King Kong. Jean-Luc Ponty Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa


King Kong King Kong (German Release)

Leonard Feather, Original Liner Notes, 1970

If Zappa were writing the notes, he would surely warn you immediately of the total lack of commercial potential.

He is not alone in his awareness of the value of reverse psychology. I am so concerned about the success of this album that I wouldn't dream of recommending it.

Necessity was the mother of Jean-Luc Ponty. Nothing truly new had happened in jazz violin—well, nothing that made any impact—since Ray Nance joined Duke, almost 30 years ago. Dick Bock was the mother of collaboration. "I'd heard more and more about Frank Zappa in jazz circles. Then Frank played me some of the "Hot Rats" album, which he was still working on. It was hard to pigeonhole; just fascinating instrumental music. Then I took an acetate of Jean-Luc to Frank's house. A few days later Jean-Luc played on a "Hot Rats" track. (Not available at this counter; try Bizarre Records.)

As Ponty and Zappa promptly developed an interest in each other's music, the concept of a collaborative project was born. Frank was particularly concerned with the development of an extended orchestral work, a formal piece tied to no one idiom and allowing Ponty interludes of expressive freedom. Music For Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra (a title decided upon, one suspects, after Zappa had asked Bock for a 97-piece ensemble is illustrative of Zappa's mastery not only of composition and orchestration, but also of transition. It emerges not as a segmented series of ideas arbitrarily linked together, but as a securely integrated whole that moves with almost subliminal subtlety from one tempo, meter, mood or idiom to another, and from reading to blowing; from the opening bassoon figure to the demonic closing violin passages in 7/8, it sustains the validity throughout its multi-textured duration.

The long work was conducted by Ian Underwood, former alto saxophonist and keyboardist with the Mothers of Invention, possessor of a bachelor's from Yale and a master's from Berkeley in piano and composition.

"Don Christlieb is one of the best bassoonists around, especially for the avant garde," says F.Z. "He has played Stockhausen and does regular concerts of contemporary music." He is also the father of Pete Christlieb, one of Hollywood's brightest new jazz tenor saxes. .

Arthur D. Tripp, III, formerly the Mothers' percussionist, spent two years with the Cincinnati Symphony. (Zappa: "He really gets into those meters.") Buell Neidlinger, a premature jazz avantist, played with Cecil Taylor and Gil Evans in the 1950s. "He's with the Boston Symphony now," says Frank, "but I had to fly him out of there—he's the only man I can think of who could play the bass part on the long piece."

Of the compositions on side one, it need only be said that they place Ponty in settings generally closer to jazz (if that term is still capable of definition), the first three being basically in three and composed by Zappa. The Ponty number (composed by Jean-Luc, in four, arranged by Zappa) is the easiest blowing track, a G7 vamp that provides a base for some of his most resourceful and unpredictable shifting of phrases, dissonant concepts and hard-swinging, post-Stuff Smith execution.

For me, the blowing on "How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That" constitutes Ponty's best work in the album. For Zappa, Jean-Luc's peak is reached on "Idiot Bastard Son". For both of us, George Duke is a phenomenon throughout all tracks. "I'm only surprised," Frank comments, "that he didn't happen sooner." He certainly has happened now, with a little help from friends Bock and Ponty, on earlier collaborations, on records and in person.

Analyzing the overall performances, one could point out a number of details, like the ingenuity of the slowed-down pulse at the climactic point in "King Kong", the tight teamwork between Ponty and Ernie Watts on "Cigars," Ernie's solo and Zappa's wah-wah assertions on "Head." One would be wasting one's time, since they are all clearly enough recorded to be heard without lectures or blackboard illustrations.

A final word must be added, though, for the brief closing track on side 2. "America Drinks And Goes Home" has a put-on flavor, a quixotic rhythmic and melodic quality, almost a touch of the Zeitgeist of Cabaret. John Guerin was allowed total freedom; George Duke gets into the feel of the piece, which, as Frank says, "suggests a bunch of drunks leaning up against a bar." The galloping finale brings the work to a disarmingly abrupt end. Like "Idiot Bastard Son" and "King Kong," this was previously recorded by the Mothers.

