Jeremy Pelt – Backstage at Iridium Jazz Club

Jeremy Pelt plays the music of Herbie Hancock center stage at Iridium


Iridium Jazz Club, just north of Times Square in New York City, plays host to some of jazz’s most established legends as well as the hottest newcomers. In our continuing interview series, BACKSTAGE AT IRIDIUM, is proud to introduce you to the dynamic young trumpet master, Jeremy Pelt. We sat down with Jeremy during Iridium’s recent series of concerts saluting Herbie Hancock. Tonight’s set was a collection of Herbie Hancock tunes – why do you think that his music lends itself to such different interpretations by so many artists?

Jeremy Pelt: Well, because I think that he took – like so many other musicians, you know – they took the bebop aesthetic and they expanded upon it. And so, as a result, a lot of his songs are written in a way which I call “open-ended” which means they’re given to any type of interpretation. You know he himself, when he played songs, especially if we talk about Miles’ (Davis) songs… or even, we don’t even have to say Miles… Miles is certainly a good example – but if you’re talking about even Mwandishi or you’re talking about Head Hunters, he always changed the songs themselves. So, you know, he wrote them in a way that, you know, you could breathe in them. You’re one of the more talked-about younger jazz musicians on the scene in New York City these days… where did you grow up?

Jeremy Pelt: Well, I grew up half in Los Angeles and half in New York – and I finally moved here (to NYC) for good in 1998. Are you a regular in any of the big bands around town, or do you have your own group?

Jeremy Pelt: I’ve got my own quintet now, but earlier on I played with – and I still do – play with Louis Hayes and Louis Nash… I’ve had a lot of “drummer” gigs (laughs). And when I first moved to town, I was playing with the [Charles] Mingus Band for a long time – and, you know, I subbed in the Village Vanguard Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra – you know, I did the whole big band kind of compulsory “big band residence.” But I find time to do my own band mainly now. What did that mean to you as a younger player to come here (to NYC) and get with the Mingus Band and the Ellington Band – was that part of your dream as a kid?

Jeremy Pelt: I dreamt of, as a real young kid, moving to New York and being able to play music for a living. And then moving to New York… I, you know, I certainly dreamt of having gigs galore – so, I mean, that kind of fits into the mould. The Mingus Band kind of opened so many other doors, you know? Primarily because I got to play and associate with a lot of the cats in that band who’d been here for years before me – and they would recommend me for other gigs. There’s a current movement by a lot of people in the arts to try to get President Obama to appoint a “Secretary of the Arts,” someone who would help organize more music in public schools and give more people an opportunity to learn music as children. (See New York Times article) Several people have suggested Quincy Jones for the position. What is your take on the efforts to get more music programs in our pubic schools?

Jeremy Pelt: I think that’s a noble idea – you definitely need it – I mean, I’m a product of public schools and so that is something that I feel is very important. You know, any time you get… you know I voted for President Obama and so I’m behind him 100%. In something like that – a “Secretary of Music” or “…the Arts” or that kind of position – it would be tricky, because then, ultimately, you’re still talking about politics. So once you open that door, then there’s going to be a whole flood of other politics. There would obviously then be the birth of the “interest groups.” So, I mean, it’s just going to be tricky. I don’t see it as – It could work, it looks good on paper and, yeah, Quincy Jones… but you know, you’d have to search far and wide – maybe you might even have to go to Antarctica or some place (laughs) to find somebody who was that unbiased towards any one thing, you know? Did you have music in your public school growing up?

Jeremy Pelt: I did. My mother’s favorite thing to say is “Thank god you got out when you did.” But there were instruments in school… I began playing trumpet in school… Was the trumpet your first instrument?

Jeremy Pelt: It was. I guess I was about 7 years old when I started. Who were some of your musical influences growing up – who did you listen to?

Jeremy Pelt: Whatever my mother played on the radio (laughs) – which spanned a lot of different styles. She listened to a lot of jazz because she came up with a lot of jazz. She was very affected by all the vocalists, so that’s what I was always listening to – all the vocalists. Then, you know, there would be your occasional David Lee Roth thrown in there, too and Barbra Streisand, you know. I listened to a good healthy dosage of music… Do you think that any of the styles of the vocalists influenced your solo style on trumpet?

Jeremy Pelt: Well, I definitely think that I’ve matured in the last few years in the way that I take in vocalists. It’s all good to me – It’s not really conscious, I guess. Do you tour in Europe a lot?

Jeremy Pelt: Yes… And do you feel a difference in the audiences in Europe as opposed to the audiences here in American jazz clubs?

Jeremy Pelt: Yes… there’s a tremendous difference. You were sitting through that last set, you know, you heard three or four different conversations going on… and while I can’t stand by the statement that every jazz club is completely respectful, I’d say that… jazz is taken a lot more seriously in Europe. You’re still, you know, revered a lot more as a jazz musician when you go over there on stage rather than if you’re here. It’s still kind of in that “elite” stage wherever you go, but it’s I guess, it’s less elite in some countries. If we were to check out your iPod, who would be on your playlists?

Jeremy Pelt: Well, Herbie Hancock… uh, really different artists because I have a couple of different bands that I play… so it doesn’t necessarily have to be jazz. It could be Herbie, Miles, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard… crossing over to some indie-rock, some Radio Head to 70’s Carole King – really all types of music. What’s coming up for you?

Jeremy Pelt: I have an album out now called November (New York Times review) and we’ve been touring a lot. We’re going to be in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Portugal in June (check schedule here) then several dates around the US.

Read More:

Jeremy Pelt Official Site

Iridium Jazz Club Official Site

More about Jeremy in the New York Times