Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jimmy Ponder, Keeper of the Flame

I blog about Jimmy Ponder today, not because I have been one of his fans, but because I should have been.  In a rare 1994 interview extant online only in a "second-hand" version (because all of the sites associated with guitarist Tim Berens, the interviewer, seem to be defunct), Ponder said some things that  touched me both as a guitarist and personally.  When you read it, you will know which statements I mean.

We can see Jimmy play beautifully in some grainy online videos.  There are too few of them, but they at least give us a glimpse of the soulful playing this site seeks to draw attention to.  For example, here's the instrumental (and vocal!) treatment of "Summertime" he provided at a Pittsburgh club:

And this version of "Autumn Leaves" (from August 4, 1984 at Mikell's ['69-'91]) just made me want to play, play, play my guitar:

He has an impressive resume of recordings and performances.  His albums have been favorably reviewed over the years.  If the comments sections of blogs are an accurate indication, there is a widespread affection for Jimmy Ponder, and deep respect for both his accomplishments and equally deep appreciation to him for the joy he brings his audiences.

He has yet to "break through."  Like George Benson, he is a Pittsburgh native, but unlike his near-contemporary he remains a denizen of that "City of Bridges" (which desperately needs its counterpart to Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-1960).  He is an active player and teacher, but I've never seen his name in a lineup for any New York jazz club or festival.  Never.

But who else is doing what he's doing?  No one.

He is a (if not the) keeper of Wes Montgomery's Hard Bop/Soul Jazz flame -- "legacy" is the word Wes himself used, according to that interview.  Therefore, since Jimmy rightly declares that "there's no guitar player that's aware of jazz that is not aware of me," he must be brought out of the background to the foreground of our minds.  

Let it begin, or at least continue, with me.

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