Just as it mirrors the growing unification of all musics, the Ponty-Zappa fusion shows that if you team a freaky French fiddler from over there with a master of the bizarre and the guitar from over here, what might seem to invite double jeopardy produces double genius.

Leonard Feather

Composed and Arranged by Frank Zappa
"How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That" Composed by Jean-Luc Ponty

Different Versions Of The Back Cover

Ken Walter

The LP version was not on Blue Note (I believe the "Cantaloupe Island" reissue was) but on World Pacific Jazz Records (ST-20172).

There are at least two versions of the back cover, one with two photos that included FZ and one with two different photos. The original copy I bought in 1974 had the Zappa photos. Did he make Ponty remove the photos at some point? There is an interview where he really disses Ponty somewhere.

I wonder if FZ got mad at Ponty and made him change the photos?

The CD reissue had no photos.

Back Cover Photos
The original issue back cover photos.

New Back Cover Photos
The revised back cover photos.

The German Release

Kristian Kier

Some facts about the [German release of the] King-Kong LP:

Artist: JLP
Title: King Kong
Label: Liberty / UA GmbH
Order Number: LBS 83375 I
Matrix Numbers: 83375A / ST-26172-2 83375-B (handwritten)
Both sides have "Made in Germany" stamped between the outrun grooves.
Country: Germany
Year: 1970

The three blue pictures on the back are the ones including Zappa, btw.


The Recording

Liner notes, 1970

Produced by Richard Bock · Engineer: Dick Kunc

Greg Russo, Cosmik Debris: The Collected History And Improvisations Of Frank Zappa (The Son Of Revised), 2003, p. 282

10/06/69 (3-6PM) Whitney Recording Studios, Glendale, CA—Hot Rats; King Kong

10/07/69 (6-9PM & 10PM-1AM) Whitney Recording Studios, Glendale, CA—Twenty Small Cigars; America Drinks And Goes Home; The Idiot Bastard Son; How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That?

FZ interviewed by Robert Oman, Beetle, July, 1973

I am very critical, but I think if "King Kong" had been properly produced and had a decent budget, it would have turned out to be a far superior work. As it was, it was only given a budget of $8,000. With a budget like that, it didn't stand much of a chance of being done properly. The average rock album today has $40,000 spent on it. Working with what amounts to one fifth of that, nothing much can be done. The people behind the album felt that there wasn't much of a market for it and therefore they would only give out so much bread. Judging by the sales that album has got, they appear to be right. Jean-Luc only got to play the solos a couple of times before they recorded it and the combined ensemble practiced it about as many times. It's really too bad, as something like "Music For Electric Violin And Low Budget Orchestra" has tremendous potential, if handled properly.

David Walley, "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here," Rock Magazine, June 8, 1970

"Music" was done in one six-hour session, and the recording was so bad that Frank had to edit everything around so that it fit together. The original recording is not what appears on the album; moods are interchanged, forgotten, or re-recorded by other musicians at other times

Jean-Luc Ponty, interviewed by Alain Le Roux, Le Jazz, July, 1997

My producer didn't know Zappa personally, but he encouraged me to get out and meet other musicians. Zappa was already famous, even among jazz musicians, for his sophisticated instrumental style. I realized that we were very different on many levels. For a long time I resisted doing anything other than mainstream jazz. My producer wanted me to do Californian things of the period, even very commercial things, but that didn't appeal to me at all. But I knew Zappa wasn't into easy music, that he did serious work. So we got together and Zappa was impressed right away by what I was doing with George Duke. At the time, George Duke was an unknown young pianist. My producer asked Zappa to arrange his music for my next album under my name. He accepted, and he was ready two or three weeks later. This was around the time he was recording "Hot Rats," and he suggested I go by the studio to see how he worked. Three weeks after that we recorded "King Kong," which was really unorthodox for me. Thanks to my classical background, I had no trouble with any of the written music. He had hired musicians he often used for his own records, jazz musicians, really, from the Los Angeles studios. I insisted on using George Duke, because we were always playing together. I wanted to have at least one musician I knew. It was a very interesting experience. We were curious about each other. He was interested in jazz and above all in contemporary classical music. He was very interested by my mix of a classical background and the ability to improvise. That's why he called me later to ask me to join his group, the Mothers of Invention, for a tour of America in [1973].

