Born in Marseille, France, Rampal was the first to introduce the flute onto the international concert circuit, and the first in modern times to attract international attention and large audiences comparable to those of virtuoso pianists and string players. During his career, he performed with many of the world's most famous orchestras and chamber ensembles. As a chamber musician he collaborated with Isaac Stern and Mstislav Rostropovich and composers such as Francis Poulenc wrote especially for him.
He is also notable for having unearthed, arranged, and performed many forgotten works of the Baroque era.
During his lifetime, he had many honors bestowed upon him, including the Lotos Club Medal of Merit in recognition of his lifetime achievements, the Leonie Sonning Prize, the Prix du Président de la République and the Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros for his entire (lengthy) discography. He was made a Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur, Commandeur des Arts des Lettres and Commandeur de l'Ordre National du Mérite.
Each year, the annual Jean-Pierre Rampal Flute Competition is held as part of the Concours internationaux de la Ville de Paris, for up-and-coming young flutists of all nationalities born after November 8, 1971.