jean luc ponty

Born: sep 29, 1942 in Avranches, France.


Jean-Luc Ponty headlined the Zappanale festival in 2010.
Jean-Luc Ponty returned to the Zappanale festival in 2012 together with George Duke. They performed as The Brothers Of Invention, playing original compositions and Zappa pieces.




After studying classical violin at the Paris Conservatory, Jean Luc Ponty turned to jazz in the 60's. Thanks to his revolutionary style he collaborated with some of the best European and American musicians such as Eddy Louiss, Daniel Humair, Niels Henning-Ørsted Pedersen, John Lewis, Lalo Schifrin, and Quincy Jones. He became the first bebop violinist and US jazz magazine “Down Beat” created a violin category for him in its critics' poll, until then violin was in the 'miscellaneous instruments' category. His pioneering work on the electric violin in the 70's attracted the attention of pop and rock musicians, he recorded with Elton John and participated to several tours and legendary recordings with Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. In 1975 he founded his own band and became one of the most prominent figures of the jazz-fusion movement in the USA, selling millions of albums that all reached the top of the US charts. Ponty's most recent album “The Atacama Experience” is considered as one if his best and to this day Ponty keeps touring with his band around the world.

Ponty also collaborates on occasional projects such as “The Rite of Strings” with Stanley Clarke and Al Di Meola. In 2011 Ponty joined the mythical American group RETURN TO FOREVER IV with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Frank Gambale for a world tour spanning on 5 continents. Ponty received the 2007 Jazz Trophy in Germany, the medal of Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur in France in 2009, the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Awards in Ireland, and the Grand Prix of the Sochi Arts Festival in 2012 in Russia from the hands of world famous classical violist and orchestra conductor Yuri Bashmet. In 2012 Ponty performed his music with Orchestre Pasdeloup for his 50-year career celebration at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, then again with symphony orchestras in Brazil, Russia and Hungary in 2012 and 2013. In April 2013 Herbie Hancock invited him to perform in Istanbul at “International Jazz Day” for UNESCO. Ponty also founded a new quartet with his daughter, pianist-singer-composer Clara Ponty which performed in France and Germany in 2014. Ponty also performed with the 89 musicians of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orcherstra for the Siberian Christmas Festival. In 2014 Ponty recorded an album as an acoustic trio with Stanley Clarke on double bass and Gypsy-French guitarist Bireli Lagrene, which was released on Impulse/Universal in the Fall 2015. Jean Luc recently formed the Anderson Ponty Band with Jon Anderson, co-founder and lead singer of British progressive rock band YES, a CD and DVD was released in 2015 followed by a North American concert tour.



  1965 great moments in jazz- (organ, synthesizer, violone)  
  1966 violin summit- violin summit  
  1966 violin summit- amazing strings  
  1967 gruntz, george- noon in tunisia  
  wolfgang dauner: free action
    (1967, lp, ??, mps) - feat. jean-luc ponty


jean-luc ponty: sunday walk
    (1967, lp, ger, saba)

jlponty_sundaywalk_saba1967.jpg (29585 bytes)

  jean-luc ponty: more than meets the ear  (2)
    (1968, lp, ??, ??)
  the jean-luc ponty experience: electric connection  (3)
    (1969, lp, ??, ??)


frank zappa: hot rats
   (1969, lp, usa, bizarre)

  the jean-luc ponty experience with the george duke trio: s/t  (4)
    (1969, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: king kong  (5)
    (1970, lp, usa, world pacific jazz st 20172) – incl. various frank zappa compositions

  various artists: electric monster rock show
    (1970, lp, ger, liberty) - incl. jean-luc ponty: 'idiot bastard son' (frank zappa)
  jean-luc ponty experience: open strings  (6)
    (1972, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty experience: live at montreux 72  (7)
    (1972, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: portrait
    (1972, 2lp, ger, united artists uas 29281/82) = compilation, incl. 'idiot bastard son' (frank zappa)

jlponty_portrait.jpg (26400 bytes)


the mothers: over-nite sensation
   (1973, lp, usa, discreet)


frank zappa: apostrophe (')
   (1974, lp, usa, discreet)

