Before & After: Jeremy Pelt

photo by Gulnara Khamatova

[This B&A generated discussion and controversy at the time for Mr. Pelt’s bold comments on the Miles Meets India recording.]

Over the last decade trumpeter Jeremy Pelt has grown from promising sideman into respected leader. After graduating from Berklee, Pelt moved to New York and attracted attention through his work with the Mingus Big Band, Frank Foster, Jimmy Heath, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band featuring Louis Hayes. He has now recorded 8 CDs as a leader, including his 2011 release, “The Talented Mr. Pelt” (HighNote).



1. Joe Newman & Joe Wilder

“Secret Love” (from Hangin’ Out on Concord). Newman, Wilder, trumpets; Hank Jones, piano, Rufus Reid, bass; Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums. Recorded in 1984.

Before: “Secret Love.” This cat has a kind of Roy Eldridge thing happening with the Harmon mute. The open horn player sounds like Joe Wilder; the inflections, the nuances, the way he scoops into some of the notes. Joe Newman had the same kind of thing, but I wish I could place the Harmon mute player. Young players need to know about Joe Wilder. He’s a very humble person and very much a gentleman. He’s one of those players that keeps a good concept of time and rhythm and harmony. I cherish those nights going to the Vanguard to see what he’s got to play. Joe’s sound is always warm but it also has openness.

After: Joe Newman was another one of those tasteful players. I first started checking him out when I was playing with Frank Foster and he wrote a tribute to Joe Newman. The most famous version of “Cherokee” is Clifford Brown’s but I also like Joe Wilder’s version [from Softly With Feeling] because his ideas are so melodic and fresh, the way he approaches every chord. [sings part of Wilder’s solo] And he does some trumpet stuff that will grab the ear of any discerning trumpet technophile. I transcribed his “Cherokee” solo. That always got to me. This is a beautiful record.

2. Nicholas Payton

“The Crimson Touch” (from Into The Blue on Nonesuch). Payton, trumpet, synths; Kevin Hayes, piano, keyboard; Vicente Archer, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums; Daniel Sadownick, percussion. Recorded in 2007.

Before: I love Nicholas and I love this record for the same reason that a lot of critics and even his fans don’t like it. I downloaded this and the thing about this record is that you have to spend time with it. The sad thing about today is that nobody has time to listen to a CD. Think about it, if Kind of Blue had come out today, nobody would have given a shit. I hear Nicholas taking his time, developing his ideas and not being afraid. There’s missed notes on some of these tracks. I love hearing that type of stuff. You don’t hear that on any of his earlier records. Why? Because when you start making records and your name gets out there, the pressure to play as perfect as you possibly can gets in the way. Nicholas has always been one of those people who records very well. Not everyone can, because the studio is a very unnatural environment. I’m much more a live player than a studio player. I’m sure if you listen to outtakes of Nicholas, they’re all killin’. This record represents him taking his time. And this track is probably the most frustrating track for anybody to listen to who wasn’t in the mood to sit down and really check it out because this track goes on forever [laughter]. But I like the concept of where it’s coming from. There’s also a breathiness in his playing. His sound has changed. I can still tell it’s Nicholas but it’s not as forceful as he was playing before. I know he had an embouchure problem that he corrected and that has something to do with how he plays now. I prefer it now because he’s not trying to prove anything. It’s what I call a state of being lived in, where you come into yourself. Nick still has the ability to play like he did six or seven years ago, but he’s focusing on developing his ideas in a more organic and non-forced way. I like that tune on there, “The Backward Step.” On that one, sound-wise, he reminds me of Tom Harrell. I love the record.

3. Booker Little

“Booker’s Blues” (from Booker Little and Friend on Bethlehem). Little, trumpet; Julian Priester, trombone; Don Freedman, piano; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Reggie Workman, bass; Pete “La Roca” Sims, drums. Recorded in 1961.

