One of the most eagerly awaited releases of 2015 by the AndersonPonty Band, featuring music icons Jon Anderson and Jean Luc Ponty, is scheduled to hit the streets early Fall 2015! “Better Late Than Never” is the new album taken from a live performance, and enhanced with innovative production. The package includes a bonus DVD featuring outstanding performances by the band captured in September 2014 at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado.
In a Levity Ball exclusive, Violin Virtuoso,Mark Woodyatt spends time with one of his idols, the iconic Mr. Jean Luc Ponty himself.
Mark Woodyatt: Was there ever any point in your life when you thought of giving up the violin?
Jean Luc Ponty: “No never.”
MW: Who were some of your biggest influences, and who are you listening to now?
JLP: “Growing up with European classical music the French impressionists, Debussy, Ravel, Satie, more contemporary composers like Olivier Messiaen, also Russian composers especially Stravinsky were my biggest influence as a composer/arranger on the melodic and harmonic levels, because they were part of my cultural background. Then as a jazz violinist, Stuff Smith was a very early influence but being attracted to modern jazz in the absence of any major modern jazz violinist, I listened to the greatest horn and piano players, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Red Garland, Oscar Peterson and more.”
MW: Of the many world-class artists with whom you’ve collaborated and performed throughout your successful career, which ones have you enjoyed working with the most, and which ones did you find the most challenging?
JLP: “The most enjoyable were the most challenging, and the most challenging are always those who are the most original, who take you in unusual musical territories. I was lucky to be invited to collaborate with some of the most revolutionary musicians of the 60s and 70s. And now collaborating with singer Jon Anderson is a new challenge as this is the first time I am co-writing with a creative singer, which is a different approach from instrumental music.”
MW: As one of the world’s most influential pioneers in electric violin, you introduced to the world many new technologies and ways of synthesis. Do you have any insight into what you think you will be the future of electric violin playing?
JLP: “The future will be made by future players. The use of new technologies started with my generation and it was a welcome coincidence as I was eager to experiment with sounds whether on violin or keyboards, since keyboards always had a big place in my life, piano being my second instrument and my main tool as composer. Perhaps because my passion was for music in general and not for violin in particular, the traditional instrument was nothing sacred to me so I dared try everything possible. Now young generations have the choice between 2 kinds of violins, like guitarists with acoustic and electric guitar. But I think that the traditional acoustic instrument will never disappear as in our new world filled with electronics and digital technology, this very archaic instrument, made of a wood box with a few strings and a bow made with horse hair, reconnects us with the organic world, and I myself use both, electric and acoustic depending of the band format.”
MW: Do you have a “favorite” mode or key signature?
JLP: “No because different modes and key signatures have a great influence on the mood, so it’s the mood of a piece I write which will influence the choice of the key signature, and modes eventually if I use any.”
MW: What is your favorite music to help you relax? To focus? To inspire you?
JLP: “The music I like to listen to is usually intense, whether it’s jazz or classical, so to relax I like silence and meditation without music.”
MW: Could you share some details about one of your best or most-fulfilling recent performance experiences?
JLP: “The first concerts we did with Jon Anderson in Aspen last year were filled with all sort of emotions, from intense to relaxed to spiritual, because the human voice is the most emotional way to communicate emotions, violin is the second and perhaps the first of all instruments since it’s so close to the human voice. Before that was when I performed my new music with a symphony orchestra in Paris in 2012, the whole sound on stage made me feel like I was in Heaven.”
MW: As there are a variety of approaches in music to learning and every person learns differently, what advice can you share to help young and aspiring musicians to discover the art of improvisation on the violin?
JLP: “Violin is the most demanding instrument and I know nothing better than classical studies to get a solid technical background. Since several centuries great violinists have explored this instrument and pushed it to its limits, developing exercises and studies that help beginners and advanced students to master this instrument to the highest level. A violinist who has acquired a solid technical background can then explore any style of music without handicap. Learning improvisation whether for jazz or other styles is then acquiring the knowledge that all players of any instrument must go through, learning musical theory, improvising through chord changes, adapting the phrasing of other styles to one’s instrument. Then a jazz school is a good place to learn and train one’s mind for improvisation. But Improvisation should be original therefore intuitive, so there again the basic theory can be a helping tool, but the goal is to be inventive. There were no jazz teachers nor schools when I started, I learned by listening and watching others.”
MW: If you could live anywhere in the world- where would it be it be and why?
JLP: “I can live anywhere I want, and thanks to internet I can communicate with other musicians anywhere in the world, even record and exchange ideas from our home studios. So I share my life between Europe and the U.S.”
MW: What were some of your favorite jazz rock bands and albums in the 1960’s & 70’s?
JLP: “Mahavishnu Orchestra and not just because I collaborated with that band but it was the first most revolutionary jazz-rock band, then Return To Forever and Weather Report. I don’t remember albums names specifically but usually some of the first ones were ground breaking because so new and revolutionary to our ears.”