  jean-luc ponty & stephane grappelli: jean-luc ponty & stephane grappelli  (8)
(1974, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: upon the wings of music  (9)
    (1975, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: aurora  (10)
    (1976, lp, ??, ??)  
  jean-luc ponty: canteloupe island
    (1976, 2lp, usa, blue note la 632-h2) – sampler, including the entire "king kong" album / feat zappa & incl. various frank zappa compositions

  jean-luc ponty: imaginary voyage  (11)
    (1976, lp, usa,
atl(eu)w50317 ) - feat.allan zavod, tom fowler
  jean-luc ponty: jean-luc ponty
    (1976, lp, argentian, liberty 5062) - incl. ‘king kong’,’twenty small cigars’,’idiot bastard son’ (frank zappa)
  jean-luc ponty: enigmatic ocean  (12)
    (1977, lp, usa, 
atlantic w50409 ) - feat. allan zavod  
  jean-luc ponty: cosmic messenger  (13)
    (1978, lp, usa, 
atl w50505 ) - feat. allan zavod  
  jean-luc ponty: live  (14)
    (1979, lp, usa, atl sd19229 ) - feat. allan zavod
  jean-luc ponty: a taste for passion  (15)
    (1979, lp, usa, atl w50666 ) - feat. allan zavod
  jean-luc ponty: civilized evil  (16)
    (1980, lp, ??, ??)
33 frank zappa: return of the son of shut up 'n play yer guitar
   (1981, lp, usa, barking pumpkin)

  frank zappa: shut up 'n play yer guitar - box set
    (1981, 3lp, eur, cbs)

  jean-luc ponty: live at donte's  (17)
    (1981, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: mystical adventures  (18)
    (1982, lp, usa, atlantic records)

ponty_mystical_adventures.jpg (94322 bytes)

  jean-luc ponty: individual choice  (19)
    (1983, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: open mind  (20)
    (1985, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: fables  (21)
    (1985, lp, ??, ??)  
  jean-luc ponty: the gift of time  (22)
    (1987, lp, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: storytelling  (23)
    (1989, cd, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: tchokola  (24)
    (1991, cd, ??, ??)  
  frank zappa: piquantique
    (1991, cd, usa, rhino foo-eee records r2 70544)

  jean-luc ponty / daniel humair / michel portal: la sorcellerie a travers les ages  (25)
    (1991, cd, ??, ??)  


frank zappa: you can't do that on stage anymore vol.6
   (1992, 2cd, usa, ryko)
  jean-luc ponty: no absolute time  (26)
    (1993, cd, ??, ??)
  jean-luc ponty: live at chene park  (27)
    (1996, cd, ??, ??)


frank zappa: the lost episodes
   (1996, cd, usa, ryko)
  jean-luc ponty: the best of the pacific years
    (2001, cd, usa, pacific jazz) - incl. two frank zappa compositions
  jean-luc ponty: electric connection / king kong
    (2004, 2cd, uk, gott discs) - incl. the "king kong" album
  jean-luc ponty: jean-luc ponty in concert
    (2004, cd, fr, le chant du monde / harmonia mundi)
  jean-luc ponty: the acatama experience
    (2007, cd, ger, koch records)


frank zappa: one shot deal
    (2008, cd, usa, zappa records)

  jean-luc ponty: electric connection / king kong
    (2004, 2cd, uk, bgo records) - incl. the "king kong" album
  corea, clarke & white: forever
    (2010, 2cd, japan, ??) - feat. jean-luc ponty
  miles davis: miles ! the definitive miles davis at montreux dvd collection 1973 - 1991
    (2011, 10dvd, usa, eagle rock) - feat. tom malone, george duke and jean-luc ponty

  mads tolling quartet: celebrating jean-luc ponty - live at yoshi's
    (2012, cd, usa, madsman records mt-02) - incl. 'king kong' (frank zappa) and various jean-luc ponty compositions

tolling_celebratingjlponty.jpg (95486 bytes)

  return to forever: the mothership returns
    (2012, 2cd + dvd, usa, ??) - feat. jean-luc ponty
  various artists: shark gathering in post industrial bad doberan 2012
    (2013, 3dvdr, ger, private release / rr productions) - feat. frank zappa, l.shankar, the ensemble modern & incl. various bands playing zappa compositions
zappanale_exhib2012_01.jpg (42170 bytes) zappanale_exhib2012_02.jpg (41900 bytes)

