Ponomarev became interested in jazz after hearing it on Voice of America and felt a particular affinity for Clifford Brown. He dedicated countless hours to transcribing, studying and memorizing legendary jazz trumpet solos. In time he decided to flee the then Soviet Union and ended up joining Art Blakey's "The Jazz Messengers." After leaving he formed his own band "Universal Language."
On September 9, 2006, his arm was broken in an altercation with security at Charles De Gaulle International Airport. The altercation involved his intention of carrying his trumpet with him onto the plane.
Ponomarev tours with his tribute big band playing some originals and music from the "Art Blakey and Jazz Messengers" repertoire. He teaches privately, and released his autobiographical book "On The Flip Side of Sound" in 2009. He teaches as part of the Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens program in Newark, New Jersey. Many think of him as an outstanding teacher and mentor.
- BEYOND THE OBVIOUS - with Don Braden, Martin Zenker and Jerome Jennings, Reservoir Records 2006
- THE MESSENGER - with Michael Karn, Sid Simmons, Martin Zenker and Jimmy Cobb, Reservoir Records 2001
- A STAR for YOU - with Bob Berg, Sid Simmons, Ken Walker and Billy Hart, Reservoir Records 1997
- LIVE at VARTAN JAZZ - with Francesco Bearsetti, Sid Simmons, Kenny Walker and Ben Riley, Vartan Jazz 1995
- LIVE at SWEET BASIL - with John Hicks, Peter Washington, Don Braden and, Victor Jones, Reservoir Records 1993
- PROFILE - with Joe Henderson, Kenny Barron, Essiet Essiet and Victor Jones, Reservoir Records 1991
- TRIP to MOSCOW - Universal Language, Reservoir Records 1988
- MEANS of IDENTIFICATION - with Ralph Moore, Hideki Takao, Dennis Irwin and Kenny Washington, Reservoir Records 1987
With Art Blakey
- Gypsy Folk Tales (Roulette, 1977)
- In My Prime Vol. 1 (Timeless, 1977)
- In My Prime Vol. 2 (Timeless, 1977)
- In This Korner (Concord Jazz, 1978)
- Reflections in Blue (Timeless, 1978)
- Night in Tunisia: Digital Recording (Philips, 1979)
- One by One (Palcoscenico, 1979 )
- Live at Montreux and Northsea (Timeless, 1980)
- "Валерий Пономарёв" (in Russian). Jazz.Ru. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
- Carvajal,Doreen. "A Trumpet, a Struggle, and a Musician’s Broken Arm", The New York Times, October 10, 2006.