Jeremy Pelt: From Classical, Perhaps One Day to Classic
He says jazz clubs and jazz projects are not money makers and that hurts the development of the music and musicians that have to eat and feed families. "One of the things that should definitely happen, is a lot of these stars that love jazz and that are making multi-million dollars of money should invest in something. Bill Cosby does the Playboy Jazz Festival. Someone should open a venue. That's something that can happen. Peter Jennings [the late ABC news anchorman] was a huge supporter of jazz. He had benefits at his house every summer. So I think that needs to happen.
"What's positive about jazz is that there are a lot of young kids coming up that are more than proficient at an early age, 15, 16 or 17 years old. They're coming up. They weren't coming up like that in the '80s. Schools are starting to have jazz programs... Go figure. People are cashing in on it.
The proliferation of jazz programs and the reality of the music business, is an irony not lost on Pelt. The schools are money makers and create a lot of teaching jobs that help musicians get by.
"When you think about it, these kids are going to these schools. And then for what? If you go to medical school, you learn and then you become a doctor and work at a hospital. You go to music school and learn, then you come out and you're going to be broke," he says laughing. "Because only a couple people make it. That's how it's designed. You can't have that many stars on the rise. Everybody's got to take their turn to get there."
"There are a lot of cats in this music, putting their hearts and souls into it. Everybody has aspirations. And when they come out, there's hardly any venues to go to. It's very competitive to get any kind of gigs at a place you want to play, because there's really no money. A lot of festivals are losing money. It's a very weird place that jazz is at right now in terms of the younger people coming up and trying to get into it.
"Once again, I'm forced to believe that it will change. But for that to happen, there's got to be generations into jazz. In order for it to have any kind of continuity into the future, there's got to be more young people that aren't even musicians, but are into the music. Because that's going to be the new generation. Cats that are into it that are 60, 70, 80 years old aren't going to be around for that long to preserve it, like they have been for 50 years."
Exposure is another problem. Pelt says many young fans see jazz as an older people's music, played by people not in their generation. It creates a situation where they don't try to listen or understand it.
With the music not on mainstream radio venues and not pushed by the powers that be in musicfor reasons too numerous to mentionit's difficult for the art form to get into the consciousness of young listeners.
"I did a festival this last weekend in Ottawa, Mich. There was a lady and her daughter. We played, and they came up and bought CDs. Her daughter said, 'I don't like jazz. But this is good.' [laughter] I hear that speech three or four times a year. 'I can't stand jazz, but I like this.' They don't know, especially young people, that there's a whole lot out there (people from their generation.) People like myself. Robert Glasper. Orrin Evans. Cats out there are playing and they come from that same environment as the people who say they hate jazz are coming from."
Pelt's main focus now is to keep his band working and keep his name out there, which, again, is easier said than done in spite of his recognition among critics as one of the main trumpeters to keep an eye on. The music business, particularly owners of the major clubs, is still looking for the big names that will draw people. Developing young artists isn't the mindset at many venues.
"The hard thing, when it comes down to it, and you're trying to do things with your own band as a leader, the more you do sideman gigs, the more you're seen as a sideman," says Pelt. "When I came to the scene, I had at least five or six gigs that I was prominently featured on. There was the Mingus band, Lewis Nash band, Louis Hayes, Ralph Peterson, Lonnie Plaxico. I was in all these bands. It made me more visible, which is a good thing, especially if you're just moving to town. I have no complaints about that.
"After a while, you have to get rid of those gigs, because you have to take a stance where you're a leader now. If that means you have to stop doing the sideman gigs, that's something to consider. I tell a lot of cats the same thing. They had a lot of gigs too, and are trying to be a leader. I say, listen man. This is what you're going to have to do. Because they don't want to see you in a certain way, unless you make it known. If you've been to every major jazz festival, people know who you are. If you have CDs played on the radio, people are going to know who you are. That's the bottom line."
Pelt pushes on. Talent and resolve.