Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Ponty, Jean-Luc

Ponty, Jean-Luc, violinist; b. Avranches, Normandy, France, 29 September 1942. His mother taught him piano and his father taught violin and clarinet.

He took time off from school to practice several hours a day on the violin, continued his training at the Paris Conservatoire (Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris). While there he began playing clarinet with some amateur jazz musicians who played once a month for an audience. He taught himself saxophone, and then one day played his violin, with great success, and began to research Grappelli and Stuff Smith. He won First Prize at the Conservatoire, then threw himself more and more into jazz. He made his first record as a leader when he was 21, then worked at the Blue Note. He was a member of the Concerts Lamoureux orchestra until a successful appearance at the Antibes Jazz Festival encouraged him to devote himself solely to jazz. In order to work as an equal with drummers and saxophonists, he used a contact microphone placed on the soundboard, made in France and the United States for classical guitars and basses. Daniel Humair and others hired him. In 1966 he formed his own trio with Humair and Eddy Louis on organ. Babik Reinhardt introduced him to Grappelli; Ponty considered him an inspiration and a friend but not an influence, and he never studied with him. Later they were hired to do a couple of televisions shows together in France, and for the Berlin jazz festival.

He was invited to play in the United States in1967, and in 1968 and '69 to record for Pacific Jazz. The producer introduced him to Ravi Shankar's music (on the same label) and asked Frank Zappa to arrange music for his next album and just a few weeks later he had prepared "King Kong." During this time he began using a Barcus Berry classical violin with a microphone built into the bridge. They also made violins with sound knobs, and a baritone violin; he settled on one with a fifth, lower, string. It didn't go as low as the baritone sax, but it was a sort of combination of the violin and viola. McLaughlin had been interested in Ponty for the first Mahavishnu Orchestra but didn't pursue it because Ponty lived in France. But in 1974, for the second Mahavishnu Orchestra, he was in the United States, and he joined. Zappa's group and Mahavishnu toured together for a month. Later, in 1976, Zappa asked ask him to join his group the Mothers of Invention for a tour of America; he accepted through the influence of his friend George Duke, and Zappa at first took out his modern classical music. But when he switched back to his rock repertory Ponty left, to Zappa's dismay, after having been there seven months. Since then he has mostly worked as a leader.

Besides recording and touring with his own group, Ponty also performed some of his compositions with the New Music Ensemble of Pittsburgh, the Radio City Orchestra in New York, as well as with symphony orchestras in Montreal, Toronto, Oklahoma City and Tokyo. The first really high-quality electronic violin was made in 1986 by Zeta; it was a solid body instrument that had a MIDI interface. In 1995 he began working with Violectra, an English maker of 4-, 5- and 6-string models, to develop the perfect instrument. He composes on the Synclavier. In 1988, he met some African musicians in Paris; he recorded "Tchokola" with them in 1991. In 1997 he toured with some of those French-speaking Africans.

Ponty regrouped his American band in 1996 for live performances. In 1997, Jean-Luc Ponty put back together his group of Western and African musicians pursuing this new fusion that he started in 1991. Together they toured for 3 years from the Hawaiian Islands to Poland and triumphed in North America as well as in Europe. Ponty also performed a highly acclaimed duet with bassist Miroslav Vitous in December 99. In January 2000, he participated to Lalo Schifrin's recording with a big band, Esperanto. In June 2001, Ponty performed duets with Vadim Repin, the young Russian star of classical violin and also with American jazz violinist Regina Carter at the Film Music Festival in Poland.

Oeil vision (1962); Jazz Long Playing (1964); Violin Summit (with Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli, Svend Asmussen) (1966); Sunday Walk (1967); More Than Meets the Ear (1969);
Live at Donte's (1969); King Kong: Ponty Plays Zappa (1969); Experience (1969); Jean-Luc Ponty Experience (1969); Canteloupe Island (1969); New Violin Summit (1972);
Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty: Overnight Sensation (1973); Open Strings (1973); Aurora (1975); Upon the Wings of Music (1975); Imaginary Voyage (1976); Cosmic Messenger (1978);
Live (1979); Open Mind (1984); Fables (1985); Gift of Time (1987); Storytelling (1989); Tchokola (1991; No Absolute Time (1993);
Jean-Luc Ponty, Al DiMeola and Stanley Clarke: The Rite of Strings (1995); Live At Chene Park (1997); Life Enigma (2001); Live at Semper Opera (2002)
As sideperson:
George Gruntz and Tunisian musicians: Noon in Tunisia (1967); Wolfgang Dauner: Free Action (1967); Trio HLP (with Daniel Humair and Eddie Louiss) (1968); Elton John: Honky Cateau (1972); Frank Zappa: Discreet (1973); John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra: Apocalypse (1974), Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1975); Chick Corea: My Spanish Heart (1976);
Stanley Clarke: East River Drive (1993); Mark O'Connor: Heroes (1993); Julien Clerc: Laisse faire la musique (2003)
Puss In Boots: A Tale for Children told by Tracey Ullman with Music By Jean-Luc Ponty
Rabbit Ears (1995); In Concert: DVD, live performance with his band in Poland in October 1999 (2002)

Jean-Luc Ponty Collection (lead sheets)
Interview with Alain Le Roux on April 22, 1997; le jazz, July 1997

Contact information:
Concert Agencies (For Professionals Only)
Bob Zievers
Beverly Hills, California
310-385-2800 phone
310-385-1220 fax
Hans Batschauer
Stuttgart, Germany
49 711 63 30 18 0 Phone
49 711 63 30 18 18 Fax

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