John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery had a unique style on the guitar, starting with the way he played the instrument. He played with his thumb, his other fingers splayed across the pickguard and bottom of the guitar. He developed that technique so as not to disturb his neighbors when he was practicing late into the night after a shift at the factory. He developed a large, sharp callus on the thumb that worked as well as a pick, anyway. His solos generally employed single-note lines drawn around scale and arpeggio lines, lines that employed octaves, and chord-melody lines that used block chords.
He recorded his first albums for Riverside from 1958 to 1964, then moved to Verve in 1964 and A&M Records in 1967. The Riverside albums, particularly The Incredible Jazz Guitar, are considered jazz classics. When he moved to Verve, he steered away from jazz and played more pop tunes, often backed by a full orchestra, while continuing to play in a small-group setting in clubs.
Wes never felt comfortable away from his hometown of Indianapolis, and lived there with his wife and 8 children between trips. He woke up on the morning of June 15, 1968 and told his wife that he didn’t feel right. Within minutes, he had suffered a fatal heart attack. He was only 45 years old when he passed.
Today’s songs show Wes from both his small-group days and from his orchestra-backed days. First is Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight,” a televised performance with a quartet, but I know little more than that. Then, “Bumpin’ on Sunset,” from his 1966 Verve release Tequila, with an orchestra conducted by Claus Ogerman.
Wes Montgomery, your Two for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.