Jean Luc Ponty Interview
[MuzikMan] "Life Enigma" is your first album in seven years. Can you explain why it takes so long in between albums for some artists? I think people have their own ideas and perceptions of why, but I think there is always a valid reason that makes sense as to why things happen like they do. What are your thoughts and reasoning behind the long timeframe between your recorded work? What was the driving force and overall feeling you had while recording the new release?
Jean Luc It never took that long in between my albums before, perhaps 2 years maximum. In fact during the 18-year period from 1975 to 1993 I released 15 albums. Then in 1995, I recorded and toured with Stanley Clarke and Al Di Meola as an acoustic trio called the Rite of Strings. That was again two years after my last studio album. But in 1996, my wife and I decided to have a major change of life. After spending 23 years in Los Angeles we moved to New York and Paris, going back and forth between the two cities. I also needed to have a break creatively, to reconnect with my cultural roots and with old friends and enjoy life. I was reading a lot and reflecting on many subjects, from politics to spirituality. My contract with Atlantic was ending in 1997 and I was in no rush to sign a new deal. In fact, I was feeling more and more at odds with the industrial mentality that prevails now in most big record companies. However, I did not want to give up the fun of performing live and I started touring again with my multi-ethnic band in 1997. Since there was no new album, we played some of my best pieces from the 70s and 80s along with the recent African-based material. It was an amazing experience to see fans in North America being still so enthusiastic about this early material, and to discover the reaction of fans in Eastern Europe and Russia who were seeing my band live for the first time. I was so grateful for their strong support that it made up for my disappointment with the music business. It was also amazing to be invited to perform around the world from 1997 to 2000 without a new album. Then through my web site more and more fans were asking for a new CD and thatís what convinced me. But I felt that it was unnecessary to add one more album to my collection unless I could achieve my goal, which was to come up with lyrical pieces straight from the heart, with a very rich and warm sound, more acoustic than before and with only a few electronic effects. Not a nostalgic return to the 70s or 80s but a return to my personal concept with a modern production. So, I did not set any deadline, letting my ideas mature before going into the studio. By the end of 1999, the music was ready. I decided to build a new home studio and started recording around May 2000, in between concerts. The production was completed in January 2001. Then, I decided to start my own record label to release this new CD and to preserve my artistic freedom for all my future projects. This took another few months and Life Enigma was finally released in August 2001. This is why it took so long, but now I already have two other projects in the pipeline, my first concert DVD and a recent live album.
[MuzikMan] You have been making great music for so many years now, has your homeland always accepted your music like the rest of the world? Or is there a different vibe entirely from where you are from and Europe in general?
Jean Luc In the 70s my music had the same impact worldwide. Then in the 80s I was touring so much in North and South America that I had no time left to tour in Europe until the mid-90s. In France, the music business is very political. I have had problems mostly with some jazz critics and some professionals who are very conservative; some of them resent the fact that I was out of the country for so long and some are jealous of my international success. The result is that I am rarely invited to perform in my home country, but when I do, I get the exact same positive reaction from the public as anywhere else, which proves that my problem in France is not with the public.
[MuzikMan] Have you always played the violin or did you gravitate towards it by trying different instruments?
Jean Luc I started on violin and piano when I was five. Then I chose violin as my main instrument when I was 11 and only played classical music on that instrument until I was 17. But I also studied a bit of clarinet as a teenager and played jazz on that instrument first before switching to violin.
[MuzikMan] Was your upbringing a major influence on choosing your lifeís work? If not, how did you end up as a professional musician?
Jean Luc Yes because my parents were music teachers, so I was exposed to music from birth. But the passion and the vocation could only come from me. And the decision to go professional was my choice, after strong arguments with my parents who were financially struggling and who would have preferred that I choose another profession.
[MuzikMan] I had the pleasure of seeing you perform live at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco in 1987. What is the difference between Jean Luc Ponty the person and the artist during that period (14 yrs) opposed to now?
Jean Luc I thought that my musical concept would go on in a straight line for a long time. I did not know that I would venture into different projects and that I would discover these great West African musicians in Paris, record with them, and through that project reconnect with my home country. Now I feel that after venturing into different music worlds, it is time to come back home, musically speaking. I still have new things to say on the violin, with a better sound than ever. On the private side, I had already gone through some heavy emotions in 1987, one of them being the loss of my parents. I feel more at peace with myself now than I did then and although I feel the slow physical decay of time, I enjoy a better mental ability. But then there is the state of the world for which I worry even more now than in 1987!
[MuzikMan] What is your opinion of the jazz-rock fusion genre today? Who do you feel is making the most important strides in developing the genre?
Jean Luc There are only a few innovators from the initial movement who keep exploring with the true spirit of fusion, which means creating with an open mind in regard to musical forms, structures etc. Then the influence on young generations is noticeable around the world and it has been recycled into new experiences, such as the electro jazz scene in Europe.
[MuzikMan] What was it like playing with all of those great musicians in Mahavishnu Orchestra? I think groups like Mahavishnu and Return To Forever were the major ground breakers for the fusion genre, do you agree? Are there others that you think didnít get the recognition that they deserved?
Jean Luc Donít forget to mention Weather Report among the groundbreakers. Guitarist Larry Coryell should not be forgotten also for being one of the very first creators of the movement. And there is Allan Holdsworth who made a major contribution on his instrument and deserves a wider recognition.
[MuzikMan] I think music is more than an emotional expression, I think itís spiritual. Do you, or have you always felt this way? If not, what are your feelings and perceptions of what most artists are trying express through their music?
Jean Luc I did not realize it was spiritual until I became conscious of my own spirituality. Then I approached music through that view as early as the 70s. But you can express anything through music, including hate and violence. This is why it is extremely important for artists to be conscious of their responsibility.
[MuzikMan] What are your expectations with the new release? Will you be touring to support during 2002?
Jean Luc Following the release last August and despite the attacks of September 11 and further threats of terrorism, we managed to tour very successfully overall on the East Coast, Mid-West and part of the South. I am now going to finish the productions of the DVD and live audio CD and we hope to go back on the road around Spring 2002 to perform in the rest of the States and perhaps again in some of the same parts we visited, as well as in Europe and hopefully on other continents.