Jeremy Pelt: A Man of Honor
AAJ: You are seen by many as a musician who studies the music, who elaborates what comes out of that horn. What do feel when you play?
JP: Hopefully, happy. You know what? What you want to do is set up a different story every single time you play, that's the way that I approach playing. And it's so much of a personal kind of thing that sometimes it's just really inexplicable. Maybe I can't sit over here and say exactly what it is that I am feeling when I'm playing because then it will come and go.
AAJ: Have you ever had to play a gig and you didn't feel like playing?
JP: Sure, plenty of times. The biggest misconception you can get is that musicians, while we play for a living and it's the greatest thing you can hope to accomplish, but still there are days when you just don't feel like going to work. There are certain circumstances, where you just go, "Oh boy, I don't feel like making it!" Sometimes you end up doing it just for the money. It has to manifest itself in different ways. First and foremost, you have to be professional. So, if you are on stage with a bunch of screw-ups that can't play or the music is terrible, you play and then you just head for the nearest bar. That's what I've always done [laughs], because you never know. Sometimes the squarest gigs for the people can be the most connected, in terms of getting you good-paying gigs. And sometimes those good-paying gigs can be the saddest gigs. So, you don't want to alienate them by acting disrespectful towards them on stage or talking bad about them. So, what you do is you pray that you're not able to make the gig, that you will be busy doing something else [laughs]. That's an ideal opportunity right there.
AAJ: What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of jazz?
JP: You know the answer to that question changes daily. Somebody asked me that question two or three years ago, and I can't remember what I told that person. If they were to remind me I'd be like, "Oh, yeah...well...it could also be this..." I hate trying to give definitive answers to a question that can move you a lot different in the space of a day. I'm not trying to be elusive about it, just saying that truly, is like I could sit here and tell you that the most definitive answer that I can give is that jazz is keen to life. But that alone can mean so many different things to different people. Jazz means different things to different people and I'm sure you understand that. So, a lot of people have different points of view about what the music is, according to their own experiences, which is why life would seem to be a very good answer to that question; because there are some sub-explanations to fit into that question, from day to day, but the common denominator would always be life. I wouldn't be surprised with the answer anybody can give you to that question because it depends on each person and how they feel that day.
AAJ: What would you like to see happen for you?
JP: I'd like to see my band get wider recognition. Not fame, wider recognition. More exposure, especially in its home country. Especially because, I'll be honest, there's only a few places where I can work in the Unites States: New York and then there's L.A., and there is a lot less in L.A. because Jazz Bakery is closed now and I don't know when they are going to open back up. So, wider recognition in the States would be good. Of course, you understand that we're in a terrible economy right now, and everybody is afraid to take any kind of hit, but there's got to be a general understanding about financing and everything like that. I'm just saying, I get emails all the time, and I have more than 3,000 people on Facebook, including people that I don't even know who they are but that know me. So somebody knows me, somebody is affected, and I get people in the Midwest, too, "Oh, when are you going to come here?," I got nothing to tell them because a lot of these places is an uphill battle all the time. Uphill! I'm going to be playing in Chicago in April; man, it took us seven or eight years to get there! And I'm talking about with no label support because there are cats my age or a little bit younger that are playing over there, but they also got label support.
A lot of these places, if you are not coming with a certain guarantee to them that they will actually break even, then they won't even try to hear you, and they know who you are. So it's not even like they can sit over there and fake and say, "Well, nobody knows you." Oh, come on, don't give me that. Everybody knows who I am at this point. I have been at the cover of Down Beat, numerous articles, including Wall Street Journal. I can go ahead and list a bunch of them but I choose not to, except now, that you asked me a question that I am being frank about; otherwise I try to be as much as a gentleman as possible. But the fact is that at this point, with my band, we are playing in Europe at least three times a year, traveling different territories, and people love the music. And we keep going back.
And it's sad that we can't even get the same kind of love and attention, except for the occasional articles, but it's sad that not even that matters. I could have been nominated for a Grammy this year and won a Grammythat won't matter. You see the same people in festivals every year, or they are going for something completely different and they don't even want straight-ahead, you know? Something buzz-worthy. It is almost like you have to create a scandal now, the John Mayer of jazz, and that is a poor joke, but still, you know? It's just a ridiculous thing. So what do I want for myself? I want more recognition for the band because we deserve it. I think there is room for everybody in music but I also think that in order to make it fair, there has to be some kind of a rite of passage. A lot of times you see cats that barely came on the scene; you can't find them on other people's recordings, so they haven't recorded. They're starting to buzz about them and now they're getting a lot of work, for what? You know what I mean? And everybody's got a musical point of view.
A lot of music is good and should be heard in due time, but people are so quick to do things immediately that you have to try to slave over a concept for 12 years. And playing with a lot of the masters that are here, and some that are now dead, to see somebody else come up there. And this is going to sound like I'm bitter, but I'm not. In the past 12 years that I've been up here I've been able to have great opportunities. It's not a full complaint, "Nobody is paying attention to me," that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that there is room for everybody, for bands to be heard, and it makes no sense that every festival has the same artists pretty much from here to here.
Like you have somebody that is new and you're going to present them. Sure, go ahead. But not every year! I look at things realistically and there is one thing that you have to have in mind if you want to make it as a band leader, and that is that you have to know what your own standing on the scene is, and I think I have a firm grasp on that. I don't think I am greater than anybody but I'm assertive and I know exactly what I've done thus far, and I know what it is that I am capable of doing, and I definitely work with that as much as possible. And it is not like I have any false kind of perceptions about where I am in the scene. I'm not sitting here saying, "Listen, I should be on the same bill as Wynton Marsalis." I don't understand that, I'm not one of those people. We can go over to Europe, no problem. And a lot of times I have wondered if I shouldn't move to Europe.
But then I had a great conversation with Jesse Davis, because I was really thinking about it, because there comes a point when in the darkest corner on every musicians' minds there is some state of discourage about something. And it probably happens to me once a year, when I'm like, "You know what, this shit fucking sucks!" [laughs]. And then I get a hold of myself and I get myself together and tomorrow is a different day. But I guess my whole point, in regards to moving to Europe, was that. And Jesse said, "You don't really want to do that because then you are easily accessible, and essentially is going to be the same thing." So you want to keep your visibility here because then you won't be a cat that they can see all the time. It's a business decision but if you ask me what I want, that's what I want: recognition for the band.