Before: [sings along with the melody] Booker Little is one of those people I transcribed the most. It was challenging at a point when I needed to be challenged. One of his records I really fell in love with was his quartet record with Roy Haynes and Scott LaFaro and Tommy Flanagan. There was a song called “Opening Statement” that appealed to me, just the way that he was able to keep his lines going up, moving into this arc and the flow of the lines. I wanted to incorporate that into my own playing. And his concept of harmony is something I was keen on, too. He really loved half-diminished chords, playing inside the chord and then making different chords out of that. He really embraced dissonances and I loved him for that. He wasn’t afraid. That what I get from Eddie Henderson and I know that Eddie checked out Booker a whole lot. What’s this, “Booker’s Blues?” I first heard this in college. At Berklee I’d go to the sessions down at Wally’s and the bassist Ron Mahdi told me to go shed and check out some Booker Little. But I wasn’t ready for it then. I was into Miles and Lee Morgan. When I finally got into Booker and started transcribing his things, it made it easier to deal with some of the stuff that Freddie was playing.

4. Cannonball Adderley

“The Sticks” (from Mercy, Mercy, Mercy on Capitol). Cannonball Adderley, alto saxophone; Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul, piano; Victor Gaskin, bass; Roy McCurdy, drums. Recorded in 1966.

[big smile] “The Sticks.” Cannonball and Nat. [sings along] The first time I played this was with Julius Tolentino for his senior recital. Jackie McLean was there. This is Nat at his best, at his funkiest. Whether he played jazz or funk or Brazilian, he was always swinging. Cannon and Nat both played music like hipsters. They were good mama’s boys, they played music of the people. You hear that exuberant audience reaction, that’s what it’s all about. Nat is unsung and under-appreciated because younger players are all looking for ethereal type of brain-bending shit.  This is the essence of the blues, groove at its finest. There’s no pretension in it at all. That’s what I’ve always loved about them. And I listen to them every day. I just flew back from Europe and on the flight I’m listening nine hours to Cannonball and Nat.

Of their recordings, which are your favorites?

Jazz Workshop Revisited, the sextet with Yusef [Lateef]. I also like Fiddler On The Roof. Nat had a hell of a way of phrasing any type of melody. You listen to that double quartet record with Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers and Philly on one side, and Louis Hayes, Sam Jones and Zawinul on the other side. That’s just a great record. It always feels good. That’s why I can’t understand why more players don’t like to listen to him. It’s almost like they want to be anti-feeling, which doesn’t make any sense. You listen to Nat, it’s just greasy soul [laughs]. Shit is killin’.

5. Kenny Wheeler

“Smatter” (from Gnu High on ECM). Wheeler, flugelhorn, Keith Jarrett, piano; Dave Holland, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums. Recorded in 1975.

Before: I like the trumpet player’s ideas. He’s got a good handle on his instrument, very flexible. There are certain ways that he came to the lines that were like triplets. I like that it moves his lines and concepts forward. I like what the drummer’s doing with the bass drum. The trumpet player and the pianist sound the same, like they’ve been shedding together. The piano player’s got a Keith Jarrett type of thing happening, some of the over-the-bar line things. It’s freer, it doesn’t constrict you. You don’t have to worry about four beats to the bar to complete a phrase; you just fall over into another one, which is good, especially on a song like this. I’d be interested in seeing if this is the piano player’s song.

After: Ok, there you have it. I could dig it. I want to play with Jack, I’m still trying to make it happen. I have a lot of respect and love for his playing. I like how everything was executed. The recording sounded so fresh, maybe it’s because today’s recordings sound so old.

6. 3 Cohens

“It Could Happen To You” (from Braid on Anzic). Anat Cohen, tenor saxophone; Avishai Cohen, trumpet; Yuval Cohen, trumpet. Recorded in 2006.

Before: “It Could Happen To You.” There are some things that the trumpet’s doing reminds me of Don Ellis. Right off the bat they sound like they’re good friends, like they’ve done this type of thing before. Some of the ideas flow from player to player and they help each other out. I dug the fact that I could hear the harmonies through all of that, which means that everyone involved is pretty steeped in knowing the harmony of the song. There are certain changes that people who are less aware of the harmony always miss, and they pretty much got ’em all. I could dig where they’re coming from.

