Jean-Luc Ponty at Zappanale, 2010

You might want to listen to the original King Kong (’69) album – collected temporarily here.

17 Responses to “Jean-Luc Ponty at Zappanale, 2010”

  1. jonnybutter2 says:

    I was always a little sorry that Frank and Jean luc didn’t get along, for whatever reason. As everybody here knows, Frank wrote for specific musicians quite a lot if there was something extraordinary about them, and the stuff he did with JLP in mind was really good; I love the ‘King Kong’ album – it’s a fav for me, right up there with other classics from the late 60s early 70s. What’s extraordinary about JLP is his absolutely impeccable ear, fantastic technique, and consequent ability to ‘play eyebrows’. If you doubt, listen again to the King Kong album. I’d also note that’eyebrows’ type stuff was done first with jazz musicians (original Mothers), so it makes a certain amount of sense.

  2. urbangraffito says:

    Ponty’s strength (as well as Zappa’s) was his ability to surround himself – and collaborate with – exceptionally talented musicians (Stéphane Grappelli , John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa, George Duke, Al Di Meola, Billy Cobham, Bela Fleck, etc). Like jonnybutter2, I also love the ‘King Kong’ album. All one need do is glance at the listing of musicians, many of whom would continue to work on both Ponty’s and Duke’s best albums of the mid 70s, while others would become recognizable members of LA’s jazz fusion scene and much in demand studio session players (even in contemporary jazz fusion releases, many of these musicians are easily recognizable to the learned ear). That Ponty didn’t get along with Zappa, though, I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as that. I think we can all agree that FZ was a difficult taskmaster, and that musicians remained in his bands as long as they felt the benefits of their association outweighed the difficulty of working with such a controlling personality. The very same thing can probably be said about a lot of FZ’s contemporaries.

  3. Schlarb says:

    Ponty sure took the piss out of King Kong didn’t he?

  4. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    That Ponty didn’t get along with Zappa, though, I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as that.

    Yeah, I never knew what happened there. The quote I read was that Zappa *hated* Ponty – I find that hard to believe, but who knows? You are probably right, UG. Zappa was extremely demanding, and I would imagine an artist like Ponty must have bridled at being just another ‘sideman’. But the fact is, the two of them were very different, functionally. Ponty is a very accomplished jazz musician, whereas Zappa is a composer; I know that Ponty has written lots of music (I liked ‘Bowing Bowing’ from his first solo album), but he’s not a writer the way Zappa was. Oh well.

    thanks for the clip!

  5. davidrog says:

    In May of 1974, Frank was interviewed by Ed Baker for an article called “The Grand Wazoo Speaks” which was published in The Hot Flash magazine. Frank was asked about Jean-Luc Ponty’s (and Ian Underwood’s) absence in the M.O.I. 10th Anniversary Tour:

    Q. What caused Ian and Jean-Luc to not work for you any more?

    FZ. OK. In the case of Jean it was very simple. He tried a maneuver which I thought was in extreme bad taste. He tries to stick me up for a large amount of money. It was one of those things that if you don’t pay me this gross amount of money I’m going to leave and I said goodbye. And then he found out that he was unemployed… I don’t take very kindly to that kind of stuff ’cause I treat my musicians fairly and when they try and do things like that to me I get pissed off. In the case of Ian, at the time we were gonna do this one tour, he couldn’t make the tour because he has a daughter by a former marriage and he had to stay home and take care of her ’cause the mother was doing something and blah blah and so he was stuck.

    After being let go by Frank, JLP quickly joined the revamped Mahavishnu Orchestra for two albums and a tour, then launched his very successful solo career. Tom Fowler was the bassist on a couple of his early albums, and future Zappa keyboardist Allan Zavod was on several albums as well.

  6. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from davidrog:

    In the case of Jean it was very simple. He tried a maneuver which I thought was in extreme bad taste. He tries to stick me up for a large amount of money. It was one of those things that if you don’t pay me this gross amount of money I’m going to leave and I said goodbye. And then he found out that he was unemployed… I don’t take very kindly to that kind of stuff ’cause I treat my musicians fairly and when they try and do things like that to me I get pissed off.

