Despite sterling work over the last three decades with such luminaries as Johnny Hodges, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy McGriff and Stanley Turrentine and a baker's dozen albums on his own since 1973, talented Pittsburgh-based guitarist Jimmy Ponder has yet to receive his due. The guitarist clearly recalls Wes Montgomery because he too plays the guitar with his thumb, a difficult technique that yields a warm, pretty sound. But the problem is that Ponder (or his producer) never seems to know which bag to stuff his style in: straight jazz (last year's James Street on HighNote), funk (his ABC LPs from the late 70s) or soul-jazz. Even the six discs he recorded for Muse between 1987 and 1994 suffer from the same problem.
Steel City Soul is a worthwhile collection that gathers ten tracks Ponder recorded during the Muse years. It's a reflection on the talents of a guitarist who deserves the recognition two of his contemporaries, Melvin Sparks and fellow Pittsburghian George Benson, already receive. But this collection seems weighted too heavily by tunes that vie for considering Ponder as Montgomery's heir (from mid-tempo pieces like "Johnny's Place," "My Romance" and "All Blues" to ballads "You Are Too Beautiful" and "This Bitter Earth"). Each tune sounds great, benefiting from Ponder's terrific performances. But the focus on Wes detracts from the joy of Ponder's own interesting, story-like constructions. And Ponder's essential take on Montgomery's "Bumpin' on Sunset" (1988) is inexplicably missing here! A stronger Ponder collection would have featured more of his funk (only the excellent "Mean Streets-No Bridges" is represented here) and more originals, like the nice Kenny Burrell-like solo piece, "A Tribute To A Rose." Even so, Steel City Soul is a good place to start becoming familiar with the interesting work of Jimmy Ponder.
Tracks:Johnny's Place; All Blues; You Are Too Beautiful; Solitude; Mean Streets-No Bridges; A Tribute To A Rose; Uncle Steve; My Romance; This Bitter Earth; I Only Have Eyes For You; Softly As A Morning Sunrise.Collective
Collective Jimmy Ponder: guitar; Geary Moore: rhythm guitar; Houston Person, James Anderson; tenor sax; Bill Saxton: flute, tenor sax; Mark Soskin, Benny Green: piano; Big John Patton, Lonnie Smith: organ; Peter Washington: bass; Roger Humphrey, Victor Jones, Greg Bandy, Winard Harper, Eddie Gladden: drums; Sammy Figueroa, Lawrence Killian: percussion.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.