In the same way that Stephane Grappelli brought the violin to Jazz, Jean-Luc Ponty pioneered the instrument in the world for Rock.
Though he originally studied classical violin (as it was the only option at the time) in Paris, Ponty quickly began to partner with such progressives as John Lewis, Lalo Schifrin, and Quincy Jones. His work in Jazz was so prominent that “Down Beat” created a violin category just for him! This unique acclaim brought Ponty to the attention of such Rock icons as Elton John and Frank Zappa, with whom he recorded and toured extensively. Since then, he has recorded award-winning solo albums and also partnered with the likes of Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea.
It may be no surprise, then, to find Ponty pairing with Progressive Rock ruler Jon Anderson of the seminal and long-standing band Yes.
“I discovered Yes in the early 70s and liked their music,”Ponty explains, recalling a fateful pair of shared-stage nights in Texas in 1974, when he was playing in the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin.
Ponty was immediately drawn to what he saw as very classical musical forms and the “symphonic” sound Anderson’s band produced.
“It was innovative,” says the man who knows the meaning of the word.
A decade later, Ponty met Anderson again in the offices of Atlantic Records.
“We were both signed to that label,” Ponty recalls, “and Jon suggested that we collaborate on a project some day.”
Three decades later, that long-ago plan has come to fruition and will bring the two giants to the historic Cabot Theatre in Beverly on May 20.
“When we crossed paths again,” Ponty explains of their most recent reunion, “Jon spontaneously recorded some improvised melodies and lyrics on a few of my classic tunes and sent them to me, I immediately loved it…so I got very excited and thought, this is it, we have to put a band together and do it!”
While Ponty is known more as an instrumentalist and Anderson as a vocalist, Ponty says that the two share the leadership role in the Anderson Ponty Band (www.andersonpontyband.com). “We both contribute ideas for our musical arrangements,” Ponty suggests, “and when working on Jon’s classics he takes the lead as I do for mine.”
Though Ponty produces audio and Anderson supervises video extensions, Ponty says that the latest union is “a true collaboration.” He also notes how much fun it is to perform, record, and explore with his kindred spirit.
“I am impressed by Jon’s constant creativity,” he says. “He is coming up with new ideas all the time, and also very open musically.”
Ponty also thanks Anderson for helping him to be “even more lyrical than usual,” citing how Anderson’s voice and his violin are, by nature, among the most expressive and complementary instruments.
Combining their own solo hits with new collaborations and international explorations that range from Cameroon Makossa to other worldly soundscapes, Ponty promises his fans and Anderson’s plenty of familiarity but also a healthy dose of novelty.
“We are performing all 14 songs from the CD plus about 5,” he predicts. “So expect…the unexpected!”
– Matt Robinson
286 Cabot Street, Beverly, http://thecabot.org