Jean-Luc Ponty, interviewed by Thierry Quénum,, September 6, 2008

Richard Bock was something of a visionary guy: he was a Buddhist, had a guru who later became the Beatles', had signed Ravi Shankar. . . . He wanted me to play with some of the Californian rock and pop groups of the time, but I was very reluctant until he played me something by Frank Zappa. I knew very little about him, but I thought it worth trying provided George Duke was part of the recording too.

We went to Zappa's house and I remember very well the cultural shock: at that time, in Europe, even the Beatles had trimmed half long hair. Here eveybody sported ponytails and kids were running around the house at 1 AM. I expected Zappa to be the fairly haughty rock star type, but not at all. When Bock played him the live recording Duke and I had recently done for him, his reaction was: "Whoa! I can't play with those guys. They are too great for me!" But when he understood he would have to write music and produce the session, he agreed. Two weeks later, the scores for King Kong were ready and we recorded with instrumentalists chosen by Zappa, who were mostly jazz musicians from the L.A. area. I must admit that at the time I didn't really understand what was happening musically during this recording, but it opened my ears to a type of music that I wasn't listening to at the time.

Buell Neidlinger & FZ

Jimmy Carl Black, For Mother's Sake, 2013, p. 163

It seems that back in '71, Buell [Neidlinger] had called the Musicians' Union and told them that Aynsely Dunbar was making all this money with Zappa and he wasn't in the Union and not only that, he wasn't even American. The Musicians' Union came down really hard on Herb and Frank. That is when Herb arranged for one of the girls in Herb's office to marry Aynsley, do that he could get a Green Card.


How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That?

Patrick Neve

Try singing the title of this song along to the Jean-Luc Ponty composition.. it fits perfectly!

Peter ^Ùberg

Yes, I've always wondered if there might be a version with lyrics lurking somewhere.

Paul Hinrichs

It's so we can analyze them without there ACTUALLY being any lyrics. In this case, IMO, "head" is used in the vernacular musical sense, like, you know, the main theme.


Notes & Comments

Michael Gula, "What Makes This An Essential Album"

It contains the ONLY recording of "Twenty Small Cigars" that tells us how the tune goes after the fade-out on the Chunga's Revenge album.

When I first heard George Duke's solo on King Kong, I said to myself, "Wow! That guy is fantastic! Wish Zappa would hire guys like him to play in his band!"

Additionally, the version of "America Drinks And Goes Home" includes a delightfully intoxicated-sounding "new" section written by FZ which you will hear nowhere else . . . the "lopsided" rhythmic gyrations in the "new" section of "America Drinks and Goes Home", just before the vocal interjections. What the hell *are* those things? Pay special attention to the way Duke and Johnny Guerin play on that track. Ponty barely has a presence there . . . Duke and Guerin OWN that track!

"Low-Budget Orchestra" is an early version of the piece available on Studio Tan/Lther—comparing the two versions is a fascinating pursuit. It alone is worth more than double the price of the CD.

What about the lovely version of "Duke of Prunes" that pops up for no obvious reason in "Low Budget Orchestra!" Just listen to the way Duke phrases his solo. Pure genius!

And tell me honestly now, Weren't you surprised when you first heard the "missing" measures in "Low Budget" . . . right around measure 53? To this day when I hear the Lther version I expect to hear them there! I wish FZ had explained why he took those measures out.

And it has my absolutely favorite version of "Pound For a Brown" (not even mentioned in the track listing) in the close of "Low Budget Orchestra." Again, listen to Duke's wild, atonal "mutant" jazz solo during the handclapping section.

Essential, absolutely essential for anyone interested in Zappa!


