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Breaking rock boundaries

Before his concert in New Delhi, the legendary French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty told Indrajit Hazra how he has managed to blur the division between the two genres of music in his unique form of jazz-fusion

music Updated: Jan 21, 2003 14:40 IST

Jean-Luc Ponty is one of the pioneering legends of jazz-rock. The French violinist has played with jazz masters like Ray Nance and Miles Davis as well as with rock giants like Frank Zappa.

Before his concert in New Delhi, he told Indrajit Hazra how he has managed to blur the division between the two genres of music in his unique form of jazz-fusion. Excerpts from the interview:

What have been the changes you have experienced in jazz since the time you have been playing?
In the early Sixties, I was still in the learning stage. I was a part of a younger generation of musicians still under the thrall of the ‘traditionalists’. Playing with and listening to mainstream American jazz artistes with rock leanings like Miles Davis and John Coltrane changed that. I started making my own kind of music that melded jazz and rock.

How much has rock music influenced you?
Very much. By the late Sixties, I was collaborating with rock musicians like Soft Machine, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, and John McLaughlin. In any case, by the Seventies, jazz improvisation with rock instrumentation became very popular and bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, and albums like Chick Corea’s Return To Forever were getting their own audiences. People more honed on rock music started getting interested in this kind of jazz. Coming from a classical music background, I guess I was missing the ‘structure’ of classical music so I started leaning towards rock.

How did the jazz fraternity take towards your more rock-centric music?
Anywhere in the world, there are the traditionalists and the open-minded. I always preferred to be the latter. Fellow jazz artistes were mixed in their response. Some were encouraging, some sceptical. Since 1975, I have been playing my type of fusion and have been pretty well received.

The violin is not a traditional ‘jazz’ instrument. Did you face difficulties as a violinist playing jazz-rock?
Yes, I had to overcome the prejudice against the instrument. Only after people came to terms with the fact that a violin can create any form of music once the violinist has a feel for that kind of music did it become easier. Earlier, violinists would change the sound of their music to fit with the instrument. I adapted the instrument to the music.

How did you become interested in Indian music?
I was interested in Indian music from the Sixties but thought that it was too late for me to pick it up. I moved to California in 1973, which is where I met L. Subramaniam in the late Eighties. Having moved towards jazz-fusion, he was interested in collaborating with me and we did. I have always been fascinated by the basic universality of music.

Have things changed in the world of jazz-fusion in the last 30 years?
A lot. For one, it’s now more difficult for the younger generation to make this kind of music and be heard. We experimented a lot and in the Seventies, artistes were forming musical tastes. Nowadays, it’s the other way round.

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First Published: Jan 21, 2003 14:40 IST