    After being let go by Frank, JLP quickly joined the revamped Mahavishnu Orchestra for two albums and a tour, then launched his very successful solo career. Tom Fowler was the bassist on a couple of his early albums, and future Zappa keyboardist Allan Zavod was on several albums as well.

    This actually sounds like a typical Los Angeles contract negotiation maneuver to me (or certainly the kind of advice that an agent might give to ensure one gets out of one’s contract). In any case, I think it’s obvious that JLP did not appreciate Zappa’s view of musician’s as “employees” and his subsequent successful solo career illustrates his desire to strike out creatively on his own.

  7. Dark Clothes says:

    A similar thing happened with Vinnie Colaiuta after the fall 1980 tour, although I believe he asked for a raise (or he would leave), while Ponty may also have asked for co-writing credit and composer’s fee on the joint improvisations. He finally got that on Canard du Jour. It’s interesting to note, though, that there’s no mention of Ponty’s effort as co-writer of CdJ on the 1981 Barking Pumpkin cassette of The Return of the Son of Shut Up N Play Yer Guitar. Apparently something’s been straightened out now, with Gail’s promise of a 1973 live recording. Or maybe they just think Ponty won’t mind anymore being the unpaid contributor?

  8. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    I think it’s obvious that JLP did not appreciate Zappa’s view of musician’s as “employees”

    I can see Ponty’s point, but I can see FZ’s point as well. The later incarnations of the Mothers was not a typical ‘band’ in the utopian-democratic sense. Even the original Mothers were on salary. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Why pretend? I don’t think Zappa made a lot of money touring, and so there probably wasn’t a big margin to pay some people more.

    On the other hand, having to squeeze songwriting credit out of Zappa is kind of cheesy. He wasn’t as bad as someone like Miles Davis, who just put his name to everything: unlike Miles, Zappa *did* write 99% of the material.

    I do think it is in ‘bad taste’ to try to extort, however. I gather that both Ponty and Vinnie made their demands just before a tour. That is unfair, because the bandleader has to either pay the extortion or scramble for a replacement. As they both knew, with the kind of material these bands did and the amount of rehearsal they had, the latter is a very tough position to be in, and I don’t blame Zappa for being pissed off. Yes, it’s a typical LA move – if you’re a sideman for Englebert Humperdink. I think working for Zappa is a little different; not only is the music great, but it’s a very high prestige gig.

  9. slime.oofytv.set says:

    jlp’s idiot bastard son is as enjoyable, or even more so than any original version, love the meandering solo & sleazy fiddle tone; that kk youtube clip shows he hasn’t lost a step in all these years

    re: ponty pink-slipped [aka: only one solo per evening]

    from jazz mag, june-2008 [scan->ocr->google/babelfish]

    JAZZ: Before talking about your own group, could you elaborate on the result of your collaboration with Zappa, who was less well spent I think …

    JLP: Not at first. In 1973, Zappa asked me to join the Mothers of Invention – along with George Duke – because he wanted top musicians to play instrumental music. But in fact, we never played the themes of King Kong in public. Zappa occurred dams and large rooms and was a prisoner of his image. Or what his audience wanted was the songs. Gradually, one thus played less and less of instrumental and I found myself with only one solo per evening. The rest of the time, I accompanied the songs. As I had other ambitions, I left very quickly.

    http://www.afka.net/Mags/Jazz_Magazine.htm#2008July

  10. slime.oofytv.set says:

    this is the correct link:

    http://www.afka.net/Mags/Jazz_Magazine.htm#2008June

  11. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    I think it’s obvious that JLP did not appreciate Zappa’s view of musician’s as “employees”

    I can see Ponty’s point, but I can see FZ’s point as well. The later incarnations of the Mothers was not a typical ‘band’ in the utopian-democratic sense. Even the original Mothers were on salary. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Why pretend? I don’t think Zappa made a lot of money touring, and so there probably wasn’t a big margin to pay some people more.

    On the other hand, having to squeeze songwriting credit out of Zappa is kind of cheesy. He wasn’t as bad as someone like Miles Davis, who just put his name to everything: unlike Miles, Zappa *did* write 99% of the material.

