This Week In Music

Pioneering eclectic French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty deserves credit for giving the violin a prominent place in jazz and rock music, expanding the sonic vocabulary of both in the process. During his career Ponty has made contributions to musical forms as varied as swing, bop, free jazz, rock, jazz-fusion, world music, Afro-pop, and country.

Ponty was raised in a family steeped in classical music—his mother taught piano and his father was a violin instructor and director of the school of music in Avranches, France. At age five, Jean-Luc began his violin studies, leaving school at age 13 to devote full time to practice. At 16 he entered the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris where he won the school's highest award before graduating and joining a symphony orchestra.

Side jazz band gigs on clarinet—which his father had taught him—led Ponty to explore a growing interest in performers like Miles Davis and John Coltrane and to take up the tenor saxophone. For a while this led to a double life: playing jazz until 3 a.m. and performing classical music during the day. Finally, Ponty hit on the solution of performing jazz on his violin to quench his artistic thirst and nurture his own voice. One story suggests that this conversion happened on an evening when Ponty, still in his concert tuxedo, found himself at a club gig without his sax and with only his violin.

Initially, Ponty had to overcome critics' lack of familiarity with the violin as a progressive instrument making it difficult for him to be accepted as a jazz musician. In response, he developed a powerful violin sound building on a bebop influence that made his playing sound more like a horn performer than like anything done before by a violinist. In 1964, at age 22, Ponty released his first solo album, Jazz Long Playing. In 1967 he was invited by The Modern Jazz Quartet's John Lewis to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. This first American appearance accelerated Ponty's career with a U.S. record contract and requests to perform with more established musicians.

Over the years Ponty has had fruitful artistic collaborations with a number of artists including Frank Zappa, Elton John, John McLaughlin, and others. In 1984 Ponty became one of the first jazz musicians to create a music video. Ponty combined acoustic and electric violins on his 1991 release Tchokola, which also gave him a chance to explore his interest in West African polyrhythmic music. In 1995 the trio of Ponty, guitarist Al Di Meola and bassist Stanley Clarke recorded the acoustic album The Rite of Strings. In 2001 Ponty began releasing on his own label, J.L.P. Productions, Inc., with the album Life Enigma. Ponty toured in 2005 with Stanley Clarke on double bass and Bela Fleck on banjo in a group called Trio! Since then Ponty has been writing his own compositions, recording, and touring all over the world with Jean-Luc Ponty & His Band.


West Side Story Score

Now considered a centerpiece of American musical theater, West Side Story came very close to never opening at all. Based on an idea conceived by director and choreographer Jerome Robbins and suggested to composer Leonard Bernstein in 1949, West Side Story is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet adapted to a modern urban setting. Originally to be called East Side Story and with very different characters, it wasn't until author Arthur Laurents convinced Bernstein and Robbins to shift the setting to New York's upper west side and involve two teenage gangs as the warring factions that the musical assumed its final outline. In 1955 Stephen Sondheim joined the project as lyricist.

All four of the production's creators were occupied with other projects as West Side Story was gestating, and it was only through a series of coincidences that they were able to get together enough to work on it. West Side Story's dark themes and its focus on social problems made it a difficult property to fund. A backers' audition failed to raise the money needed for the show to open only two months before rehearsals were schedule to begin, and then the producer quit. Every other available producer had already turned down the show when Sondheim convinced his friend Hal Prince to consider mounting the production. An impromptu studio performance with Bernstein and Sondheim sitting at a piano singing the show's songs won Prince over and the project was back on.

The show that opened at the Winter Garden Theater marked a turning point in American musical theater. The music was more sophisticated, the staging more complex, the story more dramatic, and the inclusion of so many brilliantly choreographed scenes were so unusual that critics initially gave it a mixed reception. It didn't help that the opening was just one day after the integration of Little Rock Arkansas' Central High School, an event that made national headlines in a country where many felt extremely uncomfortable with a story of ethnic conflict.

West Side Story went on to an impressive run of 732 performances and two Tony Awards. In 1961 it was adapted for an enormously successful film, and since then it has been revived many times with its songs becoming cultural icons and schools, regional theaters and opera companies continually mounting their own productions.


