Happy 45th: Jean Luc Ponty, UPON THE WINGS OF MUSIC

Monday, January 27, 2020

45 years ago today, Jean-Luc Ponty released his first album on Atlantic Records and, by doing so, effectively began his solo career in earnest.

If you're looking at Ponty's discography and noticing that he actually released his debut album, JAZZ LONG PLAYING, in 1964, well, this is true. There is a difference, however, between releasing albums and actually having a proper career, and in Ponty's case, he didn't truly start to earn recognition amongst the masses until after he began playing with other artists and earning acclaim for his live performances.

The late '60s saw Ponty performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival, working with the Gerald Wilson Big Band, and the George Duke Trio, and just before the decade wrapped up, Ponty recorded his King Kong album, which featured music composed by Frank Zappa. In the early '70s, Ponty worked with Elton John, toured with Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and played with John McLAughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, all of which ultimately led to Ponty signing a deal with Atlantic Records.

In a conversation with Anil Prasad of the website Innerviews.com, Ponty reflected on the career transition that took place with the release of UPON THE WINGS OF MUSIC.

“When I really started producing music, being totally responsible for my albums in '75, this was my first big opportunity to come up with my own concept,” said Ponty. “Therefore, my first album on Atlantic allowed me to start composing, arranging and producing my own music effectively. Prior to that, I was more like any other jazz musician. I was more of a performer too, having been playing with Zappa and McLaughlin. I started out with adding as much as I could in terms of instrumentation and layers in the studio, (and) I quickly realized there was a limit and it was very difficult to handle live.”

Perhaps the most surprising name to be found in the credits of UPON THE WINGS OF MUSIC  sits among the album's list of guitarists: Ray Parker, Jr. Not that Parker wasn't all over the place during the '70s, turning up on songs by Steve Wonder, Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, the Spinners, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, and even Boz Scaggs, among many, many others, but Ponty's name certainly stands out as one of the few jazz-oriented musicians. (Just for the record, Parker also worked with Herbie Hancock during that same era.)

UPON THE WINGS OF MUSIC may not have set the charts afire - it hit #33 on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart, but it only made it to #158 on the Top 200 Albums - but it remains revered by fusion fans and still holds up even after four and a half decades.

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