discography : solo | compilations | appearances | reviews | (pittsburgh) biography
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Editor's Note: As someone who grew up and spent most of his formative years in Pittsburgh, I'm partial to my hometown heritage. I'm very proud to be from the same city that produced Stanley Turrentine, Horace Parlan, George Benson, Art Blakey, the subject of this discography, Jimmy Ponder, and so many, many other wonderful and enduring musicians and artists. I had the pleasure of attending the University of Pittsburgh, where Nathan Davis often presented concerts that allowed me to hear local and international jazz talents, and my first real "career" job was a college internship in the PR department at WQED, which placed me right next door to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, home to guitarist Joe Negri and pianist Johnny Costa - the very folks who introduced me to jazz. The outline below comes from WQED's Multimedia site from an article that originally appeared in Pittsburgh magazine (with credit due to the writer). Enjoy!

North Side bassist Dwayne Dolphin calls him "a Pittsburgh treasure." North Side drummer Roger Humphries calls him "one of the great pioneers of the guitar coming out of Pittsburgh -- he and George Benson." They're both speaking of internationally known guitarist Jimmy Ponder.

"Jimmy has been recognized in jazz circles all over the world and has been a major influence on a lot of the young players I have run into. Many of them emulate his style," agrees North Side-based and nationally recognized jazz organist Gene Ludwig.

The respect that some young musicians have for Ponder was captured in a recent letter he received from a former student, Ofer Ganor, now living in Tel Aviv: "You have been and will continue to be a wellspring of inspiration in my life as a musician and as a human being." Ganor had been with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music and had come to Pittsburgh to study under the self-taught Ponder, who has taught and played internationally, nationally and locally (at Duquesne University).

Ponder's roots in music go back to his days growing up in Beltzhoover, where he played with R & B groups as a teenager. He recalls winning citywide talent shows at both Knoxville Junior High School and Schenley High School (though he later graduated from South Hills High School). He got the jazz bug from staying at night and listening to the guitar sounds of Wes Montgomery, his musical hero.

"Wes Montgomery always has been and always will be my greatest musical influence," Ponder says, and recalls a 1960s session. "I sat seven feet from Wes and witnessed unbelievable guitar-playing. It changed my whole concept in jazz guitar-playing."

You can still catch Ponder locally. He plays a solo engagement on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Church Brew Works. He usually appears at The James Street Tavern on a monthly basis with bassist Mike Taylor and drummer George Heid.

"Pittsburgh is a blessed with so many great musicians," says Tony Mowod, executive producer/jazz host at WDUQ and our Harry Award winner in 2000. "Jimmy Ponder continues this great tradition by being one of the finest jazz guitarists in the country."

-- Tim Stevens

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