Week of September 19, 2011
Event: Fiddler on the Roof Open on Broadway Starting a Run that Extends to 3,242 Performances

Birthday: Cornetist Jim Cullum, Jr, September 20, 1941

Week of September 12, 2011
Event: The Metropolitan Opera Opens its New Opera House at New York's Lincoln Center
for the Performing Arts

Birthday: Trumpeter Brian Lynch, September 12, 1956

Week of September 5, 2011
Event: Singer Songwriter, and Record Producer Otis Redding,
Records His Hit "(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay"

Birthday: Sonny Rollins, September 7, 1930

Week of August 29, 2011
Event: George Gershwin Completes the Orchestral Score for His Opera Porgy and Bess

Birthday: Charlie Parker, August 29, 1920

Week of August 22, 2011
Event: Charles G. Conn Receives a Patent for the Metal Clarinet

Birthday: Leonard Bernstein, August 25, 1918

Week of August 15, 2011
Event: The New York Times Reports that Dolby had Developed a Noise Reduction System for Album and Tape Recording

Birthday: Marc O'Connor, August 15, 1961

Week of August 08, 2011
Event: 14-Year-Old Benny Goodman Works as a Clarinet Player on a Lake Michigan Excursion Boat

Birthday: Pat Metheny, August 12, 1954

Week of August 01, 2011
Event: The Army of France Adds Saxophonesto its Military Bands

Birthday: Tony Bennett, August 3, 1926

Week of July 18, 2011
Event: First Newport Jazz Festival

Birthday: Carl Fontana Born July 18, 1928

Week of July 11, 2011
Event: "His Masters Voice" Trademark Registered

Birthday: Bélla Fleck Born July 10, 1958

Week of July 5, 2011
Event: Benny Goodman and His Band Record "Sing, Sing, Sing"

Birthday: Pinetop Perkins Born July 7, 1913

Week of June 27, 2011
Event: Cab Calloway and His Orchestra Record "St. James Infirmary""

Birthday: Pete Fountain Born July 3, 1930

Week of June 20, 2011
Event: 19 Year-Old Arturo Toscanini Conducts the Rio de Janeiro Orchestra in a Performance of "Aida"

Birthday: Lalo Schifrin Born June 21, 1932

Week of June 13, 2011
Event: New York Jazz Museum Opens

Birthday: Marcus Miller Born June 14, 1959

Week of June 06, 2011
Event: Jelly Roll Morton Records "Jelly Roll Blues" As a Piano Solo

Birthday: Bill Watrous Born June 08, 1939

Week of May 30, 2011
Event: 1962 Bandleader Benny Goodman Leads The First American Jazz Band to Play In The Soviet Union

Birthday: Benny Goodman Born May 30, 1909

Week of May 23, 2011
Event: "In a Precursor to Outdoor Rock Festivals, Ray Charles and B.B. King Perform For 9,000 Fans in Atlanta

Birthday: Miles Davis Born May 26, 1926

Week of May 16, 2011
Event: "When The Saints Go Marching In" Recorded by Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra

Birthday: Woody Herman Born May 16, 1913

Week of May 2, 2011
Event: New York's Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center Announces Addition of Rock, Pop, and Jazz Concerts

Birthday: Maynard Ferguson Born May 4, 1928

Week of April 25, 2011
Event: At Decca Studios Charlie Parker Made His First Commercial Recording April 30, 1941

Birthday: Duke Ellington Born April 29, 1899

Week of April 18, 2011
Event: Pipeless Organ Patented by Laurens Hammond April 24, 1934

Birthday: Tito Puente Born April 20, 1923

Week of April 4, 2011
Event: Herp Alpert Born April 4, 1939

Birthday: Freddie Hubbard Born April 7, 1938

Week of March 28, 2011
Birthday: Michael Brecker Born March 29, 1949

Birthday: Herp Alpert Born March 31, 1935

Week of March 14, 2011
Event: Joseph Haydn's Surprise Symphony Is Performed for the First Time March 23, 1792

Birthday: Johann Sebastian Bach Born March 21, 1685

Week of March 7, 2011
Event: Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians Recorded Auld Lang Syne March 7, 1939

Birthday: Leon Bismark (Bix) Beiderbecke March 10, 1903

Week of February 28, 2011
Event: Miles Davis Records "Kind of Blue" on Columbia Records March 2, 1959
Birthday: Frédéric Chopin Marc 1, 1810

Week of February 21, 2011
Event: Duke Ellington Records "The Queen's Suite"
Birthday: Dexter Gordon February 27, 1923

Week of February 14, 2011
Event: Sonny Rollins Records his Title Track "The Bridge" February 14, 1962
Birthday: Buddy DeFranco February 17, 1923

Week of February 7, 2011
Event: Rhapsody in Blue is Performed for the First Time February 12, 1924
Birthday: Marion "Buddy" Childers February 12, 1926

Week of January 31, 2011
Event: Frank Sinatra Debuts on Radio's "Your Hit Parade" February 6, 1943
Birthday: Stanley "Stan" Getz February 2, 1927

Week of January 24, 2011
Event: Original Dixieland Jazz Band Makes the First Jazz Record January 30, 1917
Birthday: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart January 27, 1756