING. All the time. Always be exercising your mind with music. Ask questions and work on figuring out the answers.