zappanale_exhib2012_03.jpg (49802 bytes)

  jeff lorber fusion: hacienda
    (2013, cd, usa, heads up international hui-34476-02) - incl. 'king kong' (frank zappa), feat. jean-luc ponty, vinnie colaiuta and ed mann
jefflorber_hacienda.jpg (35114 bytes)


frank zappa: road tapes - finlandia hall, helsinki, finland 23, 24 august 1973
    (2013, cd, usa, vaulternative records)

fz_roadtapes02.jpg (29253 bytes)

  anderson ponty band: better late than never
    (2015, cd / dvd, ger, ear music) = jon anderson and jean-luc ponty
andersonpontyband_betterlate_cd.jpg (37657 bytes)
  jean-luc ponty: waving memories - live in chicago 1975
    (2015, cd, uk, hi hat) - feat. tom fowler


frank zappa: the crux of the biscuit
    (2016, cd, usa, zappa records zr20020)
fz_cruxofthebiscuit.jpg (32468 bytes)
  jean-luc ponty: the atlantic years
    (2018, cd, usa, warner music group) = compilation




semi official releases

  jean-luc ponty: waving memories - live in chicago 1975
    (2017, cd, ??, hi hat) - feat. tom fowler

jl_ponty_wavingmemories_cd.jpg (24577 bytes)






  • 2010/08/15 concert "Zappanale", Bad Doberan, Germany
    • line-up
      • Jean-Luc Ponty: violin * William Lecomte: keyboard * Guy Nsangué Akwa: electric bass * Pierre-François Dufour: drums
    • setlist
      • On My Way To Bombay, A Journey's End, Back In The 60s, Without Regrets, Celtic Steps, Mirage, The Struggle Of The Turtle To The Sea, Desert Crossing, King Kong, Twenty Small Cigars, After The Storm, Open Mind
    • an audience recording of this concert got seeded at Zappateers


Ponty at Zappanale 2010.


  • 2012/08/02 Jean-Luc Ponty & George Duke - The Brothers Of Invention - concert Zappanale, Bad Doberan, Germany
    • The picture on the right shows The Brothers Of Invention on stage at the Zappale festival. Picture by Bazbo.

picture on the right by Mick Zeuner.
The Brothers Of Invention - Zappanale #23

picture on the left by Mick Zeuner.
The Brothers Of Invention - Zappanale #23

random notes   

it has been a long, fascinating odyssey for jean-luc ponty, who started out as a straight jazz violinist only to become a pioneer of the electric violin in jazz-rock in the '70s and an inspired manipulator of sequencers and synthesizers in the '80s. at first merely amplifying his violin in order to be heard, he switched over to electric violin and augmented it with devices that were associated with electric guitarists and keyboardists, like echoplex machines, distortion boxes, phase shifters, and wah-wah pedals. classically trained, with an unquenchable ability to swing when he wants to, and consumed by a passion for tight structures and repeating ostinatos, ponty has been able to handle styles as diverse as swing, bop, free and modal jazz, jazz-rock, world music and even country, mixing them up at will. starting in 1977, he also pioneered the use of a five-string electric violin with a low c string. undoubtedly, he rivals stephane grappelli for the title of the most prominent and influential european jazz violinist.
ponty's father -- the director of the school of music in avranches and a violin teacher as well -- got jean-luc started on violin at the age of five, and his mother tutored him on piano. he left school at 13 in order to practice six hours a day in the hope of becoming a concert violinist. at 15, he was accepted into the paris conservatoire, ultimately winning the premier prix at age 17. he played with the concerts lamoureux orchestra for three years, during which time, thanks to the influence of grappelli and stuff smith, he became interested in jazz. oddly enough, ponty began playing jazz first on the clarinet and tenor sax, waiting until 1962 to apply it to the violin. after a hitch in the french army (1962- 64), ponty went completely over to the jazz camp, leading quartets and trios in europe, recording with grappelli, smith and svrend asmussen on violin summit, and visiting the u.s. for the first time in 1967 at a monterey jazz festival workshop. enriching himself with diverse american experiences in 1969, ponty recorded with frank zappa, joined the george duke trio, and upon his return to france, formed the free-jazz jean-luc ponty experience (1970-72) before settling in the u.s. and rejoining zappa's mothers of invention. he toured and recorded with the mahavishnu orchestra in 1974-75 and then set out on his own, compiling a long series of solo albums on atlantic that pulled away from the more volcanic aspects of fusion toward a more lyrical, european, yet still exciting extension of mahavishnu's idioms.
in 1983, after his records began to sound increasingly formulaic, ponty switched gears and recharged his creative batteries on the synthesizer. starting with the individual choice album, he began constructing attractive revolving patterns of electronic sounds with the help of sequencers, producing backdrops for his violin that were elegantly indebted to europop influences. he took this direction with him when he signed with columbia in 1987, but on 1991's tchokola album, ponty was on the move again, throwing out the sequencers and recording with west african musicians who provided him with new ostinato patterns to play with. -- richard s. ginell

