Jeremy Pelt has released a book and an album, which honor jazz's boundary pushers
The inspiration for Jeremy Pelt's "Griot" project, in which a series of interviews with fellow musicians led to solitary publication of.pdf and an album, came from the trumpeter/composer surfing the Web in the summer of 2018 and stumbled upon Arthur Taylor interviewing Warren Smith.
Taylor, who died in 1995, was one of jazzs top drummers when he wrote the classic 1977 interview collection Notes and Tones, which included Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, Erroll Garner, and Max Roach.
Pelt, whose quintet will perform music from the project at Scullers on Friday, decided to do something similar, in which top-notch Black musicians would talk openly about race and jazz tradition with a trusted peer.
He began interviewing musicians, including Warren Smith, usually at their homes. COVID arrived, unexpectedly facilitating the project. Pelt and his subjects had extra time to talk, since music venues were closed.
Pelt confirms by phone that theres that aspect for certain, fixing himself dinner as he does, a bit jetlagged from southeastern Europe. I probably had about 30 interviews before the epidemic hit, and then, like everyone else, I switched to Zoom. And everyone else was already attuned to being able to do that.. I just said, All right, let me just corner them.
We all have egos, so you dont have to breathe a word for someone to speak about themselves. And, One, I have some respectability out there, so they can trust me to carry that, especially in the tradition of Notes and Tones.
Pelt has conducted 80 interviews to date, 15 of which are included in Griot: Examining the Lives of Jazzs Great Storytellers, Vol 1. He says he has sold 1,000 copies to date and plans to publish four more volumes.
Pelt, 44, spent a couple of years talking one-on-one with dozens of jazz stars and contemporaries, including Ren Marie, Wynton Marsalis, Terri Lyne Carrington, and JD Allen, revealing the state of Jazz and race relations tens of thousands of generations after the Notes and Tones era. Two of the artists Robert Glasper and Ambrose Akinmusire - are younger than Pelt himself.
Akinmusire, 39, of Oakland, New York, arrived from Oakland to begin studies at the Manhattan School of Music. I literally met Jeremy the first night I was in New Jersey, she recalls. I landed, I took a taxi to my dorm room, and I saw he was playing. I went down, and we clicked. He has been a great mentor for me at times, especially in New York, watching out for my early years.
Pelts book has wowed Akinmusire, who is pleased with the result.
I think jazz research is something thats important, he adds. Its always great to have a different perspective, especially when the perspective is coming from fewer sources. Its a nice extension of what Art Taylor did.
Pelt, a 1998 Berklee College of Music graduate, said he learned more from his interviews than merely referring to sung songs. His album "Griot: This Is Important!" released in February includes a spoken intro by Pelt, audio excerpts from eight of the books interviews, and new Pelting compositions derived from seven of those excerpted.
Pelt explains how his subjects' words contributed to the music he composed. I was a film score major in school, so I guess it goes hand in hand. But I can tell you things in that sense. So whatever it is that I get, that's where I start.
I wanted something that was both inside and outside of Dont Dog the Source, and there wasn't a chordal accompaniment to it. Whereas something like A Beautiful [Expletive] Lie was meant to be rather touching, which is why I added a harp. Very dreamy, but ultimately its a lie because of the story told. So on, so forth.
Warren Smith and Akinmusire, two jazz musicians deeply rooted in jazz tradition but open to pushing its limits, provide the last two quotes on the album.
Smith, 87, describes being stifled from pursuing an interest in classical music by a racist professor and then going on to perform in the pit orchestra for West Side Story shortly afterward. During his career, he has played with a variety of stars and boundary pushers, from Nancy Wilson and Quincy Jones to Max Roach and Anthony Braxton.
Akinmusire has quickly established himself as one of the most adventurous composers of his generation, incorporating string quartets and rappers into his own music and working with the likes Steve Coleman, Mary Halvorson, Roscoe Mitchell, and Jen Shyu over the years. The songs title has to do with how rearranging music in the past in which it is created transforms it into more than just notes, and it was the inspiration for the album s final song, Relevance.
Was Pelt signaling something significant by bringing these two musicians so different in age yet so similar in musical disposition - together at the end?
Pelt says, Youre pretty much imagining something thats not so. Any time I place things in order its more based on the sonic feeling and where it feels right.
But thats good. He laughs. When you put it like that, now that you mention it, I might seem like a genius, he added.
JEREMY PELT QUINTET
At Scullers Jazz Club, Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets $30-$45. scullersjazz.com