Jean-Luc Ponty, Canteloupe Island

Canteloupe Island

05/31/76 LP Cantaloupe Island (Blue Note BN-LA-632-H2)

Personnel (Sides One/Two)

Jean-Luc Ponty—violin
George Duke—piano
Gene Estes—vibes and Percussion
Buell Neidlinger—bass
Arthur D. Tripp—drums
Ian Underwood—tenor sax
Wilton Felder—bass
Ernie Watts—alto and tenor sax
John Guerin—drums
Frank Zappa—guitar

Arranged and conducted by Frank Zappa

Personnel (Sides Three/Four)

Jean-Luc Ponty—electric violin
George Duke—electric piano
John Heard—electric bass
Dick Berk—drums


Leonard Feather, Original Liner Notes

by Leonard Feather

The role of the violin in contemporary Improvisation has been an anomaly from the early years of this century. Until a few years ago, lt was classified under "miscellaneous Instruments" in any discussions, or popularity polls, that dealt more fully with such long established components of the orchestra as the trumpet, saxophone, trombone and clarinet. This somewhat derogatory pigeonholing could be ascribed, at least in part, to the technical demands involved in developing any true mastery of the Instrument. Another reason may have been the lack of job opportunities, particularly for black musicians.

Despite such problems, the violin played a more important part in jazz during the ragtime era than lt did after the official arrival of the jazz band. In many areas, the violinist was considered a logical choice to lead an ensemble. When Duke Ellington opened at the Cotton Club in 1927, this auspicious turning point in his career was marked by the appointment of the violinist to stand in front of the ensemble, a move presumably designed to impart an air of respectablllty. This innovation was short-lived, as Duke quickly showed his personal capacity for leadership.

For a long while the violin was regarded not only as a symbol of dignity but also as something vaguely exotic and perhaps non-American. lt is not without significance that the late Eddie South (1904-1962), one of the first great jazz violinists, undertook some of his extensive studies in Budapest, and that a distinct gypsy strain ran through much of his work. lt is remarkable too that of the five violinists elected to the top places in Downbeat's Fortieth Annual Readers Poll at the end of 1975, four were European born. Admittedly, one of them, Joe Venuti, spent only a few years in his native Italy before his family settled in Philadelphia; yet his heritage may weil have something to do with the development and nature of his talent.

The characteristics inherent in Venuti's work are even more dramatically evident in that of Stéphane Grappelli, who recently enjoyed belated acceptance among American audiences during his first tour of this country at the age of 68. Similarly, Michal Urbaniak, who ran second in the voting to Grappelli's third, brought with him something quite personal and influential when he left his native Poland and settled in New York a couple of years ago. But the artist who best symbolizes the full emancipation of the violin from miscellaneous Instrument to vital voice in today's music is the soloist from Arranches, Normandy, France. who occupied the poll's top slot, Jean-Luc Ponty. (The American born violinist, in case you are curious, was Jerry Goodman, who flnished in fourth place.)

The son of two academicians (his father taught violin, his mother, piano). Ponty began his studies at the age of five. Little over a decade later, he attended the National Conservatory of Music, where he won a prize. After two years wlth the Concerts Lamoureux classical orchestra, he made the transition to popular music, working as a sideman with the Jef Gilson band from 1961-4.

lt was not until he enjoyed a surprise success at the Antibes Jazz Festival in the summer of 1964 that he decided to stay in jazz on a full-time basis. The next years found him on the festival circuit, from Monterey (1967 and 1969) to Montreux (1972). Especially prestigious was an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1974. During this time he was involved wlth a series of artists representing diverse aspects of the American scene: Frank Zappa, George Duke, Mahavishnu, the first two of whom are represented in the present collection.

Zappa, by the time of his association with Ponty, had become an influential figure in an area too broad to be categorized by any such term as rock. Not for nothing was his group known as the Mothers of Invention. lt was dear to Zappa that necessity, in effect, was the mother of Jean-Luc Ponty, for nothing truly original had happened to the violin since the formative years of Stuff Smith and Ray Nance.

