Jean-Luc Ponty life and biography

Jean-Luc Ponty picture, image, poster

Jean-Luc Ponty biography

Date of birth : 1942-09-29
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Avranches, France
Nationality : French
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-01-10
Credited as : jazz composer, violinist, Jean Luc Ponty & His Band

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Jean-Luc Ponty has built a substantial reputation as a versatile jazz violinist who is equally at home in many musical genres: swing, bop, modal jazz, free jazz, and jazz-rock. The native of France has toured throughout the world and recorded dozens of records. Making a significant departure from his typical synthesizer-generated fusion fare in 1991, Ponty released an album of African music that was largely improvised in the studio. Musician called the widely acclaimed Tchokola "one of the most bumptious, upbeat cross-cultural collaborations to date."

Ponty's work, represented on many albums, is characterized by scored or improvised melodies over hard rhythmic bass patterns, combinations of electronic timbres, and violin virtuosity--electric or acoustic. Among the musician's instruments are two Barcus-Berry violins, which, though they are painted blue and sport various electronic pick-up devices, are made of wood and can be played acoustically. In addition, Ponty plays the violectra--a baritone violin with strings tuned one octave lower than those of a standard violin--and a Zeta violin, which is made of wood with a crystal pick-up.

The son of a provincial French music teacher, Ponty was given a violin at the age of three. Two years later he began serious violin and piano studies and was trained in the classical repertoire on these instruments. By the time he was 13, Ponty had decided to make music his career and quit school to devote his time entirely to music. Entering the prestigious Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris two years later, he excelled in his studies and won the 1960 Premier Prix for violin.

During his conservatory years Ponty also discovered jazz. He listened to such musicians as Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell, and Dexter Gordon at Parisian nightclubs. As a diversion from his intense violin studies, Ponty took up the clarinet, and at age 17 he learned that a Parisian jazz band needed a clarinetist. Though he auditioned and was given the opportunity to learn the rudiments of jazz, classical music was still his main interest. Ponty eventually turned to the violin as a jazz instrument because that was the instrument at which he was most technically proficient. He has also expressed that he did not have the patience to learn other instruments more commonly used in jazz ensembles.

After completing his studies at the conservatory, Ponty joined the Concerts Lamoureux Symphony Orchestra in Paris and performed with local jazz groups in his spare time. Jazz won out over classical music, and in 1963 Ponty quit the symphony to begin a full-time career in jazz. He frequently performed in Parisian nightclubs, and after playing at the Antibes jazz festival--then the only major jazz festival in Europe--his career blossomed. Ponty was subsequently booked throughout Europe and offered a recording contract.

Ponty's entree into the world of American jazz came in 1967 when he attended a masterclass at the Monterey, California, Jazz Festival and came to the attention of the American public and recording industry. Before returning to France, Ponty performed in nightclubs and recorded three albums with the George Duke Trio.

By 1970 Ponty had formed his own jazz band, the Jean-Luc Ponty Experience, an ensemble that emphasized improvisation. But the classically trained Ponty was uncomfortable with the lack of structure in the jazz genre, and the musicians scattered only two years after the group's inception. The innovative Frank Zappa soon discovered Ponty and asked him to join his band, the Mothers of Invention. Although Ponty played four tours with the group and worked with other musicians as well, including rock and roll legend Elton John, he had not yet found his niche.

Still searching for that elusive place in the jazz world, Ponty moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1983. He was composing and arranging his own music--with the hope of forming a band--when he was asked to join John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. Ponty was a member of this group, which performed pieces that were fusions of jazz and Eastern (mostly Indian) music, for two years before legal and personal disputes ended his association. But before the break-up Ponty was featured as a soloist on such albums as Apocalypse and Visions of the Emerald Beyond .

