Two For Tuesday: Wes Montgomery (Encore)

From October 21, 2014, when I was doing a series on great jazz guitarists, possibly the best of the post-Bop period.

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.

12 thoughts on “Two For Tuesday: Wes Montgomery (Encore)

  1. I love Wes, and I own 2 of his albums on CD: the aforementioned ‘TEQUILA’, and his live set ‘SMOKIN’ AT THE HALF NOTE’, with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb — great stuffs!

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews…

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    1. Do you have “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery” in any format? That’s my favorite. A lot of people thought he sold out when he moved to A&M and started doing a lot of pop with strings and everything, but those albums are pretty good, too. A hell of a guitar player.

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      1. I’m not sure if I’ve heard that album, JOHN. I’ll look for it. Thanks for the tip!

        >>… “A lot of people thought he sold out when he moved to A&M and started doing a lot of pop with strings…”

        Yip! That was the very first thing I addressed when I composed a review for the ‘Tequila’ album at Amazon many moons ago:

        http://stephentmccarthyreviews.blogspot.com/2017/01/a-south-of-border-shot-of-wes-salt.html

        ~ D-FensDogG
        STMcC Presents ‘Battle Of The Bands’

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        1. Looking at it, “Tequila” was on Verve, toward the end of his time there, so I guess he started the transformation there. Great album. If you ever get a chance, listen to Lee Ritenour’s album “Wes Bound.” He was another real Wes Montgomery fan, and did a tribute album to him. I think you’d like it.

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          1. JOHN, I found the entire album, ‘The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery’, uploaded at YouTube and have been listening to it. Great stuffs, as I knew it would be.

            I’ll look for that Lee Ritenour album, too. I met him once and got to yak about “great guitarists” with him for a little bit.

            Fun Fact: An old BOTB installment of yours was the springboard for my next Battle on August 1st.

            ~ D-FensDogG
            STMcC Presents ‘Battle Of The Bands’

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  2. I know this style and it is not my favourite but I appreciate the talent. He died way too young and I hope his children did not inherit his weak heart. Very sad

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    1. The older I get, the younger 45 seems…

      It was probably a combination of factors that led to his early death. He had a big family with lots of mouths to feed, so when he wasn’t playing the guitar he was working as a machinist. He spent much of his early life playing for hours in smoky clubs and smoked himself. He lived in Indianapolis, so the stress of traveling to the coasts to record probably had a lot to do with it, and since he was African-American you have to figure he had hypertension and might not have known about it. I hope his kids learned from their father’s mistakes.

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    1. For a long time, I heard his albums were out of print. Then the age of CD’s arrived and suddenly all the music that I had heard was unavailable became available, and I was able to get stuff I never even dreamed I’d get.

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