One of the founding fathers of modern jazz guitar

Wes Montgomery

Wes Montgomery

Wes Montgomery (March 6, 1923 - June 15, 1968) was an American jazz guitarist, composer, and bandleader. As an early pioneer of electric jazz guitar, Montgomery helped push the guitar from its previous role as part of the rhythm section and into the spotlight as a lead instrument. Along with Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, Montgomery is widely considered one of the founding fathers of modern jazz guitar.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Montgomery picked up the four string tenor guitar at the age of twelve and began learning Charlie Christian solos and jamming with his two brothers, Monk and Buddy, who played the bass and piano/vibraphone, respectively. By his early twenties, Montgomery was touring with Lionel Hampton, the great jazz vibraphonist. In 1950, after a long a educational stint on the road, Montgomery returned to Indianapolis and took a break from touring and recording, working as a machinist by day and practicing his guitar long into the night.

It was during this time period that Montgomery matured as an artist, combining an unorthodox thumb-picking technique with a unique musical vision to wonderful effect. Many critics have remarked that Montgomery often made use of a formula during his solos, usually beginning with a chorus of single-note melodic lines, then moving to octave-based playing, and finally to block chords. This approach proved highly useful in building musical excitement and tension, lending a subtle sense of drama and suspense to Montgomery’s playing that few players of his day were able to match.

In 1959, Riverside records approached Montgomery with a record deal, and soon thereafter the widely acclaimed and deeply influential album, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, was released. In 1964, the guitarist moved to Verve Records and released several more highly acclaimed albums, many featuring lush, orchestral arrangements utilizing woodwind and brass instruments. It was during this period that Montgomery embarked on his famed 1965 European tour, an outstanding run of shows that yielded many great recordings for television and radio audiences.

In 1967, Montgomery signed with A&M Records, a deal that would yield three commercially successful albums. These three albums - A Day in the Life, Down Here on the Ground, and Road Song - featured instrumental arrangements of major pop hits, elevating Montgomery to a level of popular appeal that few jazz artists have ever matched. Montgomery died of a heart attack at his home in Indianapolis in 1968, shortly after returning from tour.

Montgomery has been cited as an influence by musicians ranging from Pat Metheny to Jimi Hendrix. He is iconic both for his warm, round guitar tone and for his vibrant and often blues-inflected melodic lines, many of which have cemented themselves into the modern jazz lexicon. His innovative playing won him many awards in his day, including several Grammys.

Wes Montgomery Videos

Wes Montgomery Documentary ( Part  2 of  4 )

A great documentary on Wes Montgomery: Part 2

Another cool factoid: Wes got his start in the world of jazz copying the solos of Charlie Christian note for note!

west coast blues

Wes Montgomery plays classic "West Coast Blues" for West Germany

In yet another installment from NDR's former radio series Jazz Workshop, we are faced with the exquisite challenge of digging a whole bunch of bl

Wes Montgomery Documentary ( Part 3 of  4 )

A great documentary on Wes Montgomery: Part 3

In this video, we get to hear the man himself discussing the origins of his unique sound. Mrs.

Wes Montgomery - The Girl Next Door (1965)

A beautiful Wes Montgomery version of "The Girl Next Door"

"The Girl Next Door" is actually an adaptation of the Ralph Blane/Hugh Martin showtune "The Boy Next Door." The tune, which was originally writte

Wes Montgomery - "Echoes of Indiana Avenue" Documentary Video

A look at Montgomery's formative years in Indianapolis

A great short piece on Indianapolis's all-black neighborhood, where West Montgomery grew up as a child.

Wes Montgomery - Blue Monk [1965]

Wes Montgomery covers Monk

This is Wes Montgomery at his bluesy best.

Wes Montgomery Documentary ( Part 4 of  4 )

A great documentary on Wes Montgomery: Part 4

The final installment of this fine documentary covers Wes' mainstream success and latter years doing pop covers for A&M records.

Bags Meets Wes - Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery

Legendary jazz producer Orrin Keepnews on Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery

Orrin Keepnews, the legendary jazz producer, reflects on the circumstances that led Milt Jackson, the great vibraphonist, to record an album with

Wes Montgomery - Windy

Wes Montgomery enjoys his popularity on this TV special from 1967

Although many Montgomery purists dislike Wes' late-career forays into popular music, it was his work in this very field that did two very importa

Wes Montgomery - Round Midnight

Wes Montgomery gets blue on this Monk classic

Like "The Girl Next Door," this is Wes Montgomery at his mellow best.


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