played with john mclaughlin in the mahavishnu orchestra. jean luc-ponty  appears on at least two mahavishnu orchestra albums:
   apocalypse (1974)
   visions of the emerald beyond (1975) 
both these albums followed the first installment of m.o. which included j.m., jerry goodman, billy cobham, and jan hammer. these particular later albums featured a mini-orchestra (strings, horns, woodwinds, etc), which include jean luc-ponty.
released many jazz albums
he was recently seen playing in a band called "the rites of strings " (or something like that). the said band also featured al dimeola on guitar and stanley clarke on bass. there was no drummer in the band. the band has released a record whith the same name. the record is very good, theres no electric instruments on it.

      karl kuenning sez:
i was the sound man and production manager for jlp for 2 years in the late 70's.  you have left off darryl sturmmer who played guitar for jl and when on to genesis (and is still  there), and steve smith who played drums and went on to journey.  the name of the cd with di meola and clark is "the rites of spring".  ponty's best two albums in my opinion were "enigmatic ocean" and "a taste for passion", both of which i worked on the tours. his most popular song was one of his first called "new country" of  the aurora album.  let me know if i can be of any assistance  with jlp or other groups i worked with like patti smith or supertramp.

     from: martin vasko (
ponty recently toured (again).  i believe he did about 10 dates, including one in san francisco in october.  i wasn't able to go to the show, but have friends back there who told me about it and as i recall it was listed in pollstar.  about a month ago i picked up his latest cd...which is a live album.
jean-luc ponty: live at chene park, 1996.  atlantic jazz 82964-2
infinite pursuit
tender memories
between sea and sky
faith in you
after the storm
the gift of time
eulogy for oscar romero
the amazon forest
the story teller
elephants in love
a journey's end
good cd, very sparse liner notes, not even much in the way of tour photos. i've only seen him live once, back in about 1980 or so.  'twas awesome.

      from: hadert von dicke (
the home page of jose e.mayorga vindas contains his own ponty discography, wherein it is written, that fz played guitar on ponty's 1969 album cantaloupe island. i think that is true, because there are listed all the musicians featured.

      from: teak (
i heard jlp and fz didn't like each other, don't know about the rumour.

      from: johan lif (
in a george duke interview i read in a swedish magazine a few years back, he said ponty resented doing "stupid things" like standing on one leg on cue. he considered himself too much of an artist for that kind of thing, and duke seemed to imply this was the source for his disagreement with zappa.

      from: hyoung-seok kim (
i think it's true that fz and jlp didn't like each other much. fz made fun of jlp's improvisation in trfzb, p.169. : "no matter what the solo was, after a certain period of time on the road he always ended with the same passage ..."
there fz said, "to a certain extent, alan zavod, our 1984 keyboard player, would do the same thing." but we can find that fz is much in his favor, if we compare it with the above cited sentence about jlp. (for example "in fact, alan really is a great pianist (and film composer). it's just that... he thought that type of solo was the appropriate vehicle to project his aura across vast continental areas.")

 and jlp said in a interview(le jazz, april 22, 1997) that he and fz parted on bad terms. "it[touring with fz] was again a very interesting experience at the beginning, because zappa took out all the very complex instrumental music that he had stashed in his desk for a long time since it was too sophisticated for the previous members of the mothers. he had written music that was very influenced by stravinsky, so he wanted to put together a group of excellent instrumentalists. but the public lost interest quickly, and he had to go back to satire and more commercial rock. that wasn't what wanted to do, so i left after only seven months. he didn't take it well at all and we parted on very bad terms.
(i think jlp's explain in this interview has not only some truths about fz-jlp relation but also a prejudice against fz.)

