Jeremy Pelt: A Man of Honor

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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For the younger generation of jazz musicians, those in their thirties today, the path is not always as smooth and easy as we may think it is. Nobody likes to live in anybody's shadow. Jazz is populated with giants who left their mark and those who look up to them in order to be able to move on. They listen; they internalize; they create something new. That is what jazz is all about: the thrill of the unknown. Comparisons are just a waste of time and a disrespectful and rather pathetic way of unsuccessfully pointing out that nothing original can ever come out of a horn again, because everything has already been said and done. Isn't jazz an evolving form of music anyway? Let's just be thankful for those giants of the past, and even more thankful for those who stand up today and keep the music playing, in their own terms.

Just like Nicholas Payton before him—who had to hear the endless comparisons jazz critics and fans kept throwing at him with Louis Armstrong (a New Orleans association of ideas, since Payton never phrased like Pops, nor did he ever need to) and even Clifford Brown—Jeremy Pelt has had his share of endless name throwing as well, as if his breathtaking creativity wasn't enough to satisfy the soul, and his music needed to be explained in terms of old glories and their innovative times; when the truth of the matter is that listening to him is almost like listening to jazz for the first time. Yes, the influence of others never goes unnoticed; but rather than listening to a new version of Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan , we are faced with perhaps the way any of them would have been able to sound, had they the ability to beat time and old age, and grow with the music that gave them their immortality. Jeremy Pelt is Jeremy Pelt, and he is here today. As simple as that.

The idea of a lasting quintet lineup is almost like a thing of the past today, and yet Pelt can't wait to demonstrate that jazz can still rely on chemistry and mutual understanding to create a sound, unique in its form and recognizable to the ear—not to mention what that can do to the spirit that listens, amazed and speechless. Tenor saxophonist JD Allen, bassist Dwayne Burno, pianist Danny Grissett and drummer Gerald Cleaver are Pelt's Men of Honor (HighNote, 2010)—possibly the best excuse we may find to embrace the way jazz sounds today, without ever denying the fascination we will always feel for the way it sounded yesterday.

Allen's "Brooklyn Bound," Cleaver's "From a Life of the Same Name," Grissett's "Without You" and Burno's "Backroad" complement Pelt's own compositions for this album to an extent that allows the album to be enjoyable without a willing interruption, with an energy that is in constant rotation. It's a classic feel, a beautiful experiment of sounds and feelings ("Milo Hayward") that co-exist and travels from point A to point B without messing up the vibe. Pelt's phrasing is clean and direct, and reaches the height of greatness more often than not, blessed as he is with the certainty of doing what he is supposed to be doing in life. Grissett's piano keys are alive ("Illusion"); Allen's tenor sax sounds are beyond gravity, as if his notes were meant to survive away from the instrument ("Backroad"); Cleaver's drums are a perfectly balanced, elegant and sophisticated addition to the band ("From A Life Of The Same Name"); and Burno's rhythmically delicate bass playing approach is rather breathtaking ("Without You").

Five men of honor and a common ground made out of imagination and music. The rest is called jazz.

All About Jazz: Talk about the beginnings.

Jeremy Pelt: Well, I didn't start with the idea that I was going to be a classical or a jazz musician, or any other kind of player. I was just playing instruments that you were required to play. But then I started to really get into it, and I suppose it started off with classical music. As far as I can remember, and I have to go back about 27 years, I've always wanted to do it; I've always wanted to play music. And I was very interested in getting better at it, but not in a competitive way. I was never a competitor. I just did what I did, and usually I was among the best in the class. But as far as the instrument is concerned, it wasn't until I got into high school, because they had a jazz band. I remember quite vividly wanting to do jazz but it was not a devastating kind of happening. It's not like, "Oh man, jazz is coming now, classical is gone!" I still love listening to it.

It was just that I really felt like putting my all into jazz at that point. So what I mean to say is that there was nothing devastating that happened, to where it was such a radical change. Plus I had at that point decided to really make a full commitment: I wanted to play trumpet. I was really into classical music, but jazz, when it came around, it was something that it appealed more, something that took all the excitement right away.


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