Interview with Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty
Aspenbeat Radio: Interview with Jon Anderson and Jean Luc Ponty Sep 13 2014
"It’s a celebration of making music, because music is more important than anything really, as far as we’re concerned."
--Jon Anderson, Sep 2014, Anderson Ponty Band
Tonight’s Aspenbeat show has the music of and interviews with Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty, who have formed the Anderson Ponty Band. They’re here in Aspen, performing at the Wheeler on September 20th, 2014 and recording that performance for a live album and DVD that will be released in 2015.
Anderson & WAKEman - And You And I
Yes - I've Seen All Good People
Michael Mollura with Jon Anderson - The Highest Pass
Kitaro with Jon Anderson - Lady Of Dreams
Jean-Luc Ponty - Cosmic Messenger
Jean-Luc Ponty - Two Thousand-One Years Ago
Jean-Luc Ponty - New Country
Jean-Luc Ponty - Forever Together
If you’ve heard of the band called YES, you’ve heard of Jon Anderson. He’s got one of the most recognizable voices in progressive rock, as the lead singer and creative force behind YES, and he’s been making music since the early 1960’s, with YES, and Vangelis, Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield – the list just goes on and on. And Jean-Luc Ponty is a pioneer and undisputed master of the violin in the arena of jazz and rock, playing with such luminaries as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa and collaborations with Stanley Clarke and Bela Fleck recently.
Now this is a new collaboration so there’s no recorded music by the two of them together. So what you’re going to hear tonight is an interview first with Jon Anderson, followed by some of his music, which I have a feeling you’re going to recognize because it’s been all over rock and roll radio for the last 40 to 50 years. Followed by an interview with Jean-Luc Ponty, and his music. Here’s Jon Anderson.
JA: Good morning! America!
AB: And you’re in our lovely town of Aspen I take it.
JA: Yes, we’re up in the mountains, it’s beautiful up here, amazing.
AB: So what is the collaboration you’re doing?
JA: Well, I’m working with Jean-Luc Ponty, who is a wonderful, wonderful French violin player, quite famous over the years. We’re both the same age, I’m just going to be 70 this next month and he’s 71 this next month or so. So what the project is, I’m working with his band and a couple of friends of mine and we’ve put this ensemble together to perform. Earlier this year actually, I contacted Jean-Luc about working together in a band, because I hadn’t been in a band for 10 years now, and I thought it was about time I did this. So, I actually started writing songs on some of his famous musical pieces. And it just happened to be so much fun to do. So I sent him my singing on his music and he just loved it, and that’s how we started the collaboration.
AB: And have you played with all of the people that are going to be with you at the Wheeler next Saturday, have you all played together before?
JA: We started late last week and we’re now in our fifth day of rehearsals and we’ll rehearse through to next Tuesday-Wednesday and then do the shows on Friday and Saturday.
AB: So how can your fans, especially those of us in Aspen, support you, is there something that you’ve got going on with that?
JA: Well, come to see the show! You’ll have a great time. I think the idea of making music in a very healthy world, musically speaking, is the best gift for me on my 70th birthday coming up. I just feel like I’m rejuvenated, ready for the next 30 years and so on. And to work with Jean-Luc, who is a treasure of a man, and a great, great violin player, and his people – the people that he works with are some of the best I’ve ever heard. So we’re working with musicians who are really top notch, we all want to put on a great show. We’re not just going to go there and play our hits sort of thing, no, we want to recreate our music, redesign it, make it just sound better than ever.
AB: So is it some of your songs and some of his songs that you’re sort of reimagining or redesigning?
JA: Exactly. We’re going to do obviously two or three, four actually of the YES classics, and a couple of songs I do with Vangelis. We’ve written six songs altogether now. So it’s going to be a complete show. We have an acoustic section in the show. It’s a celebration of making music, because music is more important than anything really, as far as we’re concerned.
AB: I couldn’t agree with you more. So you did something a little unusual as you’re putting this show
[together] – I think there’s a CD and a DVD that will be coming from this, is that right?
JA: Correct. I played the [Wheeler] Opera House earlier this year, and the wonderful Gram Slayton, who manages the Opera House there, I told him about the project and he said, well, why don’t you come up here and rehearse, because we were going to rehearse in Ventura in California. And he said, come up here to the mountains and I thought, yes, we can do this, it’d be so much better.
AB: And also you went to Kickstarter to raise some funds from the fans.
