Jazz Guitarist Jimmy Ponder: 1946 – 2013

Jimmy Ponder passed away yesterday at the age of 67 from lung cancer. He was a working jazz guitarist for his entire adult life and an enormous influence on musicians both in his hometown of Pittsburgh and around the world. In the Fretboard Journal #28, Ponder was the subject of a lengthy interview and profile penned by Rusted Root’s Colter Harper, just one of his many students. On his blog, Harper has written a great tribute to Ponder, along with some audio clips.

Ponder’s session work included dates with Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Charles Earland and Stanley Turrentine. But his albums as a frontman and soloist showcased Ponder at his best. Check out While My Guitar Gently Weeps or The Other End. Or try  2003’s Alone, where you can get a rare glimpse of Ponder as a jazz vocalist on “Our Day Will Come.” Simply astounding.

As the de facto photo editor of the Fretboard Journal, I’ve waded through thousands of gorgeous photographs of instruments and musicians. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget Harper’s photographs of Ponder with his well-loved Gibson Super 400. Ponder had a larger than life presence, with oversized hands to match (though he was a lefty, he played his guitar as a righty). And the Super 400 sported the battle scars, decay and wear of 35 years of hard, constant gigging. When I imagine a jazz guitar in my head, Ponder’s Gibson is the first image that springs to mind… and probably will be forever.