John Pondel
(Real Guy Productions)


One of those rare guitar instrumental CDs that just seems to get better with each spin, John Pondel’s self-titled 2009 CD release is gaining lots of acclaim in the jazz community. Commenting on the CD, the guitarist adds, ‘I’ve had a varied career as an educator, pop and jazz musician, television composer and producer. Jazz and improvised music however are, and have been my first loves since I was a teenager.’ At age 20, Pondel went to work as the first call guitarist with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra and over time Pondel furthered his craft studying and working alongside guitar giants such as Joe Pass, Jimmy Wyble and Ted Green adding, ‘I also got to hang and got to know Lenny Breau a little bit and he showed me some great things.’ Gaining further experience recording with the groups Uncle Festive and Jazzhole, Pondel also played rhythm guitar for George Benson on the jazz giant's track “Take You Out.’ Finally getting to record his own solo album, Pondel enlisted the talents of some fine musicians. The guitarist adds, ‘I’m very excited about my latest project, which happens to be my first solo album with Scott Colley on bass and Marivaldo Dos Santos on percussion and David Binney on sax and flute.’ Pondel’s music is very much camped out in the jazz realm yet the all instrumental CD also flirts with Brazilian music, but with some unexpected twists and turns. Amid the all original tracks is a Pondel cover of “The Jody Grind,” originally written by Horace Silver. Fans of the great jazz guitar giants—from Kenny Burrell and Joe Pass to modern masters like Pat Martino and Pat Metheny—will find much great jazzy guitar sounds to enjoy here.

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Musical Background

Well, I grew up in Los Angeles. My older brother got interested in the guitar when I was eleven and I pretty much did everything he did. That was way back there...1963. Up until that time I mainly listened to the radio and to a few albums that we had on our hi fi (mono) turntable. We had pop and R&B stuff like Sam Cooke, Frankie Avalon, Elvis and Jackie Wilson (Sinatra too). Also, folk music artists like The Limelighters, The Weavers, Christie Minstrels and Joe & Eddie. My favorite folk person was Hoyt Axton cause he had an edge to him and was such a great wordsmith. I learned to sing and play lots of his songs early on. We also had the soundtrack to West Side Story and I listened to that over and over again and learned to sing all the songs. Speaking of singing, I usually sang in the school choirs in elementary school and junior high. It's just another good training ground, a different kind of experience and exposes you to music that you might not hear at home; music from musicals, chorals, etc. My brother took the guitar lessons and taught me what he learned when he got home. A year later we were doing gigs at some local parks and then in some folk clubs. About that time my parents bought an FM radio and I heard Wes Montgomery on the old LA jazz station KBCA and kind of flipped out...not kind of, I did! I tried to learn to solo like that but couldn't really comprehend what was going on. I basically studied on my own for the next few years. I played and listened to a lot of Brazilian music in those days. There was a good Jobim book and one by Charlie Byrd that had the chord symbols and fingerings. At 16 I got very serious with harmony, sight reading, jazz theory with my mentor Duke Miller. I also studied classical theory in high school. I worked plenty of weddings and night clubs back then, playing all styles of music and singing as well. I went to Los Angeles Valley Junior College and majored in music for two years. From there I went on to Cal State Northridge and played in the Jazz band for two years under the direction of Joel Leach. I also took lessons from Joe Pass, Jimmy Wyble and hung out as much as I could with Ted Green who also became a friend and mentor...what a genius. Of course I was practicing and playing constantly and going to hear live music all the time. At 20 I became a member of Gerald Wilson's band and just worked my way into studio and back up work from there. In the 80's I eventually started making jazz oriented albums with group partners up to the present and now, my first solo album. So that's it in a nutshell.