JA: That’s right. You know it’s one of those things that, many years ago, I was on tour with YES, and we were having trouble with record companies. You know, you never know what you’re dealing with, and with record companies in the late 90’s – the mid 90’s and onward was like chaos as far as record companies. We actually released an album, YES released an album which was called ‘Magnification’, and the record company went bankrupt after a month. So you’re dealing with people that are bankers and accountants, not anything to do with music. So this Kickstarter project came along because Kickstarter’s been going now for a few years. And I’ve heard a very very powerful energy from the idea that fans of musicians -- and even filmmakers -- can actually invest in the project and become part of the adventure, part of the family if you’d like. And, we raised $100,000 in two weeks. And it was amazing to be able to have enough money to be able to be up here working and preparing for the record, make a DVD, and knowing that all the people that invested, they get the free DVD, they get the free music, the free connection to see us wherever we play. And that’s part of the idea of Kickstarter.
AB: Is that still available to your fans or is that closed now?
JA: No, it’s still open. I think we’re now up to $110,000, and we just invite people to connect with the project. We’re not just going to sit around and just make some music, we’re going to invest our time and effort to tour next year through Spring and Summer, and then the following year, and so on. We want to make it an ongoing thing – you know, you start doing it and maybe in the next five years we’ll still be doing this, you know.
AB: Love the idea.
JA: It’s funny because 25 years ago I talked to YES about doing the same thing – forget the record companies, let’s just ask the fans to invest $100 each a year ,and then we’ll be able to send them free this and free that, they can come and see the shows for free, free t-shirts – we would start this sort of YES family, and the guys looked at me and said, Jon, you’re nuts.
AB: Well, in these days, when I think it’s more and more well known that musicians cannot make a living, especially emerging musicians, cannot make a living any longer on their music because it pays a lot less than it used to….having something like this might be an idea whose time has finally come.
JA: Yeah. I’m very lucky. Over the last 10 years I’ve worked with dozens of young teenagers. I started working with the School Of Rock in New York and Philadelphia in 2004. And 6 weeks ago I was in St. Louis with a bunch of wonderful young kids. You know, you get up with them, you perform with them, you get them to learn what it’s like to be on stage, you do about a week’s rehearsal with them. And you realize these young kids, they’re so darn good, you know? And there are a lot of young musicians aspiring to be a musician as a profession. And they are now learning through the internet how to be independent from begging record companies to give them money or whatever. And like through Kickstarter, there are about three other companies who do the same thing. So, young musicians can design their own music, their own videos, put it on their own webstreaming system, and get their own fans. I know a couple of bands, one is called Group Love, and they’ve been doing that now for three years. And they’re incredible and they’ve been touring the world.
AB: So, Jon, is there anything else that you’d like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?
JA: Not really, I’m just happy to be in Aspen, just happy to be here. I’m here with my wife Jane, we always come here, we’ve been coming here every year for the last three years. And, it’s a special place, as you all know. And it’s going to be a wonderful, wild, exciting weekend next weekend when we perform our new show. It’s just going to be wonderful, and I invite as many people to come as possible.
AB: And I always ask everyone this at the end of the interview. What are you listening to yourself? You mentioned Group Love, but what are you listening to these days?
JA: This is really strange, I still listen a lot to Sibelius. Jean Sibelius is my favorite composer of all time, classical music composer. And his 150th birthday is coming up next year, and my birthday present to myself – my wife got the tickets, and I’m going to Finland to hear all of his symphonies for two weeks.
AB: Sounds like you fit right into our Aspen culture, so we hope you’ll spend more time with us.
JA: Thank you so much, Andrea.
The music of Jon Anderson, Lady of Dreams, The Highest Pass, I’ve Seen All Good People, And You And I.
You’ve got it tuned to Aspen Public Radio, this is Andrea Young, your Aspenbeat host.
OK, well, there’s a collaboration between Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty. They’re in Aspen right now, rehearsing for their performance at the Wheeler on September 20th, where they’ll be recording for a live album and DVD. Here’s Jean-Luc Ponty.
AB: So what is this new collaboration that you’re doing with Jon Anderson?
JLP: Well, it was quite a surprise to me. However, I had met Jon a few times, many many years ago. The very first time I was in the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin and we played a show co-billed with YES. I believe it was in Texas, maybe there were even two shows. Anyway, that’s when I first met him. Then we crossed paths again, because in the offices of Atlantic Records because YES and myself were on that label. And so we talked briefly at the time, and he said he liked my music and my violin playing, and I said I liked his creative singing and songwriting as well. And he said, well, maybe we should do a project some day. And then, you know, we went our ways for many years and the day has come, many many years later, where we were put into contact again last year, when a producer asked me to do a solo on a new song for him, and that’s how we hooked up again, and this time we decided to do it. Because we have some musical affinities, that’s our reat starting point for our collaboration. Of course my musical experience is very diverse and different from Jon, but that’s good as well because it’s going to bring something new into this project, because the idea is not to revisit exactly the past as it was, but to do something fresh.