The man who brought them together was Dick Bock. the founding father of Pacific Jazz Records, a label whose influence had been pervasive throughout the 1960s. "I had heard more and more about Frank Zappa in jazz circles," he told me. "Then Frank played me some of the Hot Rats album on which he was still working. lt was hard to classify; just fascinating instrumental music. Then I took an acetate of Jean-Luc to Frank's house. A few days later Jean-Luc played on a Hot Rots track." As the two men fast developed an interest in each other's music, the concept of a collective project was born. Frank was particularly concerned with the development of an extended orchestral work, a formal piece tied to no one idiom and allowing Ponty interludes of expressive freedom. Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra (possibly Zappa decided on this title after asking for 97 musicians and winding up with eleven men and a conductor) illustrates not only his mastery of composition and orchestration, but also of transition. lt emerges not as a fragmented series of ideas arbitrarily linked together, but as a securely integrated whole tbat moves with almost subliminal subtlety through various tempos, meters, moods and idioms. and from formal, written music to free-flowing blowing. Throughout its multitextured duration, from the opening bassoon figure to the demonic 7/8 violin passages at the end, this validity is retained and sustained.

lan Underwood, a former alto saxophonist and keyboard solist with tbe Mothers of Invention, who conducted this work, came to the project as the owner of a bachelor's degree from Yale and a master's from Berkeley in piano and composition.

Zappa, particularly impressed with the work of Donald Christlieb, described him to me as "one of the best bassoonists around, especially for the avant garde. He has played Stockhausen and does regular concerts of contemporary mosic." In recent years, Don's son, Pete Christlieb, has leapt to national prominence as a member of the Tonight Show band and soloist with Louie Bellson.

The drummer on this track and on King Kong, Arthur D. Tripp. III, formerly was a regular percussionist with the Mothers, but also spent two years with the Cincinnati Symphony. As Zappa commented, "he really gets into those meters." Buell Neidlinger, bassist on the same two tracks, was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the time of the recording, but Zappa observed, "I had to fly him out here—he's the only man I can think of who can play the bass part on the long piece." A forefather of the New Music, Neidlinger played with Cecil Taylor and Gil Evans in the 1950s.

Such tracks as King Kong, Idiot Bastard Son, and Twenty Small Cigars find Ponty in contexts that are generally closer to jazz than most of Zappa's work. This is true also of How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That?, a Ponty original arranged by Zappa. This it the most straight ahead blowing track of the Set, a basic G 7th vamp that provides a foundation for some of Jean-Luc's most resourceful and unpredictable shiftings of phrases, dissonant concepts and hard-swinging post-Stuff Smith execution. For me, the playing on this track constitutes Ponty's outstanding contribution to the session.

Zappa feels that the violinist's peak is reached on Idiot Bastard Son. For both of us, George Duke is a phenomenon throughout every track. "I am only surprised," Frank told me, "that he didn't happen sooner." Duke certainly happened here, with a little help from friends Bock and Ponty, and in the years since this session distinguished himself throughout collaborations with Don Ellis, the Mothers, Cannonball Adderly and Billy Cobham, in addition to leading various groups in person and on records.

There are many surprises on these first two sides. Note particularly the ingenuity of the slowed-down pulse at the climactic point in King Kong, tbe tight teamwork between Ponty and Ernie Watts on Cigars, Ernie's solo and Zappa's wah-wah assertions on Head. A special word must be added for the brief dosing track on Side Two, America Drinks And Goes Home. This has a put-on flavor, a Quixotic melodic and rhythmic quality, almost a touch of the Zeitgeist of Cabaret.

John Guerin (later to gain renown as a member of the L.A. Express) was allowed total freedom; George Duke toughs his way through the piece, which Zappa says "suggests a bunch of drunks leaning up against the bar." The galloping finale brings the work to a disarmingly abrupt end. Like Idiot Bastard Son and King Kong, this was previously recorded by tbe Mothers.

The seemingly unlikely fusion of these two men—the freaky French fiddler from over there teamed with the master of the bizarre and the guitar from over here—resulted not in double jeopardy but in double genius. Less complex and equally effective in a more easily accessible way are the products of Sides Three and Four, recorded live in Hollywood.

