In the midst of an on-going pandemic, police brutality, an attempted United States insurrection and the demolition of voter’s rights, trumpeter, composer and producer Jeremy Pelt comes forward with his latest recording “Griot: This is Important!” (High Note Records). This is a crucial time for Pelt to release such an album amongst all the happenings. Pelt takes a historical page from his ancestors of West Africa, where some had the honor of being known as a Griot, traveling storytellers, musicians and poets, who maintained a tradition of oral history. “This West African tradition was inspired by my grandfather when I was a young child visiting him, he would tell me all these anecdotal stories,” stated Pelt. “I wanted to have that same effect on my listeners passing down that history to younger generations. Having the honor of playing with many jazz legends I wanted to document their stories, so I started with the elders and then decided to record my peers because both perspectives are so important.”
Pelt’s “Griot” connects the West African tradition of telling stories that reflect the passing down of Black history and culture to significant Black musicians whose lives are intertwined with leaving the mother country and today’s current and past events. The trumpeter has cleverly composed music to reflect the jazz musicians’ stories told on this album. Musicians telling their stories include Bertha Hope, Harold Mabern, Paul West, Warren Smith and Ambrose Akinmusire. Larry Willis answered the question “What is it like to be a Black jazz musician in the United States,” after they both laughed hysterically, he answered, “I don’t mind being an underdog because it gives me a reason to fight.” Pelt’s “Underdog” offers light crashing cymbals by drummer Allan Mednard, flowing under Chein Chein Lu’s brisk vibes with bright trumpet tones and Victor Gould’s rollicking piano.
“A Beautiful (F*cking) Lie” represents singer Rene Marie’s dissatisfaction with America and its’ ongoing big lie to Black folks. Although there is anger in her voice, Pelt flips the anger into a ballad with Lu’s vibes upfront with Pelt’s piercing rhythmic tone and Brandee Younger pulling the harp strings. The saxophonist J.D. Allen a man of few words said, “Don’t Dog the Source.” A hard-hittin tune with moving upbeat conversation by Pelt and drummer Mednard before shifting to Lu’s vibes and drummer connection and back again with Pelt busting loose. The band is rounded out with bassist Vincente Archer and percussionist Ismel Wignall. “I hope that future generations will draw the parallels between our lives and their lives this is very important,” explained Pelt. This is an album with great music, and jazz stories of black musicians, whose life experiences reflect the history and culture of two worlds and the injustices of only one. “I felt there was always a contingent of older musicians, who haven’t gotten their due,” noted Pelt. “There are cats like Paul West and Warren Smith, who were a great help to me and were mentors at the Henry Street Settlement when I moved to town in 1998.”
Don’t worry about missing these musicians’ stories, as you listen to the album. Pelt has written the first volume of “Griot: Examining the lives of Jazz’s Great Storytellers,” with honest upfront discussions from Paul West, Warren Smith, Bertha Hope, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Larry Willis, René Marie, Lewis Nash, Wynton Marsalis, Peter Washington, Terri-Lyne Carrington, Justin Robinson, Greg Hutchinson, JD Allen, Robert Glasper, and Ambrose Akinmusire. Pelt self-published the book under his company Pelt Jazz Publishing.
Pelt says he has 80 interviews completed so fortunately, we will see more Griot albums and books. “I am always trying to tell a story. I am not making records but trying to make a statement aside from politics,” said Pelt.
While the Griot concept was inspired by Pelt’s grandfather, he is also following a long tradition that includes pianist and composer Randy Weston. From the beginning of his career, Weston was the “jazz griot,” his lessons came from his father. Weston’s albums swing while sharing stories of West African musicians, as well as Langston Hughes and how the music was the Black seed that grew into jazz. With Weston’s albums and now Pelt’s “Griot: This is Important” and the book “Griot: Examining the lives of Jazz’s Great Storytellers,” we can connect the dots from Weston’s music with Pelt’s present. As the trumpeter says, “It’s what makes the music go around.” This is a most significant project for jazz and the spectrum of Black music.
Visit his website, www.jeremypelt.net, to purchase the CD and book.
CANCELLATION: The Aug. 8 date featuring pianist and composer Joanne Brackeen at the Cutting Room, 44 East 32nd Street, has been cancelled by VTY Jazz Arts /Sunday Serenade. 917-882-9539.