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Interviews

Jeremy Pelt: A Man of Honor

By Published: April 12, 2010
AAJ: Men of Honor—talk about the band.

JP: These are guys that I wanted to work with. J.D. Allen and I met back in 1996 when he was with Betty Carter
Betty Carter
Betty Carter
1930 - 1998
vocalist
, and I always liked his playing. I got a chance to record in his CD back in 2001, a long time ago now and I liked his compositions. And I learned something from him on one of those rare opportunities, where you learn something from somebody on your age range. I was very happy about that; just the way that he plays, what he stands for, sometimes his solos are brief but always well thought out. They are never flashy at all and that's one of the things that I took of that, while doing his record. So when I did that I always kept him in the back of mind—"I definitely want to play with this cat again." And we had other opportunities to play—"I want to call this cat for a couple gigs," but there was always something that came up and he couldn't make it.



So right about the time that I started to put a band together, Gerald Cleaver, the drummer, called me, and Gerald is somebody that has been on the international scene for a long time but he just moved to New York, like in 2002, so I say that to say that I hadn't really heard him play, although I heard the name. But he reached out to me and I'd never even met him. And he sent me an email telling me that he really liked my playing and that he wanted to see if I could come and do one of his gigs, so I did that. Right away I was stoked by how insight his music was. I really dug where he was coming from, because as much as his shit is insight, it also had a lot of different properties to his music that wasn't just straight-ahead but you know, the spirit of what was coming out was really in the pocket. Then he called me to do his record, called Detroit (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2008), a couple of years ago. There was one time that we were recording one of his songs, I think it's called "Found," and at the end of the song it was just this system of chords that just kept repeating, and it was a sextet line, so it was me, J.D. and this cat named Andrew Bishop, who played soprano, tenor and then bass clarinet.

So Andrew and I were playing these background parts, and it was time for J.D. to just go ahead and wail, and boy, when that guy started to play it was like the sky was open! I was like "man, this mother fucker is bad! This ain't funny, this ain't even cute!" So I heard him and I said, well...you know I always wanted for J.D. to be in my band, so I gave J.D. a call, and I called Gerald, and he was actually stoked that I called him, because really to tell you the truth, and I hope he doesn't get offended if he reads this, and I say this because he is from Detroit, and Detroit is a very musical town, and he's also quite older than me, about 13 years older, he is the oldest person in the band, and I am sure he played a lot of straight-ahead with the cats in Detroit but I know what's perceived of him on an international setting. So I think this is pretty much the first band that kinda presented him in a straight-ahead manner that was visible. So that's why I chose J.D. and Gerald.

Now, Dwayne Burno is somebody that is always around, he is somebody that you call a "cat in the trenches," that's what some call me, too. You're a soldier in music. He's a true soldier of the music in the scene since 1991 or something like that. He's got a lot of knowledge and his playing just gets richer as years go by, so he is very valuable as a band member and as an anchor. So it was really important for me to want to get him in the band and I'm glad he agreed to do it.

Then Danny Grisset is also new to the city—he moved to New York probably in 2003 and I got a chance to get him on a gig. I have watched him grow in his playing. His playing hasn't changed, it has been tweaked. It's like my playing, I still basically play the same type of way but my playing has been tweaked by experience, and it's the same way with Danny. I've watched it and his playing kinda got that tweak.

And so, the big thing about bands is that everybody comes equipped with a generous amount of experience, it's not like I'm holding anybody's hand. It's not like I have to say much, which makes a difference because then it makes it easier for people to play well with each other and listen. That is why we don't even really rehearse that much because we know the music that we all write, and this is going to sound very new age or whatever, but it really does kind of chill after a certain amount of time. Some people love to rehearse, I can't stand rehearsing. You do it because you don't want to mess up somebody's music, so you get somebody that respects to rehearse. But if it's a band setting, man, I'm not going to get in the rehearsal studio for five hours going over this shit! That's what a band is. You may ask me how long it took to do this record: we got in the studio by twelve, and we were done by five. That's a band.

November (MAXJAZZ, 2008) was the first time that we got together, and we did that in two days. But I'm old school in the way that basically every record date that I get, it is all basically done in one day. But since you get signed to labels and sometimes labels have more money to spread out things, we can do things in two days. Sometimes it does come in handy, like when I did the strings record—you definitely needed two days set on that one but everything else, oh, I could have done that in one day but it was just a luxury. But I'm very committed, I like doing one day record dates. And I like to record all in the same moment. The thing is that I tell cats how we record and they are all stoked because we don't record in isolated rooms, we record all in one room, just like we're playing a gig. So therefore if there is a mistake that somebody made, it's not like we can go back and try to fix it with Pro Tools and slice this and slice that and insert and all that..No, it's just what it is. So everything you hear is very honest. There was only one edit, on "Milo Hayward," where I messed up the very last note. So we just took it from another take and that was it. We were able to get through these things because we work it. That's why if you read the liner notes, I talk about that and I say it anytime.

A lot of people think, "So what?," and they are right because if you think about the old mentality, so what? You are a band, you are supposed to be that, you are supposed to sound this good, you are supposed to work together. But nowadays there is not much opportunity for that to happen. People get so consumed in different projects that they want to do. Every single record is a different project with different everything, and some of it works, some of it doesn't. But if you want to add something that's going to make it, and I will say this, we've talked about this maybe 30 minutes ago, when I was telling you that I'm not one of those people that is trying to change the music or trying to be new or be hip or anything like that, but I say this: I do want, if I had one wish, I want for this band to go down in history as a formidable aggregation and to have people remember it fondly. Just like I hear stories, "Oh, man, I used to go see Miles Davis' group..." You don't see that anymore.

In the '90s, I could say that about Nicholas [Payton] and his band, for example. That's what I want—I want to be able to have a band, and this one has been together for three years already, I don't want to ever be asked the question "so, who's in your band?" And that is the norm now and it pisses me off every time. I hate it that it's the norm because it's so spread out that people are just so used to musicians having a different band all the time. Well, I don't want that. It's going to be the same band: J.D. Allen, Danny Grissett, Gerald Cleaver, Dwayne Burno. And of course, there's times when somebody can't make the gig, but the band's still the band. You can't create a sound if you change all the time.


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