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Jean-Luc Ponty interview

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Category: Progressive Music Lounges
Forum Name: Interviews
Forum Description: Original interviews with Prog artists (which are exclusive to Prog Archives)
Printed Date: December 11 2018 at 23:51
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.01 -

Topic: Jean-Luc Ponty interview
Posted By: HosiannaMantra
Subject: Jean-Luc Ponty interview
Date Posted: June 27 2016 at 13:03
This is the interview I've done for one music portal prior to Jean-Luc Ponty's concert with pianist William Lecomte in Zagreb on March 10, 2016. Note that I don't have much experience with doing this, and some quite dumb questions popped up here and there.LOL

- Most of Your short biographies I bumped into mention that You first played clarinet and tenor sax at jazz jams, and ended up playing violin in jazz context accidentally after coming to club only with Your violin case. Do You still sometimes play these instruments, or any other, apart from violin and keyboards?

JLP: I love clarinet and at times have been thinking about playing it again, but I already have so much to do every day that it would take time from practicing violin which is more important.


- I've heard the rumour that another classically trained violinist, Dave Arbus from progressive rock group East of Eden, didn't consider playing violin in jazz/rock context, and instead focused on saxophone and flute, but changed his mind after seeing You on stage. Have You already heard that anecdote, and do You know something more about it?

JLP: No, I did not know about Dave Arbus, but other jazz violinists like Michael Urbaniak from Poland, Regina Carter and a younger guy Evan Fourness and others in the jazz and rock worlds have told me that I inspired them, and not just violinists. It makes me very happy to know that what I started will not stop with me.


- How did You get the chance to record ˝Jazz Violin Summit˝ with legendary swing violinists Stephane Grapelli and Stuff Smith early in Your career?

JLP: I think I was 24 years old when I recorded that album, and since I was 21 I was invited to play all over Western Europe and especially in Germany where the producer of that first Violin Summit invited to be part of it. I had played with both Grappelli and Stuff Smith separately before and was thrilled to be part of this project with these established masters.


- It seems to me that Your first encounter with America was Your frequent collaborator and the great late keyboard player George Duke. Can You tell us how do You remember Mr. Duke, and what was working with him like?

JLP: First a record producer from Los Angeles signed me to his label when he heard me play at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California in 1967, where I performed with The Modern Jazz Quartet lead by pianist-composer John Lewis. So when I went to Los Angeles in 1968 I needed a band to record albums for that label and also perform in clubs and jazz festivals, and this record producer recommended a young unkown pianist who had sent him a demo, it was George Duke. The first night we played in a club it was like we had played together for years, instant musical communication. He was super talented, intelligent and always positive and jovial. When I first collaborated with Frank Zappa I demanded that George be part of it, which is how Frank discovered him, and he liked his playing and singing so much that he hired him in his band when I returned to France.


- Frank Zappa's concert recordings from a period when he played with such a distinctive personas as You, George Duke, Bruce Fowler, Ian and Ruth Underwood are among my favorite live tapes I got the chance to hear, but on ˝Over-Nite Sensation˝, the official studio record from that period, it seems that the instrumental potential of that marvelous line-up was stripped down, and the overall sound was more poppy, despite it ended up being a pretty good album with some great moments. Can You tell us how did that happen? Was it due to some sort of marketing pressure?

JLP: Zappa never gave up to marketing pressure, he had his own record label distributed by Warner, which was a revolutionary concept at the time, so he was free to record what he wanted, but he was attentive to his audience which he was loosing when playing too much of his complex instrumental compositions.


- I've heard that You were John McLaughlin's first choice as a violinist for the first line-up of Mahavishnu Orchestra, but You came to the group later, after Jerry Goodman left. Why did You turn down the offer the first time?

JLP: I never received the offer.....(laughs) .....they had no money when they first started and their manager said it was too expensive to bring me over from France, so they searched for another violinist in America and Jerry Goodman was a great choice. Then I moved permanently to California in 1973 and John asked me to join his new Mahavishnu Orchestra a year after.


- How did You experience recording Mahavishnu Orchestra's „Apocalypse“ with the London Symphony?

JLP: I loved John's revolutionary compositions and it was fantastic playing this music in London in one of the most famous recording studios with the best equipment, with one of the top symphony orchestras in the world, working with George Martin who had produced the Beatles, very talented, such a nice man with a lot of class, he loved French wine and we had a few dringks together. He called me later to record on an album he was producing for Paul McCartney but I was not available. Thanks to my experience with classical music I was able to help musical communications with the American orchestra conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.


- Can we get short comparison between Frank Zappa's and John McLaughlin's attitudes and habits during the rehearsals, shows, etc?

JLP: Both felt very strongly about their respective musical concepts and knew how to get a band to play their music, which is not always easy when the music is so new and original that only its creator knows how it's supposed to sound. Yet there was more freedom with McLaughlin than with Zappa who was a real perfectionist and had us rehearse all the time even while on tour.

