Tradition and values

The email said Jeremy Pelt was between engagements in Europe and China, with just a “sliver of time” of time for a phone interview from his New York City home.

For the first few minutes, the answers were terse, non-committal, perhaps a bit jetlagged. Or maybe he just wasn’t into it.

Asked about his earliest influences as a jazz trumpeter, the response was brusque.

“I don’t even answer those questions any more. I’m sorry.”

Once the subject turned to the legacy he hoped to leave to younger musicians, however, the words started to flow.

“I hope they would inherit the fact that I was very studied and rooted in the tradition of the music, before branching off into whatever realm that they went to,” he said.

“Whether they decided they would do hip hop, or whatever, that’s not a problem to me. But I always like to be really rooted in tradition and the values that come with that.”

Pelt is, indeed, deeply-rooted. After graduating from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, he rapidly became a fixture on the New York City jazz scene.

He’s a five-time winner of the Rising Star award presented by DownBeat magazine and the international Jazz Journalists Association, has recorded 11 albums to date and tours abroad extensively.

He also performs frequently with the likes of the Village Vanguard Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Big Band and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band.

“Obviously, if Duke Ellington was still alive, and Cannonball Adderley was still alive, and they called me, that would be a great thing.

“At the same time, to play with people who did play with them for so long, that were part of making the music that I definitely adored, is something of an honour.”

But what did he mean by the “tradition and values” of his art?

“The values of upholding the music to a certain standard of how it was presented back then, while making your own personal stamp on the music,” he riffed.

“When I was first on the scene, you were encouraged and almost kind of scared into learning the American Song Book, because that was the key to having longevity in terms of working. You had to know a lot of songs.”

That’s no longer the case for millennials such as his own students, he explained.

“The scene has changed so drastically that it is no longer a requirement for you to know a whole bunch of songs. It’s not a prerequisite to having a lot of work.”

Pelt also notes a decline in the sense of collegiality that characterized the jazz world of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, before he even came on the scene.

“This is obviously speculative on my part, but I just feel like there was a lot more respect and admiration from musician to musician and composer to composer, which allowed different musicians to learn music without ego,” he said.

“Now everybody’s got such an ego. Nobody’s really learning anybody else’s material, because they’ve got their own thing, and they’re very excited about presenting their own material.”

Pelt attributes the change to at least two factors: the difficulty of keeping up with the amount of material available, and the pressure to earn a niche in a market with fewer opportunities.

“Guys like myself – and certainly guys older than myself – have had the opportunity to go through the wringer, of being in a lot of different situations that produce a certain type of visibility. People recognize you from this gig, or this gig, or this gig.”

Younger musicians, on the other hand, have to create their own opportunities to gain exposure, which sometimes manifests itself in unhealthy ways.

“There is a way of doing that and still being respectful, still being part of a team. Only, they don’t see it that way, because a lot of times what you see is ambition.

“Closed mouths don’t get fed, so you’ve gotta be the loudest one in order to affect how other people are going to perceive you. I don’t mind saying it, but at this point there’s a whole bunch of untalented people out there who are getting a lot of press.”

That’s true whether it’s jazz, hip hop, rock, or R ‘n’ B, Pelt added.

“You’ve got festivals telling you they’re not going to book you unless you have at least 10,000 followers on Twitter to corroborate the fact that you’re somebody. They don’t know who you are, because they’re not really fans of the music to begin with.

“At this point, it’s my students’ world. I’m only 41 years old, but in today’s terms that is old. We’re no longer in an age where anything I say is going to be anywhere near any kind of technologically sound advice,” Pelt admitted.

“All I can do as a teacher is teach them the fundamentals of the music.”

The Jeremy Pelt Quintet will be at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sunday, November 26, for a Jazz on the Wing concert, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

To learn more about the quintet’s personnel – including pianist Victor Gould, bassist Richie Goods, drummer Jonathan Barber and percussionist Jacquelene Acevedo – go to Ticket information is at

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