After: I went to school with Avishai. I went to school with all of them as a matter of fact. Avishai’s an interesting type of player. He stretches the boundaries. I don’t know if he’s ever checked out Don Ellis but he’s got the potential to have that kind of zaniness and outness to his playing. And his lines go far outside of the realm of conventional bebop players. More than any of the other Cohens, Avishai is the stand-out.

7. Wayne Shorter

“Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” (from Speak No Evil on Blue Note). Shorter, tenor saxophone; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Elvin Jones, drums. Recorded in 1964.

You know, everybody’s on top of their game on this. There’s so much space in Elvin’s playing. And Hub just dominates on this whole record. Every statement that he made, every first entrance of his solo was memorable [laughs, sings along with trumpet solo]. You know, Freddie played so differently with Elvin. He adopted more of a triplet feel, because that’s Elvin’s concept. Freddie always loved Philly Joe, Art Blakey and Louis Hayes, and he sounded great with everybody. I loved hearing Freddie with Tony Williams, you know Soothsayer and all those records. The way Tony affected Freddie’s playing made it more open. Whereas listening to Elvin, it’s a good feeling and it locks you in [sings along with Shorter’s solo]. See, you go forward in a whole different type of way with Elvin. I wish I got a chance to play with Elvin. I’m mad about that to this day. This is so classic with the way the chords move. Then you have the blues concept there in the middle, which takes you back to those types of changes. Even the songs he wrote for the Vee-Jay label; he was very big on the II-Vs. Then you check out what Wayne wrote with Art Blakey, they always went different places. I met him one time when I was in college. I had a hat made that said Speedball on it–like I knew what the hell that was–cause I was a big Lee Morgan fan. I met him backstage but you don’t get many words out of Wayne. Yeah, this record is one of the good old ones.

8. Magnus Broo

“Africa” (from Painbody on Moserobe). Broo, trumpet; Torbjörn Gulz, piano; Mattias Welin, electric bass; Jonas Holgersson, drums. Recorded in 2007.

Before: There are so many properties to this guy’s playing that remind me of Don Cherry; his attack and the sharpness of his playing when he goes into the high register, the way he builds his lines. Sounds like this could be Olu Dara, too. It’s funny, the first couple notes sounded like Johnny Coles–very brittle type of player. Now that sounds like K.D. [Kenny Dorham], the inflections and that little growl in there. Interesting. If you listen to enough of these grooves, after a while it kind of does nothing. You have to think outside the box to make a straight 8ths groove like this work. Like see, this part is not exciting to me at all. The first part was a lot more interesting. No matter where this is going, it’s anti-climactic.

After: I have no idea who he is but I like the trumpet player and I like the way it started out.

9. Tiger Okoshi

“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” (from Tiger Okoshi Plays Standards on A60 Jazz). Okoshi, trumpet; Kiyoshi Takeshita, piano. Recorded in 2008.

Before: In a strange type of way, it sounds like Dizzy Reece, like when Dizzy recorded “Ghost of a Chance.” It’s got the same kind of boldness to it. If it’s not Dizzy, it’s somebody who’s checked him out [listens closely, grunts]. So they just did one A then went right to the bridge? That’s interesting. I’m into trumpet-piano duets. I like the way they’ve divided it up. The trumpeter’s sound–I could tell that he has a thorough understanding of air and how to manipulate the horn really well so the notes that just barely made it to the top, it’s almost like he meant to do that. Then when he went down to the low register it was rich and full. So he’s manipulating the effects that you’re hearing with intonation and timbre. Vibrato-wise and just the boldness of it, it’s reminiscent of Dizzy Reece.

After: That’s cool. This is a whole thing of ballads? I’m not that familiar with his playing, but he’s a very nice guy. He sounds good. I can appreciate what they’re going for.

10. Cuong Vu

“Accelerated Thoughts” (from Vu-Tet on artist Share). Vu, trumpet; Chris Speed, tenor saxophone; Stomu Takeishi, electric bass; Ted Poor, drums. Recorded in 2007.

