Esteemed and influential rock and jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty will perform two nights at City Winery in June. Ponty has performed with Zappa, Elton John, Mahivishnu Orchestra and many more.
What We Say
Jean-Luc Ponty is a pioneer and undisputed master of violin in the area of jazz and rock. He is
widely regarded as an innovator who has applied his unique visionary spin that has expanded the
vocabulary of modern music.
The great American jazz violinist Stuff Smith hearing Ponty in the 60’s said “he is a killer, he
plays on the violin like Coltrane does on sax” (Jazz Encyclopedia In The Sixties by Leonard
Feather). In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976, Stéphane Grappelli said “No
he is not a student … he is a great musician and invented a new style on the violin”.
Ponty was born in a family of classical musicians on September 29, 1942 in Avranches, France.
His father taught violin, his mother taught piano. At sixteen, he was admitted to the
Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, graduating two years later with the
institution’s highest award, Premier Prix. In turn, he was immediately hired by one of the major
symphony orchestras, Concerts Lamoureux, where he played for three years.
While still a member of the orchestra in Paris, Ponty picked up a side gig, playing clarinet (which
his father had taught him) for a college jazz band that regularly performed at local parties. It
proved a life-changing jumping-off point. A growing interest in the jazz sounds of Miles Davis
and John Coltrane compelled him to take up the tenor saxophone. Fueled by an all-encompassing
creative passion, Jean-Luc soon felt the need to express his jazz voice through his main
instrument, the violin.
So it was that Ponty found himself leading a dual musical life: rehearsing and performing with the
orchestra while also playing jazz until 3 AM at clubs throughout Paris. The demands of this
doomed schedule eventually brought him to a crossroads. “Naturally, I had to make a choice, so I
took a chance with jazz”, says Jean-Luc.
At first, the violin proved to be a handicap; few at the time viewed the instrument as having a
legitimate place in the modern jazz vocabulary. With a powerful sound that eschewed vibrato,
Jean-Luc distinguished himself with be-bop era phrasings and a punchy style influenced more by
horn players than by anything previously tried on the violin; nobody had heard anything quite like
it before. Ponty played with some of the best European musicians such as Daniel Humair, Eddy
Louiss, Niels-Henning-Ørsted Pedersen among others, his notoriety grew with remarkable leaps
and in June 1964, at age 21, he recorded his debut solo album for Philips, Jazz Long Playing
(Universal/Emarcy). A 1966 live album called Violin Summit united Ponty on stage in Basel,
Switzerland with such notable string talents as Svend Asmussen, Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff
In 1967, John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet invited Ponty to perform at the Monterey Jazz
Festival in California. Jean-Luc’s first-ever American appearance garnered thunderous applause
and led to a U.S. recording contract with producer Richard Bock for his World Pacific label.
Jean-Luc returned to California in 1968 and 1969 to perform and record the albums Electric
Connection with the Gerald Wilson Big Band, and Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George
Duke Trio. Through the late-60s and early 70s, Ponty achieved mounting critical praise and
popularity across Europe. In turn, the violinist soon found his signature talents in demand by top
recording artists the world over.
In 1969, Frank Zappa composed the music for Jean-Luc’s solo album King Kong (Blue Note). In
1972, Elton John invited Ponty to contribute to his Honky Chateau #1 hit album. In 1973, at the
urging of Zappa who wanted him to join his band the Mothers of Invention, Ponty migrated with
his wife and two young daughters to America and made his home in Los Angeles. He continued
to work on a variety of projects - including a pair of John McLaughlin/Mahavishnu Orchestra
albums and world tours (Apocalypse, Visions of the Emerald Beyond). In the meantime he
became a prolific composer, signed on as a solo artist with Atlantic Records in early 1975,
released his first album Upon The Wings Of Music that same year and started touring with his
For the next decade, Jean-Luc toured the world repeatedly and recorded 12 consecutive albums as
bandleader, violinist, keyboardist, composer and producer, which all reached the top 5 on the
Billboard jazz charts and sold millions of copies. Early Atlantic recordings, such as 1976’s
Aurora and Imaginary Voyage, firmly established him as a figurehead in America’s growing jazzrock
movement. He went on to crack the top 40 U.S. pop charts in 1977 with the Enigmatic
Ocean album and again in 1978 with Cosmic Messenger. In 1984, a revolutionary video featuring
time-lapse images was produced by Louis Schwarzberg for Individual Choice. Along with Herbie
Hancock, Ponty became one of the first jazz musicians to have a music video.
From the 80s to this day Ponty has been recording and touring around the world with his own
groups, and he has done collaborations with other great musicians such as drummer guitarists
Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, bassist Stanley Clarke, West African musicians, banjo player
Bela Fleck, Lalo Schifrin, violinists Nigel Kennedy - Mark O'Connor and L. Subramaniam from
India, classical violist and conductor Yuri Bashmet from Russia, pianist Wolfgang Dauner,
guitarist Bireli Lagrene, Chick Corea, Lenny White, Frank Gambale and singer Jon Anderson.
Jean Luc has also recorded and performed with his daughter pianist-singer-composer Clara, and
performed his music with symphony orchestras in the U.S.A, Canada, Japan, Western and Eastern
Europe, Brazil and Russia.