The scene was "Thee Experience," known primarily as a rock club. For Ponty and for Dick Bock it was a calculated risk to book the new king of jazz violin in a show among rock acts; however, there was a strong contingent of musicians in the audience. Tbe ovations received by Ponty were an augury of things to come.

George Duke's composition, Foosh, is a minor vamp that provides an ideal point of departure for Jean-Luc. His work here reminds us again of a statement he made many years ago: "When I play, I don't think of the violin, but of jazz, of music. I don't especially want to be a violinist, but a jazzman." At one time a saxophonist himself, he named Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman among his preferred musicians.

Pamukkale is a camposition by Wolfgang Dauner, the Stuttgart born pianist who rose to the forefront among German musicians in the 1960s. lt is notable for the ad lib introduction in which Ponty and George Duke conduct a sensitive dialogue before John Heard (the bassist with Count Basie's orchestra in recent years) and Dick Berk, a member of the Cal Tjader quintet for the past six years, ease in almost imperceptibly as the performance slips into a steady tempo. Duke's gentle solo here provided a reminder that he was one of the first true masters of the electronic keyboard.

Jean-Luc's original composition, Contact, is a simple yet rhythmically tricky theme on which he improvises with baffling complexity against the rhythm section's steady four-beat pulse. There are overtones not only of Stuff Smith but of Michael White, the nated San Francisco violinist who came to jazz prominence around the same time as Ponty. The theme is based on the traditional 12-bar pattern, but so obliquely that you would hardly know it.

Canteloupe Island is, of course, one of the great Herbie Hancock standards, originally recorded for Blue Note on a memorable session with a quintet that included Herbie. Much of the flavor of the original interpretation is retained in Jean-Luc's version, with particularly sensitive support from George Duke.

Jean-Luc recalls: "From the first notes, the first chords, I knew that playing with a musician like George Duke would be a great experience." George himself, remembering a partnership that began in the spring of 1969 and lasted through most of that year, says, "When we started playing our first nightclub date at Donte's, neither of us had heard the other, yet we got so excited with each other's playing that we didn't want to stop. lt was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. Jean-Luc heard things in my playing that inspired him, and often I simply wanted to lay back completely and just listen to that violin wail!"

Starlight, Starbright is notable for a joyful, free-form roller coaster ride by Ponty and Duke. The performance cooks at a very fast tempo, though after about five minutes the rhythm is partially suspended as Ponty builds a rare tension, during a passage of improvised interplay with his colleagues, before picking up the beat again. Toward the end the spotlight turns to Dick Berk. The young drummer had recently arrived on the West Coast from New York and was already proving himself equally adept in rock and jazz. Re was a regular member of the George Duke trio in 1969-70. John Heard, incidentally, worked with George almost continually whenever the trio was in action between 1964 and 1970.

In the years since these four sides were committed to tape, the career of Jean-Luc Ponty has assumed a more definite direction. Today his values are somewhat different: he works in the setting of a hard driving rock band, and has taken to doubling on the violectra and autoharp. Without implying any qualitative comparison, it is safe to say that the musicianship and creativity he had already achieved when the present four sides were recorded has shown an impressive durability. For anyone who is into violin music in general, or Ponty in particular, Canteloupe Island offers an essential reminder of one of the most important phases in a brilliantly innovative career.

Author of The Pleasures of Jazz.
Horizon Press

ebay seller "records2"

Jean-luc Ponty canteloupe note reissue series. Originally recorded on Pacific jazz while ponty was with the mothers of invention. 1976 nm/nm/nm.good liner notes gatefold.A hard to find lp 23 years old.


Patrick, Looks like you found one of the re-issues. The set you have re-issues two (at that time) out-of-print Ponty LPs. Canteloupe Island is the first LP of the re-issue. It's Ponty's small trio with George Duke on keys recorded as I recall circa 1966 in Los Angeles. The second LP of the set is a straight re-issue of the FZ produced King Kong LP. This version came out sometime between 1976 and '77 if i recall correctly. -Tom Troccoli



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