Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Individual Choice” video featured memorable time-lapse photography

By on March 21, 2019

We’re going to go way out on a limb and take a guess that Night Flight’s “Fourth Anniversary” show originally aired on June 7, 1985, which was the first Friday of that particular month, an educated guess since our USA Network debut was on June 5, 1981.

All we really know for sure is that the episode featured a special Top Ten video countdown which focused more on the artistry of filmmaking than it did on the artists or even the songs themselves.

Watch this special anniversary episode — collected in our Night Flight: Viewer’s Choice & Anniversary Shows category — on Night Flight Plus.

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Mixed in among the usual ’80s suspects — popular bands and artists you might expect to see like Duran Duran, the Cars, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Art of Noise, Herbie Hancock, Talking Heads, David Lee Roth and Don Henley — was Jean Luc Ponty’s “Individual Choice,” directed by Louis “Louie” Schwartzberg.

At first glance this seems like a curious choice, since Ponty wasn’t exactly a Top Forty artist at the time (he still isn’t), but the reason his revolutionary music video was included in our Top Ten was because it was one of the very first videos for a jazz artist (Hancock’s “Rock It” was the only other jazz video at the time, and it’s not exactly jazz either).

It also featured memorable time-lapse photography which was still considered pretty unique at a time when most recording artists were themselves being included in their videos.

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The video held viewers attention because it was a travelogue showing aerial views of several of America’s major cities.

Typically, when exotic locales were seen in music videos, they were in far-flung places across the globe, but for “Individual Choice,” Ponty showed us an exotic bird’s eye view of New York City’s Manhattan, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle.

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This style of filmmaking was popularized in the early ’80s in Godfrey Reggio’s incredibly powerful QATSI trilogy — particularly the first of these films, Koyaanisqatsi — which actually made its national TV premiere on “Night Flight.” (Read our post about the QATSI Trilogy here).

As we discussed, the footage Reggio included was meant to show us how urban life and technology effect the environment on planet Earth.

We’re shown images in nature which we can then measure, compare/contrast and then assess the value of what we humans have created — and at what cost to our continuing life on this planet — against images naturally found in nature.

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Schwartzberg’s footage doesn’t present cityscapes the way Reggio does in Koyaanisqatsi but much like Randy Andy‘s “The People (Livin’ In the USA),” we do get to see frantically sped-up images of every day Americans going about their everyday lives at a hurried pace which continues until nearly the very end of the track when it returns to normal speed again.

Read more about Jean-Luc Ponty below.

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At age sixteen, Jean-Luc Ponty — born on September 29, 1942 in Avranches, France — began attending classes at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, graduating with the institution’s highest award, Premier Prix, two years later.

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Ponty was hired to play violin with the Concerts Lamoureux  symphony orchestra, remaining with them for three years.

He was torn, however, between classical and jazz, playing side gigs with a college jazz band on the clarinet (his father had taught him the woodwind instrument in case he was ever drafted, so that he could play in an army band). He also played the tenor sax.

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In 1964, at age 22, Ponty signed his first solo recording contract with Philips and released his debut solo violin album, Jazz Long Playing.

Two years later his next long-player was the 1966 live album Violin Summit, which featured Ponty live on stage in Basel, Switzerland, with such notable string talents as Svend Asmussen, Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith.

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Ponty’s appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1967 led to his first U.S. recording contract with the World Pacific label, who released two more early jazz albums.

In 1969, Ponty’s King Kong album for Blue Note featured music composed by Frank Zappa, and instrumentalists Zappa had chosen among the L.A. jazz musicians Zappa knew.

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The project also led to Ponty — as well as musical collaborator George Duke — becoming a member of Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention.

Ponty didn’t like the experience too much, though, since Zappa’s band didn’t play any tracks from King Kong, and so he quit.

He would also contribute to Elton John‘s Honky Chateau album, in 1972.

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Sometime in the ’70s, Ponty emigrated with his wife and two young daughters to Los Angeles, where he began working as a violinist-for-fire on a variety of recording projects, including a couple of John McLaughlin/Mahavishnu Orchestra albums/tours (Apocalypse, Visions of the Emerald Beyond).

Ponty was soon signing with Atlantic Records, and in early 1975 he released Upon The Wings Of Music, which he promoted with a tour fronting his own band.

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Over the next decade, Ponty recorded twelve more solo jazz fusion albums, all of which reached the Top Five on the Billboard jazz charts by selling millions of copies.

He eventually cracked the pop Top Forty with his 1977 album Enigmatic Ocean and again the following year with 1978’s Cosmic Messenger.

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For his 1983 album Individual Choice, Ponty played all of the violin, synthesizer and rhythm computer parts, using one of the very first sequencers.

Watch Night Flight’s “Fourth Anniversary” show on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.