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Jeremy Pelt: A Man of Honor

By Published: April 12, 2010
AAJ: One of the things I love about your album is that you gave room to the band, as far as the tunes goes. They all pitched in. What makes a tune worth recording to you?

JP: It has to speak to me; it's as simple as that. I remember when Danny Grissett showed me "Without You," and he was like "Yeah, I got a song that you might want to check out." And he sent me a file and he was just about to record it for his record. So he sent me a recording of the rehearsal that he did with his band, and I listened to it, I was just like "Man..." First of all, it has to speak to me, and second of all, I got to envision myself playing it. One of the things that make a good band is putting together a very good set list where the music just flows, and you are able to read your audience, and I think I am fairly good; getting better at it all the time. But I'm always looking for something to create a vibe.

So sometimes I'll be walking around with these grand visions of how the set is going to go; I can see it. And when I heard "Without You" I knew I wanted to record it, and even how I wanted to record it. That arrangement you hear on there is different than the one on his record, which I'm glad, because you have two different ways of playing the same song. You have the version of how he interprets his song, and then you have our version, and right from when he started playing that song for me I already heard my version in my head, immediately. So that's why that one is in there. Certain songs have to fit the personality of the band, it has to be a personality vibe. So we can't be playing something totally uncharacteristic, it has to be something that we all get down with and play and internalize.

With Gerald Cleaver, "From a Life of the Same Name," we were in Portugal this is last March, and he pulled this song out. This was with his band and I was in his gig. So we tried this one and we played it, and I was like "we're recording this song." I didn't even ask him if I could! So we recorded this song in August. That's one of those songs that I didn't do much to it, it's a thoroughly composed song right there. And it spoke to me and a lot of people love that song, and it's their favorite song in the album.

With Dwayne's song, it fits the album perfectly. "Backroad"—you hear that and you get right down to business, that's why I like that. J.D.'s song, "Brooklyn Bound," it's about a vibe, you know?

AAJ: So if somebody was to ask you what this album is all about and you had to explain it with one of the songs, could you do that?

JP: No. I wouldn't even want to do that [laughs]. Really, if you wanted to say what the album is about, it's really about five points of view that aren't so different, but still five individual points of view that are coming in to make a whole. That's what the album is about—every time we play that's what is about.

AAJ: Is that what the name of the album is about, too, Men of Honor?

JP: Sure, yeah!

AAJ: That's a beautiful concept.

JP: Thank you. I thought long and hard about it [laughs]. I'm like, what do I want to call this record? Really, it was going to be something that was going to be... that people were going to be able to latch on to; and "Men of honor" just seemed like a good title, the musicians involved and the amount of experience that they have. I would like for people to perceive the album as music, to sit down and just listen to it. And dig it.

AAJ: What's the most important thing about the album to you?

JP: The sound, that's it. Obviously the performances are outstanding and everything but it's just the sound, the blend. It's a sonic thing; it's very important.

AAJ: Do you compose a lot?

JP: I try to. Maybe not as much as I used to, but every now and then I get the feeling. There are others like Myron Walden
Myron Walden
Myron Walden
that they can just sit and...he's got probably about a thousand songs already, you know what I mean? And it doesn't happen like that with me. Nowadays I got so much to think about, but I do write. I am good working under the gun. If there is something that I have to compose for, I have no problems; I almost prefer working under the gun. A dead line. But even so, I'm the type of person that it has to come to me in the moment. It just pops in my head. It may sound simple or whatever, it doesn't get any deeper than that. I'll be sitting someplace, practicing, and then all of a sudden I hear an idea, and all of a sudden "Oh, let me get this down."

AAJ: You're working on your master's in music education. How do you think music is being treated in schools nowadays, especially jazz?

JP: It would have to be more of a comprehensive program. The question is, and I can get in a lot of trouble for this, but... you go to school, you go to medical school, and you want to be a doctor. So you go to school, you do your residency, you get accepted to a hospital, you got a job.

You want to be a jazz musician. So you got to school, four years of school, doing this and that, and then you come on the scene and you ain't got a job [laughs]. So you get out of school and what are you going to do? It's funny, it's weird, but I feel like that whoever is going to be putting together the program has to do almost like an apprentice type of vibe. You can't go and say "OK, now we're going to teach you how to scat, and this is how you scat syllables," it's just stupid. And then they come out of school thinking they know how to scat because they learned it in school, they got a degree in it. When you are trying to get a gig, it's not like you're trying to get a teaching degree. You can't be showing your master's degree! "Look, I'm qualified; I got a degree in jazz performance, so I feel like I have earned my right to play," you know what I mean?

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