    I do think it is in ‘bad taste’ to try to extort, however. I gather that both Ponty and Vinnie made their demands just before a tour. That is unfair, because the bandleader has to either pay the extortion or scramble for a replacement. As they both knew, with the kind of material these bands did and the amount of rehearsal they had, the latter is a very tough position to be in, and I don’t blame Zappa for being pissed off. Yes, it’s a typical LA move – if you’re a sideman for Englebert Humperdink. I think working for Zappa is a little different; not only is the music great, but it’s a very high prestige gig.

    Indeed, working “with” Zappa and performing his music was “a very high prestige gig” for every musician who had ever played with him. I think “working” for Zappa, though, was an entirely different matter. As JLP states in his Jazz Magazine interview (mucho thanks slime.oofytv.set, btw), he joined Zappa’s band for one reason – to play instrumental music – but found as time went on one “played less and less of instrumental” music. Also, it’s clear with any of the musicians in Zappa’s bands that they all had the talent, the capability, and the ambition to achieve whatever the chose to do musically.

    To me, it is a preposterous notion to think that Zappa wrote “99% of the material” and the musicians in his bands simply played the notes. This might be true, in certain respects – yet Zappa’s bands were much much more than simply musicians playing notes: they were creative collaborators as well. Jean Luc Ponty, Ian Underwood, Don Preston, Ruth Underwood, and George Duke, Vinnie Colaiuta were collaborators in the strictest since of the word, yet they didn’t always receive the credit they deserved, in my opinion.

    I do find it interesting, and enlightening, too, that whether it was Zappa, himself, or later his heirs, that the treatment of alumni is almost universally the same: step out of line, question the methods of the mothership, ask for a songwriting credit, or for more money, or simply be contrary to the “house philosophy” and the result is your character assassinated in the press, your motives questioned – all the while, though, FZ, or now, the ZFT, cries out they are the sole wounded party. Just look at the long line of wounded alumni as proof…

  12. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    To me, it is a preposterous notion to think that Zappa wrote “99% of the material” and the musicians in his bands simply played the notes.

    Well, I didn’t say that, exactly. There was a reason i compared Zappa with Miles Davis. In a jazz context, a person writes a song and musicians play it, including improvising on it. The person who wrote the song still wrote it. Bill Evans wrote ‘Blue In Green’ even though Miles took a solo on it (and even though Miles took credit). That doesn’t mean that any musician who plays it isn’t a collaborator. What I’m saying is that Bunk Gardner didn’t write the head for ‘King Kong’ and Zappa didn’t steal credit for it. Zappa wrote the material. And quite a lot of it is note for note, by the way.

  13. profusion says:

    Interestingly, a dispute over a songwriting credit is also largely what led to Ponty’s departure from the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He was probably too much of an “alpha” personality to work in someone else’s band for any length of time. Fantastic player, though.

  14. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    To me, it is a preposterous notion to think that Zappa wrote “99% of the material” and the musicians in his bands simply played the notes.

    Well, I didn’t say that, exactly. There was a reason i compared Zappa with Miles Davis. In a jazz context, a person writes a song and musicians play it, including improvising on it. The person who wrote the song still wrote it. Bill Evans wrote ‘Blue In Green’ even though Miles took a solo on it (and even though Miles took credit). That doesn’t mean that any musician who plays it isn’t a collaborator. What I’m saying is that Bunk Gardner didn’t write the head for ‘King Kong’ and Zappa didn’t steal credit for it. Zappa wrote the material. And quite a lot of it is note for note, by the way.

    I’m not suggesting that every Mother was a collaborator, either. But I am suggesting that particular musicians on particular pieces contributed such a unique twists to works that, at times, made those pieces unique. I’m sure, like myself, there are very many works you instantly associate with Don Preston, Bunk and Buzz Gardner, Ian Underwood, Sugarcane Harris, and Ponty to name only a handful. Did Zappa write these parts? Or did he simply take advantage of the momentary creativity of these musicians? Certainly, it was important for Zappa (and now his heirs) to put forth the belief that he was the sole creative force of all the Mothers bands (for primarily a business perspective) – though I think it’s no doubt closer to reality that the contributions of the musicians in Zappa’s bands have consistently been under acknowledged.

