Music
12:02 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

A Sleek And Busy Walk With Jean-Luc Ponty

Originally published on Fri August 22, 2014 5:56 am

French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty played the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967, which led to his getting an American record contract, and playing with George Duke, Frank Zappa, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then he started his own jazz-rock fusion bands. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says before Ponty came to the States, he already had his concept.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty played the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967 which led to his getting an American record contract and playing with George Duke, Frank Zappa and the Mahavishnu orchestra. Then he started his own jazz-rock fusion bands. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says, before Ponty came to the states he already had his concept.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED JEAN-LUC PONTY SONG)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: There were always a few jazz violinists, going back to the early days - like Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli and Ray Nance. There weren't so many because jazz horns were much louder. At least until the 1960s when amplification became more aggressive and even a couple of rock bands had fiddle players. Jean-Luc Ponty helped lead the way. This music's from his second album "Sunday Walk" recorded in Germany in 1967 - just before his American adventures began.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED JEAN-LUC PONTY SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Jean-Luc Ponty was an orchestra violent who started playing jazz gigs on the side, originally on clarinet and tenor sax. That helped cultivate his horn-like phrasing and jazzy-way with variable pitch. In the '60s, Ponty and his American counterpart Michael White soaked up the influence of John Coltrane's swirly high-energy jazz. Even early on Ponty could sound sleek and busy at the same time. He used very little vibrato and might play long tones in unison on two strings for a more penetrating sound. But he could also play a lot of notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED TRANSCONTINENTAL RHYTHM TRIO SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Jean-Luc Ponty, 1967, with the Transcontinental Rhythm Trio - German pianist Wolfgang Dauner, Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Swiss-French drummer Daniel Lumer. Ponty's long, rococo lines help set the style for jazz-rock fusion via his work with Frank Zappa who wrote on the album "King Kong" and then the Mahavishnu orchestra. Ponty drew inspiration from horn players, but he shares one feeling with some other jazz violinist - he rarely pauses to take a breath. Even Groucho took the cigar out once in a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED TRANSCONTINENTAL RHYTHM TRIO SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Jean-Luc Ponty's album "Sunday Walk" comes from an early wave and a massive download reissue program from Germany's MPS label. They recorded a lot of good, European and American jazz from the '60s into the '80s. And the recent crop includes Don Cherry's messy, free-jazz and world music hoedown "Eternal Rhythm" and good mainstream dates by Clark Terry, Hank Jones and a revved up Oscar Peterson. MPS has also reissued a curious live album from Ella Fitzgerald caught in an awkward phase in 1969, too awkward to forget. Let's go out with Ella singing that album's title track, just remember some jazz-rock fusion's work less well than others.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE)

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) I'll be with you soon, my darling. Be with you when the stars start falling. Can't you hear me calling? I've been waiting so long to be where I'm going. In the sunshine of your love. I'm with you my love.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Sunday Walk" the 1967 reissue by French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, available only as a download from the German label MPS. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the new graphic novel by Jules Feiffer. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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