      from: dave lane (
there's an official site at

ponty interview
le jazz (webzine), april 22, 1997
by alain le roux

    jean-luc ponty chose to use his virtuosity to assert a new sound, less "pretty" than that of his elders. riding the wave of jazz-rock fusion, he was an early proponent of a genre which is now in danger of being spent. but, after a promising excursion into the world of african rhythms, he has come back strong with a live album where he gives the full measure of his talent, inspired by a very hot public. he has been kind enough to answer our questions. you will find on his site his biography and a complete discography.

le jazz : you were classically trained before going into relatively traditional jazz, which you played with all the greats of the time, whether they were violinists or not. then you headed into fusion, even rock. what made you choose the path you did ?
jean-luc ponty : meetings and chance. when i was playing modern jazz, bebop, in the 60's, i was invited to play in the united states. the first time was 1967. i signed a contract with a californian label that had me come back in 1968 and '69. the producer wanted me to do something different. he was a very open-minded man, a buddhist before it was trendy. he introduced me to ravi shankar's music, for example, but he had also signed all the west coast jazz musicians. he decided he wanted me to meet musicians from outside the jazz world. he introduced me to frank zappa, for example. little by little, the rock and pop world started to be aware of me, such as elton john and others.

lj : you recorded in a trio with daniel humair and eddy louis. how did that come about?
jlp : that was a period when i was playing the clubs in paris. i was only 23 years old and people had noticed me because i was the first modern violinist, the first to break with the grappelli style. humair, and then others, who were already established, hired me for a few concerts. then in 1966, when i was already a professional jazz musician, i began to get jobs of my own in the clubs. i could hire the groups i wanted. i chose humair on drums, eddy louis on piano, and guy pederson on bass. pederson was ill and couldn't make it, and instead of replacing him, i had eddy handle the bass part on the organ, which he was playing at the time. it worked out fine. we recorded, but at the time no one was very interested and the record only sold 2,000 copies.

lj : you've played other instruments besides the violin, in particular saxophone and clarinet. was that to make it easier to get into the jazz world ?
jlp : i learned violin and piano as a child. my mother taught piano and my father taught violin. he also taught me clarinet, which was technically my third instrument. when i was doing my classical studies at the conservatoire de paris, i met some a bunch of young amateur jazz musicians who played once a month at an engineer’s school. they needed a clarinetist, so i went along for the fun of it. i didn't really know what jazz was, but that's where i learned. it was just a hobby at first, once a month, then as i got more and more interested i started to buy records and to learn about the history of jazz. i had thought jazz was just some kind of dance music, but modern jazz got me hooked. i taught myself saxophone, which is easy when you already play clarinet. and then one day, totally by chance, i had my violin with me because i was on my back from a classical gig, so i played it. it was a revelation for the audience and for me, too. for the first time, i realized i could be a jazz violinist. at the time i didn't know anything about the history of jazz violin. i started to look into it and discovered grappelli, stuff smith, but no modern violinists. this encouraged me. once i had managed to win first prize at the conservatoire, i threw myself more and more into jazz. i listened to the records, hung out at all the clubs, and began to get work there. i made my first record as a leader when i was 21. i was hired at the blue note, at the antibes festival. the choice seemed to make itself. since i was having a lot of success in jazz, i took the risk and gave up a classical career.