  15. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    I think it’s no doubt closer to reality that the contributions of the musicians in Zappa’s bands have consistently been under acknowledged.

    Maybe, but I don’t think Frank made it a secret that he used the unique qualities he found in his musicians, and that he used improvisation. He talked about it all the time – and it was pretty obvious if you were listening. I also said in my first comment that Frank wrote (and said he wrote) for particular musicians.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I never got an overwhelming impression that anybody in the family discounted the contributions of the musicians on those records. I think they were pissed off and hurt that some of those musicians sued them (and then retracted the suit). The bottom line is that Frank provided the context, whether it was the exact notes (quite a bit of the time), or the conducting, or the editing, or the production, or the lyrics – without which there wouldn’t be anything. Not to take anything away from any of these musicians – I love some of them too – but I notice that this is a ZAPPA site we’re on, and not a Bunk Gardner site. I notice that Boulez didn’t commission any chamber pieces from Ray Collins. You seem to have this notion that the Mothers just ‘jammed’ and out came these albums, and Zappa stole the credit. It just isn’t true. It’s like a parody of the band scene in 200 Motels.

    I don’t know what’s up with Gail and the family, and I’m not really dying to know, particularly. I like Frank’s music and am interested in his worldview – that’s it for me. Saying that you associate Terry Bozzio with ‘Punky’s Whips’ (for example) is a tautology – it was *written for him*. Do we associate ‘Stevie’s Spanking’ with Steve Vai? Hey! And I think a lot of the material was done that way, particularly the early Mothers. Zappa said his job was to ‘organize material’ Something like ‘give me a bunch of stuff and I’ll organize it for you’. Anybody at the ZFT would have to be morons to pretend that Zappa did it alone. But he was the composer, that was his function. What’s the problem with that?

  16. urbangraffito says:

    I’m not going to argue that Zappa “provided the context”. On that point, we are in complete agreement. Yes, this is a ZAPPA site, and as such it is also a Bunk Gardner, Ray Collins, Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, Terry Bozzio, Steve Vai (include the rest of the alumni here) and Vinnie Colaiuta site, too. As much as love and adore Zappa and his music, I have long been of the belief that the musicians that played in his bands were much, much more than simply employees “on salary”, but the caryatids that formed the “gestalt”, that held up Zappa “the composer”, musically. Are you suggesting that Boulez commissioned pieces are somehow superior to anything the former Mothers were a part of? Indeed, Cruising With Ruben and the Jets is such an early masterpiece that it was one of the few actual instances that FZ actually shared songwriting credit. Elements of Uncle Meat, Burnt Weeny Sandwiches, and Weasels, JABFLA, and Fillmore East exhibit elements which I really cannot foresee being written beforehand, and essentially the contribution of the individual Mothers. Did they compose the entire composition? Of course not. Yet, does that limit their contribution any less?

    When it comes to the reason the former original Mothers retracted their suit – if memory serves, they did so because they could not afford a long legal battle with Zappa. Certainly, I don’t buy that the Zappa family were “hurt” that that some of those musicians sued them. They have been the main benefactors, while many of those musicians have been left high and dry, financially, especially the original Mothers (in my opinion).

    I’m not pointing any finger of blame, here. Just identifying the different camps and perspectives which have arisen through the years.

    As a Zappa freak, the alumni are as essential ingredients to Zappa’s music as the notes themselves. That’s why there is such a distinction when I hear Jean Luc Ponty and Sugarcane Harris, Ruth Underwood and Ed Mann, and Terry Bozzio and Vinnie Colaiuta…

  17. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    As a Zappa freak, the alumni are as essential ingredients to Zappa’s music as the notes themselves.

    Yes they are essential. I think Zappa would argue that whoever the musicians might have been, or whatever the era might have been, or whatever the barometric pressure was on particular days, would have been essential. So? Who said that Zappa was the *only* creative input in his output? Being an employee doesn’t preclude providing something valuable – the opposite, usually. If I’m wrong, correct me, but I haven’t seen anyone say that.

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