Photo of Jean Luc Ponty by Imma Casanelles
Jean Luc Ponty is a French-born jazz violinist, bandleader, and composer. I first became aware of him upon seeing his name on the back of several Frank Zappa records, and have followed his solo career starting with his groundbreaking jazz/rock releases on Atlantic in the mid-70s. Ponty has sold millions of records, with 12 consecutive releases reaching the top 5 on the Billboard jazz charts.
Ponty played on Elton John’s “Honky Chateau” album, recorded with Stéphane Grappelli, and participated in two John McLaughlin/Mahavishnu Orchestra albums and tours. He’s performed his compositions with symphony orchestras in Canada, the United States, and Japan, as well as with the New Music Ensemble of Pittsburgh and the Radio City Orchestra in New York.
In 1995 Ponty, guitarist Al Di Meola, and bassist Stanley Clark recorded “The Rite of Strings,” and this supergroup continues to tour periodically to great acclaim. Ponty has performed with bassist Miroslav Vitous, drummer Billy Cobham, banjoist Béla Fleck, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and many more of the world’s greatest virtuosos. For a recent example, on September 2, 2009, Ponty performed at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Bill Connors and Chaka Khan.
In addition to being a jazz/rock pioneer, Ponty is equally comfortable on acoustic, electric, and MIDI violins (including 5- and 6-string instruments), and since the early 1990s he’s created a new kind of fusion combining the influences of Western and African musicians (and West African-influenced polyrhythms) in his touring group. His 2006 group toured the United States, Chile, Venezuela, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and India. The subsequent album, “The Atacama Experience,” received four stars in DownBeat and is regarded by many critics as among his very best work.
At the end of 2008 “Jean Luc Ponty & His Band” became a quartet without percussion, representing somewhat of a return to the “Ponty sound” of the 1970s and 80s, while still including strong jazz and African influences.
I spoke briefly with Jean Luc in the fall of 2009 as he prepared for an upcoming U.S. tour:
“I am working intensely with Finale every day as I have to prepare music parts for my upcoming concert tour. Our regular bassist, Guy Nsangue Akwa, is from Cameroon, and he could not get his new passport in time for this tour. As Guy does not read music but amazingly learns everything by ear, there are no charts for the material Guy has played with the group for the last 18 years!
Luckily Baron Browne will be joining us. Baron is familiar with my older material, having played bass in my band from 1983-1990, a period of time in which we recorded four albums. Nevertheless, in addition to all the new material I need to notate, I also have to recreate some of the older music as well, so I have many bass parts to prepare in a hurry.
For me, entering music in Finale goes as fast as writing parts by hand, sometime faster. Plus Finale lets me do things I can’t do by hand, like transpose, copy, paste, insert, and delete, so I can transfer bits of existing left hand piano parts that play the same lines as the bass. I can update existing parts if the structures changed since the original recording. I also appreciate Finale’s ability to playback — with real instrument sounds – which is a great way to check whether I made any mistakes.
When I’m done I can easily email the parts to Baron so he’ll have a head start before we start rehearsing. Finale makes a big difference.”
Visit http://www.ponty.com to read, see, and hear more about Jean Luc’s music – I especially recommend the video “Introducing The Atacama Experience” and the “Concert Dates” link to see when he’s playing near you.