Ponty is the son of a violin teacher, who began his instruction before he moved on to the Paris Conservatory. By the mid 1960s he had moved towards jazz, recording with Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith. Ponty's attraction to jazz was propelled by Miles Davis's and John Coltrane's music, which led him to adopt the electric violin. Critic Joachim Berendt wrote that "Since Ponty, the jazz violin has been a different instrument" and of his "style of phrasing that corresponds to early and middle John Coltrane" and his "brilliance and fire".
In 1967, he visited the USA for the Monterey Jazz Festival. Ponty subsequently worked with Stéphane Grappelli, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Frank Zappa, and appeared on more than 70 recordings. His symphonic style to jazz fusion made him a popular fusion artist of the 1970s.
In 1972, he featured prominently on Elton John's Honky Chateau album.
In 1977, he pioneered the use of the 5-string electric violin, with a lower C string. He sometimes also uses a 6-string electric violin called the Violectra, with low C and F strings (not to be confused with the violectra he played from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s which had 4 strings, but tuned an octave lower). Ponty was among the firsts to combine the violin with MIDI, distortion boxes, phase shifters, and wah-wah pedals. This resulted in his signature, almost synthesizer-like sound.
In 2005, Ponty formed the acoustic fusion supergroup Trio! with bassist Stanley Clarke and banjoist Béla Fleck.
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