Jazz interview with jazz violinist, composer Jean Luc Ponty. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start how did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
Jean Luc Ponty: – I was first inspired by horn players playing be-bop and post-bop and got rid of the traditional romantic vibrato used by classical, gypsy and folk violinists, thanks to what I was immediately welcome in the circle of modern jazz musicians who considered violin to be too sweet and too romantic because of that vibrato. And to get a powerful sound and have enough volume to play with a drummer I installed a pickup on my violin and used an amplifier. Then Barcus-Berry in California gave me prototypes of their electro—acoustic fiddles which gave me a more electric sound which was perfect when I got into jazz-rock, and I started adding devices with sound effects when they were invented in the early 70s. My concept was to modernize the violin sound, going further and further away from tradition to suit my music and at the same time some of these sound colors inspired me as a composer. Then I collaborated with Zeta in California in the 80s to create a solid body instrument that was even more powerful and they came up with the first MIDI system for violin. Then since the 90s I do other projects on occasion where I go back to the traditional acoustic sound, such as with acoustic trios without drums like The Rite of Strings with Stanley Clarke and Al Di Meola, or recently with Bireli Lagrene and Kyle Eastwood.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
JLP: – I have never really practiced rhythm exercises and there were no jazz schools in the 60s in France nor Europe so it’s by playing along with records at home and jamming almost every night in clubs in Paris that I first developed my rhythm bow technique. But to keep in shape and fluid on the instrument I practice basic scales and arpeggios as warm up exercises.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <The Atlantic Years>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
JLP: – It is not a new album, it was released as a compilation of 4 CDs in 2011 by Warner-France with tracks chosen from albums which I produced for Atlantic Records. Warner asked me to help them choose the tracks and supervise the remastering and while doing so I rediscovered some of my early pieces and it inspired me to do a tour based on this concept of revisiting my music from these early albums, some of which became classics. We started last year 2017 on the West Coast through and are adding more dates this year in the Mid-West and East Coast. And doing it with American musicians who were in my band in those years makes these tours very special.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
JLP: – Soul should come first. There is no piece I wrote which was initiated with my intellect, it always starts with spontaneous inspiration. The intellect comes after to find ways to develop that initial inspiration.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
JLP: – Lew Futterman manager for organist Jack MacDuff heard me play in France in 1964 and hired me immediately to go with Jack to Sweden for a few nights in a club and a TV show. I made friends with a young guitarist my age who was in Jack’s band, I thought he was very talented and his future success proved me right….it was George Benson !
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
JLP: – Some young people adore Bach and Mozart who’s musics are even older than jazz standards, it’s a matter of exposure. For my generation who had a chance to see performances by the greatest innovators like Monk, Coltrane etc. it is a little strange to see young bands reproduce that music, but like with classical music it proves that there is an emotional and spiritual message in music that transcends generations. Then there are young musicians who, like some of us did in the 70s, are creating more contemporary forms of jazz. It depends what you define as “jazz”. I don’t live nor create with labels in mind, and jazz for me is not only standard tunes.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
JLP: – He was right and conscious of the dimension that can be achieved thanks to music. As musicians we express emotions and experiences stored in our subconscious and depending on the artist and his motivations in life, it can go from under the belt to a highly spiritual form of communication with other beings. I had some experiences which made me realize that music belongs to the world of metaphysics, and it made me wish to reach as high as I could spiritually and be ready to discover some day, perhaps upon death, what was the purpose of my life. Some fans often mention that some of my recordings helped them go through hard times in their life, which made me realize that music is also often a therapy for me as well and they share emotions I felt. And playing all over the world I realized how music could be one of he best ways to unify people around the planet, better than politics.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
JLP: – I have had a terrific career and now doing bonus years but for young artists I wish there would not be so much free or almost free music on internet so that young artists could be rewarded for their works the way we were in my generation. Or if ideally music should be free then in exchange artists should get everything for free, food, home, instruments, equipment and all.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
JLP: – I very rarely have time to sit down and listen to music, I am too busy, except before sleeping I sometimes listen to a quiet piece of classical organ, I love worlds by Olivier Messiaen and Maurice Duruflé so rich and profound harmonically, highly spiritual.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
JLP: – I have travelled too much already throughout my life I will stay in my century and watch historical movies, some reconstitutions are fantastic. Good enough for me.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
JLP: – How did you discover jazz and blues music?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. When I was at the live concerts. Before that, too, I always listened to jazz and blues, but this was outrageous since 2003. Best regards!!!
JLP: – All the best to you too..
Interview by Simon Sargsyan