MW: Aside from music, what are some of your other passions?
JLP: “Enriching my mind as much as possible so……reading, yoga and being close to nature.”
MW: If you hadn’t taken the path of destiny, upon the wings of music, what might you be doing?
JLP: “Fireman. That’s what I wanted to be when I was five years old, I loved the shiny helmet…..LOL……but soon after it was music and only music, any style of music.”
MW: When you come up with ideas for pieces do you generally record yourself playing or do you sit down with a pen in the paper?
JLP: “I started composing mostly on piano, I would improvise and write down on paper when I would come up with an idea which I thought could turn into a new composition, or record while improvising is I had access to recording equipment, which is not always the case when traveling, on tour etc. – Now it’s mostly pen and paper because with more experience I can now hear very well in my head what it will sound like.”
MW: Where were you when you first heard John Coltrane and what were your thoughts?
JLP: “The very first time I saw him he was opening for Dizzy Gillespie, whom I was coming for. Coltrane’s music and the band performance was so intense, the music so revolutionary that just trying to understand gave me a headache, seriously a big headache, but then going back home after the show his music was haunting me, I bought an album and started to understand what his music was about. I saw him again years after when I was able to understand it all and these were intense experiences, similar to hearing The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky for the first time. ”
MW: Having two parents who were professional musicians sounds like an advantage for you throughout your youth. I’m wondering…did your classically-trained parents ever try and dissuade you from pursuing jazz?
JLP: “Yes, but they did not succeed. Then when I started composing and releasing my jazz-rock albums in the 70s they liked it, because they could relate to the classical influence in my melodies and harmonies.”
MW: Gypsy Jazz is currently undergoing a revival, growing in popularity worldwide. Could you tell us a little about your recent collaboration that is coming out in 2015?
JLP: “Stanley Clarke and I were eager to collaborate one day with Gypsy-French guitarist Bireli Lagrene who is super-talented. We recorded an album last year as an acoustic trio, not playing gypsy but modern jazz, and Bireli truly shines as a modern jazz guitarist, very adventurous and inspired. We recorded a few originals by the three of us plus some covers such as a blues by John Coltrane.”
MW: What’s your favorite memory of Stephane Grappelli?
JLP: “We were hired to play together at the Berlin Jazz Festival in the mid-60s, I was very young, it was one of my first appearances in a major festival and I was nervous to perform after some great American jazz stars. He reassured me saying that with our fiddles we had the potential of breaking the house, and we did, it was a triumph.”
MW: How did you originally connect with Frank Zappa? What effect did working with him have on your Career as a performer and composer? Did he ever give you any advice that you feel would be worth sharing that you have never shared publicly before?
JLP: “In 1968-69 I was signed to a record label from Los Angeles which suggested that Frank Zappa produced my third solo album, I had no idea what the music would sound like but was ready for a new experience, Frank accepted and called the album ‘King Kong’. Then he asked me to tour with his band ‘The Mothers of Invention’ in 1973. There is nothing to say that I never shared before, perhaps I will explain it a bit differently. At the time I was very shy as a composer because what I wrote was very inspired by Classical music and did not fit the modern jazz style I was performing then. The collaborations with Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin right after made me understand that it was by breaking rules of traditional rock and jazz, by borrowing concepts of long form structures such as classical symphonies and other influences, from American and world music, and adapting them to rock and jazz that they were breaking new ground. None gave me any advice, I just started writing music by drawing from my own past musical experiences without caring anymore whether it fitted any tradition. Then playing so many concerts on so many stages around the world for over a year with John McLaughlin whose playing was so intense and full of energy made me a stronger performer.”
MW: How was it working with George Duke for the first time, in 1969?
JLP: “It was like an instant metaphysical connection. I had an engagement in a club in Los Angeles and came from France without a band. George had sent an album demo to that record label I was signed to, my record producer played it for me and I immediately hired George with his trio. He arrived from San Francisco, we had no time to rehearse, we met on stage and played jazz standards, and it was like he was reading my mind musically and following me through my improvisations like we had played together for years, a great modern jazz pianist with a deep sense of rhythm. From then on I wanted him on all albums I did with that label, and imposed him on the Zappa project, which is how Frank discovered him and hired him for his band as soon as I left back to France.”
MW: You are preparing for a studio release and accompanying tour with Jon Anderson, what can tell us about that and what we can look forward to?
JLP: “We met in the 80s, lost track of each other and connected again last year, Jon is so spontaneous the next day he sent me some recording he had done, singing and improvising lyrics on some of my tunes like Mirage, it was such a surprise and worked so well that we immediately talked about putting a band together, and reviving some of his and of my music and come up with new ideas as well. My life has been full of surprises but it’s amazing that one of that dimension would come my way after a 50-year career. First time I collaborate so closely with a singer. Very exciting.”