AB: Now you say something fresh, but you’re going to do some classic tunes both from Jon’s repertoire and from your own, is that right?
JLP: Yes, of course, because I guess for the fans, that’s our trademarks. But they are also, someof them are rearranged, and for different reasons, one of them being that we include Jon’s vocals on some of my songs,for instance. The other reason is also because, as I’ve mentioned, we want to do something new with them. So we start with existing material, but we take it somewhere else.
AB: And can you even give me any specifics on that?
JLP: It’s always difficult, especially for me, to explain music in words. ButI’m going to try. It’s like if you write a book about a subject, and you start out with the subject, its going to lead to a different development than in the original book. So same thing with the songs. We start with the core, the melody, of what made that song popular maybe, but then instead of sticking to that, we go somewhere else with it, it becomes a totally new piece.
AB: You went to your fans for the funding of this project, Kickstarter, was that your idea?
JLP: Not at all. I’ve never been involved in any type of business personally, and I was even surprised by the idea. But it came from our manager, and at first I felt a bit funny to be involved with money. And then, after awhile, when I saw the reaction from fans, in fact, it’s kind of interesting, because we feel a lot closer to the hard core fans who, some of them, are so excited, to feel part of the project and to help it, that, in the end, it’s a great feeling. And it was very successful too, so why not.
AB: And, why Aspen? I know that you’re going to be at the Wheeler on the 20th, why did you pick Aspen, what is it about Aspen?
JLP: I think it’s Jon’s choice. I was far away when this type of decision was taken. I was in Europe and not following the day to day decisions. But I believe Jon has a special relationship with the Wheeler theater, and somehow it became a reality that we would come here to put the band together in fact. So we were united here in Aspen at the Wheeler, and we started rehearsals there. The band came a week before me, and me and Jon arrived a few days ago. And I must say it’s a great idea, I love it to be here.
AB: Had you ever been to Aspen before?
JLP: No. I went to ski in Vail with my wife years ago, but no, I’ve discovered this beautiful land.
AB: So can you tell me – I always ask everyone this – what you’re listening to right now? What is inspiring you music wise right now?
JLP: You know,after so many years, I don’t really need so much to listen to other people’s music to want to do my own, and in fact, I almost have to avoid too many times listening to the same music. In the end it gets into your subconscious and without knowing it you write a new piece which you think is yours, when in fact it has elements from other composers. But, I still love to listen to jazz once in awhile, to the old records that inspired me and influenced me when I started playing jazz in my youth, you know, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans. Classical music as well. And then, I try to follow up with young talents as well, you know, there are young violinists who send me their recordings, that’s how I discover them, for instance, other young artists, same way.
AB: And, have you decided how many violins you will have on stage next week and what might they be?
JLP: Yes. Only two. I have my historic blue violin, which ____ there in California gave me as a prototype in 1978, and which I used for the first time in my album ‘Cosmic Messenger’. I didn’t choose the color specifically. They made it blue, so I took it, but it was the first violin they made with five strings. So they added a low string to the traditional four string violin. And at first I was a bit disturbed, but I loved it, and it has become my main instrument ever since. Except then I switched to other electric violins and I had lost track of it and didn’t remember I had it. But I found it in my cellar a few years ago again, and so to play with the power I need for this band, I use the blue violin. And then I have a brand new more acoustic wood finish violin which was custom made for me by a violin maker in New York State, in Ithaca, New York, Ithaca Strings. And it’s a great instrument that sounds good acoustically, also with five strings, but it can also be mic’d, and so because we’ll have an acoustic part of the set.
AB: And is there anything else you’re working on besides this project you’d like to talk about?
JLP: I just arrived from Europe and recorded a new album, totally acoustic, as a trio with Stanley Clarke on double bass, and French gypsy guitarist Bireli Legrene. So I’m very happy we did this. It’s for Universal, and going to come out in early 2015 , next year. And, I’m happy because I don’t have too many occasions to do an album entirely acoustic. And also, we have each brought two originals, so we have six of them and the rest are like a blues by Coltrane, some bebop and some standards, it was fun.
AB: Jean-Luc, thank you so much.
JLP: Thank you for interviewing me.
Interview by Andrea Young on September 10, 2014