Ponty finally formed his own band, which, while the members varied from year to year, was made up of an electric guitarist, an electric bassist, a percussionist, and a keyboardist. The featured soloist on electric violin, Ponty composed and arranged his groups' repertoire and founded his own production company, JLP Productions. Early in his solo career Ponty frequently performed at jazz festivals, but he eventually turned to promotional tours, playing to packed houses in the United States and averaging six months a year on the road. Many of the violinist's albums have been popular by jazz music standards, particularly Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Ocean, and A Taste for Passion, and they have sold in the millions.

In 1980 Ponty dispersed his band, declaring that he needed a vacation. But within two years he had organized another ensemble and composed, arranged, and recorded Mystical Adventures. Featuring a less aggressive violin sound, the album was praised for more successfully utilizing the capabilities of the electronic synthesizer.

Ponty's career has taken many varied turns. Following the release of The Gift of Time album in 1987, Ponty made a major tour of North America, South America, and Europe. He has also appeared as a classical performer with such ensembles as the New Japan Philharmonic, the Montreal Symphony, and the Toronto Symphony, among others. His 1989 LP Storytelling also reflects Ponty's background in classical music; it is the first time in many years that he performed on acoustic violin.

Returning to Paris, France, Ponty jumped on the world beat bandwagon and joined a group of African musicians to record Tchokola. John Diliberto noted in Down Beat that "instead of writing African-derived music, Ponty decided to play the music itself, using compositions and forms from Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, and finding a way to fit in with his violin." Though the classically trained musician confessed to Diliberto, "some of [the] rhythms [on the album] were the most difficult I had to deal with in my life," Tchokola was heralded by Tom Cheney in Musician as "a graceful, sensitive and rootsy foray into world musicianship." Ponty, ever-willing to experiment, once told Zan Stewart of the Los Angeles Times, "Because I don't reject the past, my changes in style have not been zigzags. I just wanted to keep this feeling of fresh adventure in my work and not be stuck in styles, whether it's jazz or rock or anything else."

In 2006 Ponty reunited "Jean Luc Ponty & His Band" and toured in the USA, Chile, Venezuela, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, The Middle East and India; they also recorded a new studio album called The Atacama Experience with guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Philip Catherine appearing on a few tracks.

-Jazz Long Playing (1964)
-Humair, Louiss, and Ponty: Trio HLP (1966)
-Violin Summit (1966)
-Noon in Tunisia (1967)
-Sunday Walk (1967)
-Free Action (1967)
-More than Meets the Ear (1968)
-Live at Donte's (1969)
-Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio (1969)
-Electric Connection (1969)
-King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa (1970)
-Open Strings (1971)
-Astrorama (with Masahiko Sato) (1970)
-New Violin Summit (with Don "Sugarcane" Harris, MichaƂ Urbaniak, Nipso Brantner, Terje Rypdal, -Wolfgang Dauner, Neville Whitehead, Robert Wyatt) (1971)
-Live at Montreux 72 (1972)
-Upon the Wings of Music (1975)
-Aurora (1975)
-Imaginary Voyage (1976)
-Live in Hamburg (1976)
-Cantaloupe Island (1976)
-Enigmatic Ocean (1977)
-Cosmic Messenger (1978)
-A Taste for Passion (1979)
-Live (1979)
-Civilized Evil (1980)
-Mystical Adventures (1982)
-Individual Choice (1983)
-Open Mind (1984)
-Fables (1985)
-The Gift of Time (1987)
-Storytelling (1989)
-Tchokola (1991)
-No Absolute Time (1993)
-The Rite of Strings with Stanley Clarke and Al Di Meola (1995)
-Le Voyage: The Jean-Luc Ponty Anthology (1996)
-Live at Chene Park (1997)
-The Very Best of Jean-Luc Ponty (2000)
-Life Enigma (2001)
-The Best of Jean-Luc Ponty (2002)
-Live at Semper Opera (2002)
-Jean-Luc Ponty in Concert (2003) (CD and DVD versions)
-Live in Montreux 1994 (2005)
-The Atacama Experience (2007)

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