Jean-Luc Ponty was born into a family of classical musicians 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.
He was immediately hired by Concerts Lamoureux, a major symphony orchestra in France, where he played for three years. While a member of the orchestra in Paris, Ponty picked up a side gig playing clarinet for a college jazz band.
A growing interest in the jazz sounds of Miles Davis and John Coltrane spurred him to take up the tenor saxophone. One night after an orchestra concert, still wearing his formal tuxedo, Ponty found himself at a local club with only his violin. Within four years, he was widely accepted as the leading figure in jazz fiddle.
He eventually had to make a choice between his classical career and his jazz life, and "Naturally, I had to make a choice, so I took a chance with jazz," Ponty says.
Ponty was entered new territory with jazz violin; it was not viewed as having a legitimate place in the modern jazz vocabulary. But Ponty 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.
In 1967, John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet invited Ponty to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. His first American appearance was an unqualified success and led to a U.S. recording contract.
For the next decade, Ponty toured the world, recording 12 consecutive albums which all reached the top 5 on the Billboard jazz charts. He worked with Frank Zappa and Elton John and emigrated to the United States.
Ponty has used 5-string electric violins with a lower C string since 1977. He sometimes uses a 6-string electric violin called the Violectra, with low C and F strings. He was one of the first to combine the violin with MIDI, distortion boxes, phase shifters, and wah-wah pedals. This has resulted in his signature, almost synthesizer-like sound.
Video: Jean-Luc Ponty on Violin, Allan Zavod on Keyboards, Jamie Glaser on Guitar,
Rayford Griffin on Drums, Keith Jones on Bass