Guitarist Jimmy Ponder Dead at 67

Prolific player recorded on over 100 albums, many as leader

Jimmy Ponder image 0

Jimmy Ponder

Jimmy Ponder, a guitarist who appeared on more than 100 recordings, approximately one-third of which featured him as a leader, died Sept. 16 in Pittsburgh, Pa., at age 67. He had suffered from lung cancer for some time. Ponder’s death was confirmed by drummer/engineer George Heid II, a fellow Pittsburgh musician who performed with Ponder for some 15 years.

Born May 10, 1946, James Willis Ponder, who grew up in Pittsburgh, began playing guitar at 11 and frequented that city’s jazz clubs as a teen. By 17, influenced by Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and others, he was working with organist Charles Earland. During the ’60s, Ponder became a prolific sideman, playing on recordings for leaders such as Donald Byrd, Johnny Hodges, Stanley Turrentine, Andrew Hill, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Houston Person.

Ponder released his debut album as a leader, Soul Crib, in 1969. That was followed by a string of releases for labels such as Cadet, Impulse!, Milestone, Muse and HighNote. His most successful releases were All Things Beautiful (Muse, 1978) and Ain’t Misbehavin’ (HighNote, 2000).

Ponder moved to New York and then Philadelphia beginning in the ’70s but eventually returned to his hometown where he continued to play. He was also an educator, who co-taught a master class at Duquesne University and gave private lessons.

Heid described Ponder as a spiritual person. He quotes Ponder as saying, “God gave us this gift of music … if we play with 100% heart, soul and ability, reaching one person for one moment, we have honored that gift and done our job.”