lj : tell us how you met zappa.
jlp : my producer didn't know zappa personally, but he encouraged me to get out and meet other musicians. zappa was already famous, even among jazz musicians, for his sophisticated instrumental style. i realized that we were very different on many levels. for a long time i resisted doing anything other than mainstream jazz. my producer wanted me to do californian things of the period, even very commercial things, but that didn't appeal to me at all. but i knew zappa wasn't into easy music, that he did serious work. so we got together and zappa was impressed right away by what i was doing with george duke. at the time, george duke was an unknown young pianist. my producer asked zappa to arrange his music for my next album under my name. he accepted, and he was ready two or three weeks later. this was around the time he was recording "hot rats," and he suggested i go by the studio to see how he worked. three weeks after that we recorded "king kong," which was really unorthodox for me. thanks to my classical background, i had no trouble with any of the written music. he had hired musicians he often used for his own records, jazz musicians, really, from the los angeles studios. i insisted on using george duke, because we were always playing together. i wanted to have at least one musician i knew. it was a very interesting experience. we were curious about each other. he was interested in jazz and above all in contemporary classical music. he was very interested by my mix of a classical background and the ability to improvise. that's why he called me later to ask me to join his group, the mothers of invention, for a tour of america in 1976. that was the second time we worked together, and it was based on a misunderstanding. zappa had asked george duke to join the mothers of invention. but george felt kind of lonely among all those rockers, and he left zappa to go with cannonball adderley. he passed through paris with cannonball, and told me a group was being put together in los angeles and his manager wanted me to be part of it. george told me, "if you accept, i will too." but i hadn't understood it was to play in zappa's group. in the end i found myself in los angeles, touring with zappa. it was again a very interesting experience at the beginning, because zappa took out all the very complex instrumental music that he had stashed in his desk for a long time since it was too sophisticated for the previous members of the mothers. he had written music that was very influenced by stravinsky, so he wanted to put together a group of excellent instrumentalists. but the public lost interest quickly, and he had to go back to satire and more commercial rock. that wasn't what i wanted to do, so i left after only seven months. he didn't take it well at all and we parted on very bad terms.

lj : another important musical encounter was john mclaughlin, with whom you played for almost a year and recorded two albums.
jlp : john is english, and he'd read about me in the european music press. we met in new york, when he had come over from england to play with tony williams. when he started the first mahavishnu orchestra, he was going to give me a call, but his manager was against it because i lived in france. but in 1974, for the second mahavishnu orchestra, i was in the united states. we toured together for a month, zappa's group and mahavishnu. with john i was much more in my element, musically, especially since the group was doing purely instrumental music.

lj : was mclaughlin very demanding technically ?
jlp : less so than zappa. he was demanding in that he knew what he wanted, but it was nothing extraordinary, particularly for me with my classical background.

lj : last year i attended a master class with stéphane grappelli, and when he was asked where he would situate didier lockwood in relation to himself in french jazz, he answered that there was another very important french violinist who shouldn't be overlooked: jean-luc ponty. what has your relationship been with grappelli? you played with him. you quickly broke from his style.
jlp : when i discovered the history of jazz violin (stuff smith, grappelli, and so on), i was listening mostly to miles and coltrane. this was in the early 60's. grappelli's style didn't suit the modern style at all, and his career was at a bit of a low point. the swing era was over, django was dead, bebop had arrived and swept all before it. bebop was what interested me, and my only examples were trumpeters, pianists and saxophonists. but i always respected grappelli, and i defended him against those who couldn't see beyond the new sounds, because i understood how important the earlier work was. people noticed me, because i was the crazy young classical violinist who would show up in a tuxedo with his little amplifier and play electric, and much more aggressively. grappelli heard about me, and one day django reinhardt's son babik, who i used to jam with in the clubs, told me grappelli wanted to meet me. he took me along to a club where i played for him. he told me what i was doing was very original and he encouraged me to continue. we were friends after that. i never took a lesson from him, and as a matter of fact he never even talked to me about jazz violin. it was only later, when i had begun to be well-known, that we were hired to do a couple of televisions shows together in france, and for the berlin jazz festival. grappelli sort of took didier lockwood under his wing and helped his career, but he knows perfectly well there is no such thing as a french school of jazz violin. that's an error the french jazz press has helped spread, giving the impression that there's stéphane grappelli and his children, including me. this is flattering, especially since it makes me seem younger, but it's completely inaccurate, since the music i was playing was already a break from his style.

