Jeremy Pelt: A Man of Honor
JP: It goes without saying...I mean, he influenced my playing and some of my writing, too. I met Freddie for the first time in 1998 and that was right around two or three months after I moved to New York, and he was in town, and I remember talking to him. He was really cool, really down to earth...I had heard that he was like, "What you playin'? You playin' trumpet? Oh, let me hear you. Oh, that's so sexy!," like that ... so, I was on my p's and q's about meeting him but I found that he was really down to earth. I didn't get tight with him to the point where we were able to correspond with each other all the time until much later, only because at that point he hadn't really heard me play because I hadn't done any records.
So after the record I did in 2000, called "Class of 2000," that came out in 2001, that's when people were starting to say to Freddie, "Check this cat out." So from there I started to have a good foundation for him to actually have anything to say to me since he had heard me. And every time he came in town I would see him. Now that I think about it, the first time I saw him was in 1996 in Boston. I was in college but that was forgettable because I just shook his hand and spoke very little [laughs]. "Oh man, it's so great to meet you," and I was gone. So moving on, I became good friends with Freddie because I just called him all the time and Freddie loved to talk, you know?
Well, there were times when he didn't feel like talking but there were times when we were on the phone and he talked forever. I was one of those people that if I wanted to know anything, I would just rather be around that person and just listen to whatever they wanted to talk about. And that's how that was with Freddie. I would just call him and say "hey, what's going on?" and I might introduce a topic, "Hey man, I was just checking you out on that record with Art Blakey," and he would just go on and on, or something like that. It was very nurturing in that respect. There were times when he would just come to New York and I would go and visit and see him play. A couple of times he called me after playing because at that time his chops where not in the best of shape. You know, there were times through it all when he was able to play two or three courses of a solo that would be so smoking hot that you would think "damn, he's coming back," but most of the time it wasn't like that; sometimes he could rip off something...
But he would call me and would talk about it and I could tell that he dug me, and he's mentioned it in interviews, too. I remember one time that he called me and said that really dug my writing; he said it was unique. I was completely blown away because he didn't have to tell me anything. And he was just that type of person; that was Freddie for you.
AAJ: Who do you look up to as far as trumpet playing?
JP: It's undeniable; I can't sit here and, after telling you this whole story about Freddie, then say that he wasn't an influence. Especially after listening to some of the early records that I have done, on other people's and on mine, and clearly hear the influence there. It's there. I think less now than five or six years ago, but it is still there. It will always be there because he has been one of my most important influences. Same with Miles Davis, same with Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro; I'm not going to deny it.
AAJ: So how do you feel about the comparisons that I've heard, and I'm sure you have to, that some people have compared your sound to Clifford Brown's, or Lee Morgan's, Hubbard's ...?
JP: Well, a lot of times critics are just fishing for things to say, you know what I mean? I sound like Clifford Brown? I love Clifford, let that be in print, I got all his bootlegs and he is the most inspiring of them all, but I don't sound like Clifford at all. So it always tickles me when somebody says, "Oh, man, it sounds like Clifford Brown." Oh, you're just looking for something to say. And same with Lee Morgan; as much as I love Lee Morgan, I don't sound like him. I just feel like ... it always weirds me out that people are always making comments like that. When I read other people's reviews, they don't compare them with Miles or Freddie, or anything like that.
And then you get to my reviews and it is always consistently going to be like "yes, he's got the tone of Freddie Hubbard; and the vibe of this record feels like that record of the Jazz Messengers, J.D. Allen sounds like Wayne Shorter, and this and this...," and it goes on and on with these dumb ass comparisons instead of just talking about the music. So it's like, when does it end? And I am not going to sit here and say that this music sounds exactly likes Miles' 'cause it doesn't! Is there an influence? Yes. Does everybody have influences? Yes, even trumpeters that are younger than me. Sean Jones, for example, you could say "okay, I can hear some Wynton Marsalis, some Woody Shaw ..." and it's not a bad thing but they don't get it as much. And it's hilarious because that can't be denied and it's not a bad thing. But I feel like the critics, especially the ones that think they know enough to be able to dictate what's going to be new, and what's not. So what they do is put you in a place and say "Well, this sounds like that," which is not a bad thing, it's great, but it's almost like saying "I'm not prejudice, my best friend is black" [laughs].
Just give it a rest. If you're going to critique something, not everything has to be on that kind of scale. Now it would be a different thing if it was "Jeremy Pelt plays the music of Miles Davis" or "plays the music of Freddie Hubbard," playing their songs, then I could see you having a base for comparisons. But if I am sitting here playing music by Jeremy Pelt, you just wasted a whole column talking about how this music sounds like Miles and how Gerald Cleaver sounds like Tony, and stuff like that, because you are just fishing for something to say, like the band sounded like the Miles Davis Quintet. It's stupid!