Before: You know, even though there’s no keyboards, it sounds like something Shane Endsley would do. The drummer’s sick. Sounds like the guys from Kneebody. I love it. I like organized confusion. That said, I couldn’t see myself playing something like this, but I like the heavy metal, almost death metal influence. Ok, so now he’s blowing into the mouthpiece. I mean, musically, I like the energy that it has but I’m not really into the substance of what the trumpeter is playing. It sounds like he’s not even necessarily a trumpet player, like Ornette Coleman playing the trumpet. This part doesn’t speak to me at all. Yeah, I’m done with this one.

After: I’ve never met him but I’ve always wanted to check him out. I know he worked with Pat Metheny. Oh, so that’s Ted Poor? My piano player in my electric band told me I should get him if I need a drummer. And I heard him with a more conventional swing group and I wasn’t really into it. But he sounds great in this context. I might give him a call. Yeah, cool.

11. Corey Wilkes

“Drop It” (from Drop It on Delmark). Wilkes, trumpet; Jabari Liu, alto saxophone; Kevin Nabors, tenor saxophone; Robert Irving III, Fender Rhodes; Junius Paul, bass; Scott Hesse, guitar. Recorded in 2007.

Before: This is one of the younger players, younger than me. There seems to be a wave of players that’s really into Roy Hargrove’s things. Compositionally, this has nothing to do with Roy, but the way they deal with playing on this groove, it’s more of a Roy-type thing. I don’t think it’s Roy because there’s something missing from the sound. But it’s definitely somebody swimming in Roy’s drawers. It could be Maurice Brown; there are little Roy Hargrove cells all around the city [laughs]. I like the track a lot.

After: Exactly, he’s another one. I know Corey because he came to Berklee my last year. I remember when he was getting his thing together. It’s challenging to play in this genre and make it believable. This is primed for radio play or catching the ear of a hot producer. And all of a sudden you’re in that world. Corey’s very poised. I couldn’t imagine sitting here talking about Corey when I first met him because he didn’t seem that serious at the time. But now he’s getting his thing out there.

12. Miles Meets India

“Great Expectations” (from Miles Meets India on 4Q Times Square). Wallace Roney, trumpet; Ravi Chary, Pete Cosey, guitar; Michael Henderson, bass; Adam Holzman, keyboards; Marcus Miller, bass clarinet; Taufiq Qureshi, percussion; Vince Wilburn, drums; Vikku Vinayakram, ghatam. Recorded in 2006-2007.

Before: [laughs] I guess this is the new Miles Meets India project. I gotta tell you, I’m one of the biggest Wallace Roney supporters you’ll ever meet. The thing is, you listen to something like this–and I’ll go on record as saying it because Wallace and I know each other and he knows that this isn’t a slight on him at all–but I hate hearing this type of shit. Anytime they have a Miles project they’re gonna call Tim Hagans, and Tim Hagans doesn’t even live in the States, or they’ll call Wallace. Wallace is very proud of his association with Miles and he should be, because Miles didn’t associate with a lot of people. That’s nothing to sneeze at. But I know that Wallace likes to play his own thing. With this project, what is the reason for it? It has to do with people getting paid. It’s a money project. I saw all the advertisements. We got to start creating stuff that’s going to develop into something in the long run. This is one project that, if you were in the city and you wanted to go see it at the time, you’d be lucky to see it. But it’s not like you’re going to see it in 10 years. To me, it just doesn’t make any sense. Miles made more money dead than he made alive from people doing silly ass projects like this. I’ve come to a point where I’m sick of seeing tribute bands.

But you play in one!