lj : can you tell us about technical developments in jazz violin? you are now playing a six-string instrument.
jlp : in the beginning, in the 1960's, it was very rudimentary. the microphone was placed on the sound board, it was a contact mike that was placed on the instrument. it was made in france and the united states for classical guitars and basses. it didn't pick up all the frequencies, but it amplified me and let me play with rhythm sections who played as hard as they would behind a saxophonist or trumpeter. as soon as they saw me with my instrument, drummers who were used to playing with grappelli would take out the brushes to play softly. as soon as they felt my energy, they'd switch back to sticks and let go. i realized that the sound coming out of the amp was not a traditional violin sound at all, but that the roundness of the low notes, that amplitude which was like a saxophone, gave me the punch i needed to play this style of music, and so i stayed with it. in 68-69, when i moved to california, barcus berry, who was the first to make a really good electric violin, came to see me and gave me his first models. they were traditional classical violins with a mike in the bridge. you could also buy the bridge separately and fit it to a traditional violin. barcus berry also made violins with sound knobs. he also made a baritone violin, with fatter strings, that played an octave lower. i liked it a lot because it let me reach a low register on certain tunes. mclaughlin liked it too, because i could play unison lines with the guitar, or sax, that went lower than i could go with the violin. it was good, but it meant changing instruments. so barcus berry, or else vitar, another american manufacturer of the time that has since gone out of business, had the idea to add a fifth, lower, string. it didn't go as low as the baritone sax, but it was a sort of combination of the violin and viola. the first really high-quality electronic violin was made in 1986 by zeta. two years ago in london, a canadian instrument-maker living in england named david johnson, who founded violectra, contacted me to show me his instruments. he makes 4-, 5- and 6-string models. it isn't completely perfected, but i'm working on it.

lj : and what about midi ?
jlp : i started using midi with zeta's products. the violin mike used by zeta was invented by a québecois living in san francisco who worked for a small company that did electronics for guitars and basses. he played violin himself, so he was interested in the electric violin. he invented a bridge with a piezo-crystal mike for each string, very high-quality electronics, which meant there was no more need for a hollow body. it was the first successful solid-body violin. at first the idea was to connect it to a pre-amplifier to be able to equalize each string. since each string had an independent signal, zeta was the first to develop a midi interface for violin.

lj : is response time a problem ?
jlp : it's as good as a guitar. obviously, it works better with "simple" synthesizer sounds, such as flute. it's a little slower on low notes. and it doesn't work quite as well for more sophisticated synthesizer sounds, like attacks in crescendo. it's almost as good as a guitar synthesizer.

lj : in the type of music you've been playing for the last several years, it seems as if writing plays a greater role than improvisation.
jlp : no, the part of the improvisation is sometimes equal and often greater. what i write is actually improvised, since i improvise the material first at home. it depends on the album, but i was recently in an acoustic trio with stanley clarke and al dimeola, and everyone has brought his own compositions. in my own productions since the 1980's, i use the synclavier. i record some ideas immediately, digitally, in the synclavier, then i come back later and add other layers on top, and so on. of course there are some sections left open for improvisation.

lj : in the 90's you played with african musicians you met in paris. how did that come about, and where is it at now ?
jlp : it's still going on. the rhythm section of my current touring group is all french-speaking africans i chose from among the ones i met in 90-91. it happened by chance. in 1988, i was touring europe with my american group, and discovered some superb african musicians in paris. i bought some records and i came back to paris with my violin looking for them, to see if improvising over their rhythms would work out. it was, and i made a first record called "tchokola" in 1991. it was different for me, i didn't want to be involved as a composer, just to improvise over specific african rhythms. it made a big impression on me. i discovered a great wealth of rhythm and also melody. the next development was to go back to my western style of writing melodies and harmonies, using african rhythm sections. i picked musicians who could play jazz, blues or rock.

lj : how do you see the future of jazz violin ? do you have students ?
jlp : i don't have any students. disciples, maybe. for one thing, i don't have time to teach, and for another, i don't know if i have the gift for it.

lj : have you seen any young people you think are the future of jazz violin ?
jlp : not personally, but i may soon at the musicora trade fair. apparently there are some young people coming out of the conservatory who have amazing technique. i hope there will be some of them there. we can even go back to lockwood. i was interviewed by professionals in a french radio station who told me, "your style is close to lockwood's, and we wonder who was listening to whom." i always remember the high level of cultural education in france. when i listen to my records or hear musicians who been very influential for their instrument, you can hear it from the beginnings. sometimes i do hear people with potential, but not mature yet. it's only when we hear someone who will make a splash at the very beginning that we'll know we're hearing someone who can bring things farther.

lj : our tradition is to ask all our interviewees to list the three albums they would take with them to a desert isle. you're no exception !
jlp : salif keita, jan garbarek and a classical violinist, victoria mulova. but this choice may vary if you ask on another day.


frank zappa  / musicians timeline



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