Wes Montgomery

WMWes Montgomery (1923-1968) is one of the greatest jazz guitarists, emerging after such figures as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. Montgomery has influenced all subsequent guitarists. Montgomery was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. He came from a musical family; his brothers, Monk (bass) and Buddy (vibraphone and piano), were jazz musicians. Montgomery started playing guitar relatively late, at the age of 19, by listening to recordings of Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. He developed an unusual technique where he used his thumb to pick notes, hence the nickname, “The Thumb.”

Wes Montgomery - Episode 1

Montgomery toured with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton's orchestra from July 1948 to January 1950, and can be heard on recordings from this period. Montgomery then returned to Indianapolis and did not record again until December 1957, when he took part in a session that included his brothers Monk and Buddy, as well as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Cannonball Adderley heard Montgomery in an Indianapolis club and was so impressed that the next day called record producer Orrin Keepnews, who signed Montgomery to a recording contract with Riverside Records. Adderley later recorded with Montgomery on his Pollwinners album.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Four on SixWes MontgomeryIncredible Jazz Guitar of WM1960
Seven Come ElevenCharlie Christian/Benny Goodman1939
Solo FlightCharlie Christian/Benny Goodman1941
NaugesDjango Reinhardt1948
LizaDjango Reinhardt1946
Billie’s BounceWes MontgomeryFinger Pickin’1957
Finger Pickin’Wes MontgomeryFinger Pickin’1957
Wes’ TuneWes MontgomeryMontgomery Land1958
AireginWes MontgomeryIncredible Jazz Guitar of WM1960

Wes Montgomery - Episode 2

Montgomery’s real career started with a series of albums on Riverside Records. Montgomery recorded with his brothers and various other musicians, including the Wynton Kelly Trio. Wes’ 1st important album, The Incredible Guitar of Wes Montgomery, was released in 1960 and was followed by a number of outstanding records that established him as the premier jazz guitarist of his day. Interestingly enough, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane asked Montgomery to join his band after a jam session ca. 1961, but Montgomery decided to continue leading his own band. He was the quintessential hard bop guitarist and it is interesting to speculate how a collaboration between Coltrane and Montgomery might have sounded.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Round MidnightWes MontgomeryThe Wes Montgomery Trio1959
Gone With the WindWes MontgomeryIncredible Jazz Guitar of WM1960
D Natural BluesWes MontgomeryIncredible Jazz Guitar of WM1960
S.O.S.Wes MontgomeryFull House1962
I’ve Grown Accustomed…Wes MontgomeryFull House1962
Full HouseWes MontgomeryFull House1962

Wes Montgomery - Episode 3

In the early 1960’s Wes continued to play in the hard bop style and his records were of the highest quality. In 1964 Montgomery moved to Verve Records for two years. His stay at Verve yielded a number of albums where he was featured with an orchestra---brass-dominated (Movin' Wes), string-oriented (Bumpin', Tequila), or a mix of both (Goin' Out of My Head, California Dreamin').

He never abandoned jazz entirely in the Verve years, whether with a few selections on most of the Verve albums, or by such classic recordings as Smokin' at the Half Note (1965) or the 2 albums he made with jazz organist Jimmy Smith, The Dynamic Duo and The Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes. Many jazz purists complained that he abandoned hard-bop for pop jazz towards the end of his career, although it is arguable that he gained a wider audience for his earlier work through his commercial jazz recordings from 1965-1968. He continued to play outstanding live jazz guitar, as evidenced by surviving audio and video recordings from his 1965 tour of Europe.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Dearly BelovedWes MontgomeryThe Artistry of Wes Montgomery1963
Moanin'Wes MontgomeryPortrait of Wes1963
Four On SixWes MontgomerySmokin' at the Half Note1965
No BluesWes MontgomerySmokin' at The Half Note1965
James and WesJimmy SmithThe Further Adventures1966