French violinist Jean Luc Ponty goes back in time for Colorado show

By Jen Mulson Updated: June 7, 2017 at 9:28 pm • Published: June 7, 2017 0

One expects a violinist and his violin to exhale a sweet strain of classical music.

French violinist Jean Luc Ponty is the exception to that assumption. The jazz and rock violinist has musically sweet-talked his audiences for decades after becoming the first bebop violinist and working with the likes of Eddy Louiss, Daniel Humair, Stanley Clarke, Quincy Jones, Frank Zappa and, more recently, Jon Anderson of the British progressive rock band Yes.

Recently, he got the old band back together - the same musicians he toured and recorded with in the '80s - for a new tour. The "Atlantic Years Tour" will revisit music going back to the '70s. They'll make a stop at Boulder Theater in Boulder on Tuesday.

It's not that Ponty doesn't love classical music. He does. But jazz brings out something different in him.

"Classical is all written down, and it's like if you are a comedian, you have to express what the writer who wrote the script was trying to say," said Ponty, 74, from the first tour stop in Portland, Ore. "You are the interpreter as opposed to being 100 percent yourself and coming up with variations, with being creative. I was discovering and learning jazz by listening to great American innovators until I felt a desire to create a more personal style of music in which I could really express everything I felt I had in me the way I was hearing music."

Ponty grew up in a classical music family and learned the clarinet, violin and piano before his parents instructed him to focus on one when he turned 11. He chose the violin, but it was the clarinet on which he first tried to play jazz. One day, though, he forgot his clarinet at a jam session but still wanted to play. He pulled out his violin and began the journey that eventually would become his calling card.

"I discovered I could jam on violin, and the audience got excited," he said. "That was a revelation to me. I was still a student in classical music, so it started to grow in my mind that I could maybe deviate from the original path I had taken and go into jazz. I also discovered there were no violinists in modern music and none in rock, even less. That was an additional excitement."

Ponty went on to seemingly break all the rules and traditions by creating a jazz and rock blend for the violin, what critics in the '70s and '80s dubbed jazz rock fusion. The musician knew he was going out on a limb but hoped the result would be worth it.

"I was criticized for mixing rock with it when we started to explore," Ponty said, "but I didn't care if critics said my music wasn't jazz anymore. I had to get over it. It was just by instinct and intuition. I had to use what I had in me. It was either listeners would like it, and if nobody liked it, I would have had to stop. But it was not the case. I could reach even more people this way."


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