- Since mid seventies there have been significant influence by progressive rock in Your music, and recently You started a collaboration with prog giant Jon Anderson from Yes. What was Your first encounter with that kind of music?

JLP: My first discovery of prog. rock was when I met musicians from Soft Machine in London in the late 60s, I also played and toured with their drummer Robert Wyatt. Then I discovered bands like Genesis, King Crimson and Yes soon after I moved to Los Angeles in 1973, and met Jon Anderson a couple of times in America in the 70s and 80s.


- Vital part of Your fusion classics such as ˝Imaginary Voyage˝, ˝Enigmatic Ocean˝, and ˝Mystical Adventures˝ were multi-part suites. What moved You to write those pieces, and are You still sometimes composing such an ambitious material?

JLP: As soon as I started composing it was obvious that my roots were first of all in classical music, I could hear the influence of French impressionnists and modern European composers, and I noticed that if I composed all the music for an entire album at the same time, there was a unity of style that made it possible to let it flow as long structures like symphonies. It sill write pieces that will develop into different sections, but within a shorter time frame, like a mini modern concerto.


- One of the most surprising moments in Your career for us listeners was the album ˝Tchokola˝ recorded with West African musicians. How did You decide to make such an album, and do You consider doing something similar in the future?

JLP: It was during a tour in Europe with my American band that discovered modern African music from West African musicians who had emigrated to Paris in the mid-80s. Some were fans of my music and I jammed with a few in Paris to discover their rhythms , so rich and so different from one country to another. I loved it and decided to do an album and brought them to America for an 8-week tour. It was a special project which I saw as one-time cultural exchange, then I returned to my own culture which is how it should be, although mine is a mix of European and American traditions, as I spent my whole life in these two environments.


- Do You have any future plans with Anderson Ponty Band?

JLP: Yes we did a tour in America in the Fall 2015, and plan to tour there again in May-June this year. Perhaps do more recordings together, we'll see. Jon and I really enjoy this collaboration.


- How did You decide to electrify Your violin, and start playing it more like an electric guitar or synthesizer?

JLP: It was first to get more volume when playing in a band with drums. Then the sound was so different that I decided to develop it into a new one, and experiment with sound effects which was exciting because never heard before.


- What effects are You mostly using on electric violin?

JLP: Phaser, chorus, flanging and echo delays.



- Can You name a few contemporary violinists (no matter whether they play classical, jazz, rock...) that You particularly appreciate?

JLP: Yes.....I really like Chris Howes from Cincinnnati because his playing concept is very close to mine while being original and intensely emotional, also Regina Carter and the young Black American Evan Fourness both from Detroit. I like Marc O'Connor for bluegrass, and among classical violinists my favorites are Vadim Repin,  violist Yuri Bahsmet both from Russia, Joshua Bell and Hilary Han from America, I know all of hem personally, and from India the two brothers L. Subramaniam and L. Shankar.


- Are You listening to some music (apart from that You're playing) these days? Do You find any of today's artists specifically interesting?

JLP: I listen very rarely to my albums, for me it is like looking at pictures of myself, once or twice is enough, music is a live experience and my desire is to keep creating, I am so busy every day that I have very little time to listen to music but when I can it's mostly classical music.  


- And finally, what can the audience in Zagreb expect from Your performance with William Lecomte?

JLP: We play a mix of pieces, going from the 80s like 'Final Truth' from the album Mystical Adventures, to my most recent compositions. Pieces that work very well without bass and drums, I enjoy duo this format once in a while, where you can really savour the richness of the sound of just two instruments at a time, the idea came while rehearsing without the rhythm section, some of my pieces sounded great with just violin and keyboards, it is more intense to perform this way but it allows greater freedom of improvisation.


Thank You for answering, and I apologize for asking some exhausting questions!

 JLP: Yes indeed so many questions....(laughs)....but you're welcome.



Posted By: Progosopher
Date Posted: June 27 2016 at 15:17
Nice to get a little insight into one of my longtime favorite artists.  An innovator in so many ways.

The world of sound is certainly capable of infinite variety and, were our sense developed, of infinite extensions. -- George Santayana, "The Sense of Beauty"

Posted By: NotAProghead
Date Posted: June 27 2016 at 17:13
Good job! Thumbs Up Very professional and informative.

Who are you and who am I to say we know the reason why... (D. Gilmour)

Posted By: Guillermo
Date Posted: June 27 2016 at 22:04
A very good interview. Thumbs Up

Avatar: Photo of Solar Eclipse, Mexico City, July 1991. A great experience to see. Maybe once in a lifetime.

Posted By: HosiannaMantra
Date Posted: June 28 2016 at 11:47
Thank You! Big smile Very insightful gentleman, interviews with him always end up being interesting.

Posted By: proggy
Date Posted: December 29 2016 at 10:55
Can't wait to see him tour in June '17 playing the Atlantic yrs!!!!

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