Everybody succumbs to it because these are the bands that make the most money. If Wallace had come and said I want to fuse my music with Indian music: ok, yeah that’s cool, go ahead and do it. But he’s not gonna make nearly as much money as he would if we come up with a Miles Davis Meets India project and then we throw so much money at Ron Carter and Lenny White and everybody that they have to come and do it. And that’s what the impetus is. I’ve been playing tributes to Cannonball and Nat Adderley for 8 years with Louis Hayes and we all love to do it, though even Louis sometimes is like, let’s mix it up with some other songs. But because people are paying to see us play “Azule Serape” it’s just gonna be what it is. So you take the money. But you have to think about how it serves you. Yes, you’re gonna make that paper because it’s not like we’re 20 years old. Now a lot of people that are on that record got families and got serious bills to pay and going through a whole lot of shit, so they’re making that money. But I don’t know exactly how pumped Wallace is about doing it. When you listen to this, everything sounds so produced and orchestrated. There’s no kind of authenticity to it. When you listen to “Ife” from Big Fun, all that shit was spliced together. Teo put it together. So a lot of it didn’t have the immediate intention of being released. It was just that the heads of Columbia said we’ve got to release something so Teo, sew some shit up.

So you think this project is contrived?

I think this project and any kind of tribute project is contrived. Is it fun to play because you respect the music so much? Yeah. The musicians playing it, yes, there’s musical integrity. I have nothing against the musicians playing it cause I understand the position they’re in; somebody’s throwing money at you and saying let’s do this. A lot of them cats didn’t even know Miles, never saw him play, I’d venture to say. They have integrity but money talks. And a lot of people do things like this with the hope that this could lead to them finally being able to do their own thing. And sadly that’s where a lot of shit gets shady. They say; why don’t you do another tribute? They string you along. There’s a point where you have to be sound enough financially, which is hard in any kind of economy, to be able to say I’m not doing this. There was a short period of time where Wallace said I’m not doing any more Miles. It was unnoticeable to everybody because it didn’t last that long. But it is what it is. Wallace is under-appreciated because he’s in that rut. Yes, he sounds like Miles. It’s an influence that he embraces. But he doesn’t allow that to constrict him. He’s expanded on that concept. It’s like when people sounded like Bird and then took Bird’s language and expanded on that concept. But because his sound is so distinctly of a Miles timbre and everything, people refuse to see or hear how he’s expanded upon the lessons learned. And that’s where the true tragedy of it lies, because Wallace is a great trumpeter with a great sound. Very lyrical. He should be heralded a lot more.

After: [looks at lineup] Ok, most of these guys played with Miles. But Miles ain’t there and it still sounds produced. And everybody here is way above playing these types of projects.

13. Clark Terry

“In A Mist” (from The Happy Horns of Clark Terry on Impulse). Terry, flugelhorn; Phil Woods, also saxophone, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Roger Kellaway, piano; Milt Hinton, bass; Walter Perkins, drums. Recorded in 1964.

Before: That’s Clark Terry. I have this on LP but I’ve been looking for this record on CD. This is The Happy Horns with Phil Woods, and this is “In A Mist” by Bix Beiderbecke. CT plays one of the most well executed solos I’ve ever heard on trumpet, period, in the middle section on this. And you can tell where Wynton gets all his phrasing from on this. I mean I got nothing against Wynton’s playing, you know, but people be trying to act like he just sprouted out of nowhere with some shit. People don’t realize that Wynton got his phrasing through this. Even the concept of how this was arranged. This is one of the most perfect solos, it’s like eight bars. And I was pissed that I had it on record and I had to keep lifting the stylus to play it over and over [laughs]. Yeah, turn it up. Man, that’s the baddest shit I’ve ever heard. What are you gonna do? Phrasing is just a necessary thing. I think that’s something that’s not really focused on by players of my generation and the new wave of players coming out. I think a lot of the focus with players is trying to get as much chops together and work on a set of patterns and licks that can get them over. When you talk about jazz, there’s nothing more important than feel and phrasing. In this situation with CT, just the displacement and the rhythm of the notes and how it was still swinging in the pocket, you can’t beat that.

After: Yeah, this is a great record. Too bad JazzTimes doesn’t have the star system. I’d say a hundred million stars.

photo by Larry Appelbaum

This B&A was recorded for JazzTimes in the studios of WKCR-FM in New York City during summer of 2008.


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