The AndersonPonty Band has created some breathtaking new musical compositions. “Better Late Than Never” also showcases rearrangements of classic YES hits like “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, “Roundabout” and “Wonderous Stories”, as well as some of Jean Luc Ponty’s beloved compositions, with Jon’s lyrical vocals and melodies enhancing the music and creating a very special and unique sound such as “Infinite Mirage” a new song incorporating Jean Luc’s classic tune “Mirage”.
YES’s original singer/songwriter for 35 years, Jon Anderson has had a successful solo career, which includes working with such notable music artists as Vangelis, Kitaro, and Milton Nascimento. International violin superstar Jean Luc Ponty is a pioneer and undisputed master of his instrument in the arena of jazz and rock. He is widely regarded as an innovator who has applied his unique visionary spin that has expanded the vocabulary of modern music. Together these two music legends have formed a musical synergy that is unparalleled!
“A breakthrough feeling came as I sang with Jean Luc’s music, to be in a band again is very exciting on many levels, we will play and sing our way around the world and have fun, for music is pleasure, music is all that is.” – Jon Anderson
“Collaborating with Jon who is such a creative singer/songwriter is unlike any project I have done before. I knew that we had plenty of musical affinities to make it work, but the result is way beyond my expectations. It is also a lot of fun to reunite with these excellent musicians who played with me in the past, they really put their heart in this project and with Jon’s creative input we are not just rehashing the past but giving a new life to the music we started developing decades ago.” – Jean Luc Ponty
The AndersonPonty Band also includes Jamie Glaser on guitars – well known guitarist who has worked with Jean Luc Ponty, Chick Corea, Bryan Adams and Lenny White; Wally Minko on keyboards – virtuoso player and composer who has performed and recorded with many worldwide stars including Pink, Toni Braxton, Jean Luc Ponty, Tom Jones, Gregg Rolie and Barry Manilow; Baron Browne on bass who has played with Steve Smith, Billy Cobham and Jean Luc Ponty; and Rayford Griffin on drums and percussion, who has played with Stanley Clarke Band, George Duke, Jean Luc Ponty and Michael Jackson. The band visit the music created by Jon Anderson and Jean Luc Ponty over the years with new arrangements, virtuosic performances and new energy.
Jean Luc Ponty was originally approached by Jon Anderson with the idea of working together as far back as the 1980’s. Now 30 years later the dream has finally come to fruition! In support of the new release, a world tour is currently in the works. Also, a videography documenting the making of the “Better Late Than Never” album will be released along with videos and performances.
AndersonPonty Band tour dates in USA/Canada
10/27 – Glenside/Philadelphia, PA – Keswick Theater
10/29 – Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie Theater
10/30 – Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Playhouse
11/1 – Munhall/Pittsburgh, PA – Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead
11/3 – Lake Charles/Chicago, IL – Arcada Theater
11/4 – Milwaukee, WI – Milwaukee PAC
11/6 – Detroit, MI- Music Hall
11/7 – Toronto, Canada – Danforth Music Hall
11/10 – Washington, DC – Howard Theater
11/11 – Huntington, Long Island, NY- Paramount Theater
11/13 – New York City – Society For Ethical Culture
11/14 – Boston, MA- Berklee Performance Center
11/17 – San Francisco, CA – Regency Ballroom
11/18 – Sacramento, CA – Crest Theater
11/20 – Los Angeles/Beverly Hills, CA – Saban Theater
11/21 – Scottsdale, AZ – Talking Stick
AndersonPonty Band Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/andersonpontyband1?fref=ts
The Official AndersonPonty Band website: http://www.andersonpontyband1.com
ABOUT SPECIAL GUEST AUTHOR MARK WOODYATT:
Mark Woodyatt is an internationally recognized multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator, who is said to have been “born with perfect pitch.” Mark is the 2014 recipient of the F. Lammot Belin Award for Artistic Excellence. Mark has achieved notoriety and his concerts are regularly televised in NE Pennsylvania.
Classically-trained on violin since the age of 3, Mark has been expanding his musical abilities for over 30 years. At age 14, his solo debut with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic was received with high praise. Mark’s forte as a classical soloist and orchestral leader expanded to encompass the music of jazz, fusion, tango, pop, rock, Irish and bluegrass. A recipient of the George Eastman Grant & Howard Hanson Scholarship, Mark was the first jazz violinist accepted to the Eastman School of music. His versatility in musical styles is portrayed with true soul in all of its forms. In 2010, Mark performed the world-premiere “Keep It Simple” on Philology Records which captured the attention of Grammy award-winner, Phil Woods. He has also performed original works by Bob Brookemyer and Sammy Nestico and is currently working on the World-premiere of Joseph Knauss’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Mark’s mentors include acclaimed violinists, Diane Monroe, Christian Howes, Rob Thomas, Sally O’Reilly and the late Fred Sturm. Mark resides in Northeast Pennsylvania. He performs and teaches internationally.
Mark is currently playing with a number of local groups in and around NEPA. His virtuosity on acoustic and 5-string electric violin has also earned him high regard and a place with the region’s top jazz performers as a soloist and session player.