New CD

This is a self titled album with electric guitar, acoustic bass and drumset. It was recorded last summer at NRS studios near Woodstock, N.Y. by the owner and operator Scott Petito. He's got great ears, lots of experience and excellent gear. The recording rooms sound great as well. Scott Colley played bass. He’s one of the most intuitive and flexible bass players out there. Just an amazing artist and person. I decided that I wanted a more open sound on the low end and opted to go with a percussionist and not use a kick drum. I like the way it turned out. I can hear Scott so clearly and the low end of the guitar is really present as well. It's just a more open sound overall. My old friend and great musician David Binney, who plays flute on two songs and alto on one, recommended Marivaldo Dos Santos from Brazil for percussion and he used a hybrid set that did include a ride cymbal for a more jazzy feel. The grooves are not straight-ahead by any means. They have more of a straight eighth/Brazilian feel you could say, in a generalized way. My amp was in another room, something I don't usually like to do but I positioned myself close to Marivaldo and could also see Scott in his room through the glass doors. It made it easy to give cues and we got a great mix in the headphones so it was cool. It took me 3 years to come up with enough material that I felt good enough about to make a record. I have one cover tune, “The Jody Grind,” which has a soul jazz vibe on Horace Silver's original. I think we preserved the vibe of the original but put our own stamp on it. Aside from that I guess my writing could be categorized as modern jazz (whatever that is)...some odd time and nontraditional harmony. Mostly though, the music does groove and it's easy to feel where the pocket is. I also like to play straight-ahead jazz, funk and soul jazz so I guess I'm somewhat of a musical chameleon. I'd feel at home doing a free jazz record as well.

Favorite Guitars

I have ‘67 Gibson ES 335 that I love to play jazz oriented music on. My left hand just seems to mold really well to that kind of neck. I have a '75 Les Paul Standard (may he rest in peace) that also feels and sounds great but it's too heavy for me to stand and play with it for extended periods. My main electric guitar and the one I used on the album is a custom made Valley Arts Guitar Center Strat made for me by Mike McGuire back around 1979 early 1980. I use a hybrid set of strings on it from .46 .36. .24. .17. 12. .11. My pickups are really old Seymour Duncan Vintage Hot Stack Strat style from the late 70’s. I used the front pickup exclusively for this album and it really gets a warm tone but not like a big jazz box with a lot of sound coming from the wood. I actually, and amazingly, got lucky with my amp situation and borrowed an amp from Artist Share president Brian Camilio. It’s Jim Hall’s old Gibson amp that he used on the Sonny Rollins album, The Bridge from 1962. It has two 8 inch speakers, doesn’t get very loud but has unbelievable tone.

Musical Influences

On the classical side I’ve probably listened the most to Bach, Ravel, Debussy, Mahler, Hindemith, and to many classical guitar composers such as Villa–Lobos, Albeniz, Tarrega, Sor... I still love to listen to Sinatra, The Beatles, The Police, Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughan. I think Merle Haggard is pretty heavy. Wes Montgomery, Howard Roberts, Barney Kessel and Joe Pass were undoubtedly my biggest influences as far as jazz guitar is concerned but I was also into Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Jimmy Page and early Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, who really had a great vibrato when he bent strings. There’s a lot more but these are the essential artists for me. Like a lot of jazz oriented guitarists who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s Wes Montgomery’s Smoking At The Half Note just stopped you in your tracks. H.R. (Howard Roberts) Is A Dirty Guitar Player and Joe Pass’s Virtuoso are also high on my list as albums that influenced me early on. Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Inner Mounting Flame, Pat Metheny’s Bright Sized Life (and many after that) came later. Also lots of R&B and funk. I wore out Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book and Innervisions as well as numerous Tower of Power and P.Funk albums. Jobim, Gal Costa, Elis Regina are a few of the Brazilian artists that I loved and still do.

Upcoming Plans

I’ve just begun the arduous (for me) process of writing for my next album which I would like to record early next summer...probably the same instrumentation and general vibe although I may have some tunes that swing a bit. Looking forward to performing the new album with Scott, Marivaldo and Dave in NYC in the fall. I have another longtime project called Jazzhole that’s more of a neo-soul, nu-jazz group and we’re working on a new album right now that should be completed by November ’09.

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