Gary James' Interview With
Jean-Luc Ponty

In October of 1978, Jean-Luc Ponty made a rare "In Concert" appearance at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, N.Y. in support of his "Cosmic Messenger" album. Jean-Luc Ponty started taking violin lessons when he was only five. By the age of thirteen, he was practicing six hours a day. At seventeen he was playing violin selections from Bach, Beethoven and Paganin. His background includes stints with Elton John, John McLaughlin and Frank Zappa. Jean-Luc Ponty headlines concerts in every city in the U.S., Canada, Europe and The Orient.

Q - Did you ever want to do anything other than play the violin?

A - No. I knew it was my vocation from an early age and it had to be Classical music. Although, when I was five years old I think I wanted to be a fireman.

Q - Can you compare working with Elton John to Frank Zappa for me?

A - It was all different. These people called me to have my sound with their music. I enjoyed doing the Elton John album "Honky Chateau". There was a sense of joy during recording sessions, living in the castle. Elton John is very demanding on his musicians and I had to use all my knowledge to play his music. Contrary to what you would expect, I was more disciplined with Frank Zappa.

Q - Why have you been credited with doing more to promote the violin in Rock / Jazz than say Papa John Creech or Doug Kershaw?

A - I'm the wrong man to ask. It's like selling myself. Papa John Creech plays a Blues style violin, where Doug Kershaw is specifically Country, which is not progressive. Both are self-taught. My playing is classically influenced, sophisticated. I don't stay in one form of music. I've experimented, created new sounds. I'm not playing the same way now as I was playing ten years ago. No one beside myself has pushed the violin so far. It's progressive music. I'm discovering new things all the time.

Q - Who designs your violins?

A - The violins are made by Barcus-Berry of California. They're manufactured violins for ten years or more, tuning out hundreds in their factory every year and having a hard time keeping up with the demand. I use different colors for the violins because each has a different tuning. It's easier on stage to tell them apart than if they were the same color.

Q - Do you have insurance for your hands?

A - Yes, with a company in France.

Q - You live in France?

A - I had a residence in Paris, but I was never there. Los Angeles is my base. I have a house there.

Q - Who's influenced you as a person?

A - Hundreds of people, like Classical composers, Jazz musicians. When I was fifteen years old I had such admiration for my violin teacher. He was God to me. Then I went away to Paris to study and my teacher there became God to me. Then it was Miles Davis. Today there is no one person.

Q - Have you ever had stage-fright?

A - Yes. It sometimes happens. I don't know why. It can happen if you're low physically or under certain circumstances. I had real stage fright when I was doing Classical music. I've done so many shows now, it's a pleasure to go onstage.

Q - Do you use any gimmicks in your stage production? I'm speaking about an over-the-top light show for example.

A - No. It's just the music. We use plain colored lights, which are complimentary to the music. It accentuates the changes of music, the intensity of the music.

Q - Do you have a favorite opening act?

A - Mark Almond Group is an excellent opening act. I like something different.

Q - What about cities, do they matter to you?

A - No. I'd rather have a good write-up than bad. I get very exalted by good reviews and get down by bad. There are so many reviews, it's hard to keep up with them. There are maybe two or three critics who are not prejudiced to one kind of music. That's important. I listen exclusively to my own impulses.

Q - What does the immediate future hold for you?

A - The tour ends in mid-December. I'll be mixing my 'live' album in January. In February I go to Japan and in March I'll be touring Europe. After that I'll be thinking about my next musical direction and probably do an album next Summer.

Q - Who, in your opinion, has made the greatest contribution to music in the '70s?

A - Only the '80s will tell. Time is like energy. It changes the concepts and values of people. I don't really think about that. I have to create music. We'll see. We'll have to wait the ages.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.