Jean Luc Ponty is a Jazz Fusion violinist. He recognized that the violin could be used in the jazz genre and therefore became a pioneering a trend setter with the instrument. Jean Luc caught the attention of Frank Zappa which lead to touring and recording with the Mothers of Invention in the early 70's. Throughout Jean Luc's amazing career he has composed classic and innovative jazz fusion music featuring the electric violin. Jean Luc has performed with the likes of "The Mahavishnu Orchestra, George Duke, Stephane Grappelli and many more. His current project is with Jon Anderson... the former lead singer of "Yes". Here's what Jean Luc had to say.
R.V.B. - As a child, What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age? What did you do for fun as a kid other then music?
JLP: Classical music. I kept playing like other kids my age, roller skating, lots of bicycle riding.
R.V.B. - Having learned many instruments in your studies, did you believe that the violin would be the one that would make your career? What instrument did you like to play the most?
JLP: After teaching me violin, piano and clarinet, my parents asked me to choose one of them when I was 11 years-old, so I would become good on one instrument instead of average on several. I chose violin because it was my favorite instrument, I did not even think about a career yet, it was just for pleasure.
JLP: A jazzband from a university in Paris made up of students, non-professional musicians, was looking for a clarinet player. I knew nothing about jazz but thought it would be a great way to meet girls because we were playing for dance parties in that university. I did meet girls indeed....laughs....but also discovered jazz and started developing a passion for it as I was discovering post bop of the late 50s early 60s.
R.V.B. - In the 60's, things really started taking off for you. How did you transition from smaller venues to major festivals?
JLP: After my first solo album was released in 1964, I was hired to perform for the first time in one of the major jazz festivals in Europe, not because I had become famous, but because most jazz festivals always hired established names to sell tickets, and new talent for the fun of exposing young upcoming musicians to their audiences. I started to be hired in jazz clubs all over Europe, and once in a while in a jazz festival but not yet as a headliner. In fact I could hardly make a living with jazz and was considering going back to classical music or starting a career as a pop arranger.
5. In the late 60's you started an association with Frank Zappa. How did this happen and it must have been a big move to America. Were you a little apprehensive to make such a big move?
JLP: John Lewis, the co-founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, discovered my playing in the late 60s while on tour in Europe, he was also musical director for the Monterey Jazz Festival in California and invited me to perform there in 1967. Richard Bock, founder of the Pacific Jazz and World Pacific record labels in Los Angeles, was in the audience and offered me a contract with World Pacific. After I recorded a couple of jazz albums with George Duke in Los Angeles between 67 and 69, Richard Bock suggested that my next album be produced by Frank Zappa, he called Frank who accepted after hearing my playing, this turned out to be "King Kong", one among the very first 'jazz-rock' productions. Frank then asked me to join his band in early 1973. This implied that I move to L.A. with my young wife and our 2 babies. I saw no future as a jazz or modern violinist in Europe and was ready for a new life, I had made several trips to the U.S. already and knew this was the place where new music styles were being created and was very excited, practically no apprehension.
R.V.B. - Did you enjoy the music of Frank Zappa? Did you have a lot of freedom and input in the creation of the material?
JLP: I loved his instrumental pieces and we played many of them when we started touring, I had a lot of room to solo, but after a while it became obvious that his fans came for the satire and funny lyrics and he started cutting down on instrumental pieces to a point where I had only one solo during the show. I never lost respect for his creativity as a composer but I had moved to America with my family with other goals in mind than just playing background parts in a rock band, as great as it was, so I left.
R.V.B. - Your career brought you on a lot of famous recording sessions with major players in the industry such as Elton John, John McLaughlin, Al De Meola, Stanley Clarke. How did you enjoy expanding your career with greats like them?
JLP: McLaughlin and Zappa hired me because they liked to add my sound to their band, in exchange I learned from them how to be a strong bandleader and achieve what you want with your own musical concept. After I started my own band in 1975 and my albums quickly reached the top of the charts, I started receiving more and more invitations from great musicians to collaborate with them. I refused most of them and only accepted to collaborate with musicians with whom I felt a strong musical affinity. There is less artistic freedom when collaborating with artists who have musical personalities as strong as yours, compared to leading your own band, but we all discover new ways to conceive playing as a group.
R.V.B. - What are some of the most memorable live performances that you have played?
JLP: With a 50-year career can you imagine the number of performances I have behind me, I wish I'll find time to write my memoirs and list some of the most memorable, for now it's always the most recent and the unusual, like performing with symphony orchestras for the past 2 years.
R.V.B. - Do you try to invent different styles in your solo career?
JLP: Trying to invent is not something I ever had in mind when composing or practicing violin. I just like exploring different ways to compose and also try new techniques on my instrument just to break the routine, it does not always work but sometimes you come up with an idea that nobody else had thought of before, and so you invent a bit by chance, just because you are not afraid to be different.
R.V.B. - What are you doing today? Writing? Recording? Touring?
JLP: All of the above, writing for a new album which we are going to record for Impulse/Universal together with Stanley Clarke on double bass and French Gypsy guitarist Bireli Lagrene, with whom we are forming a new acoustic trio, we will tour with that format in 2015 and in the meantime I keep touring in different formats, with my group, symphony orchestras, and as a new quartet my daughter Clara, who is pianist-composer-singer.
R.V.B. - What do you like to do other then music?
JLP: Read books so I am less ignorant, practice yoga, take walks in nature and spending time with my wife, children and grand children.
R.V.B. - What is in your IPOD or CD player right now?
JLP: American classical violinist Joshua Bell playing sonatas by Debussy and other composers, we met, great violinist and very nice person.
Interview by Robert von Bernewitz
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