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The Complete BMG Articles written by John Duarte in 1962-1968

In April of 1962 John Duarte began a series of articles on Wes Montgomery. They continued through Wes' appearances at RonnieScott's Club and up to Wes' death in1968. The early articles are interesting in the way that Duarte speculated on how Wes acheived his sound and technical mastery of his instrument. It has to be remembered that in 1962 no one had seen Wes play that Duarte had to rely on second-hand reports by those fortunate to have seen him play in the USA. There are some inaccuracies, therefore, in his early writings and they have been left uncorrected.

April 1962


IN RECENT years comparatively few names have appeared on the jazz-guitar scene and, of these, only that of Jim Hall has the
hallmark of true greatness. Yet the world is still full of great players.

Throughout the history of the plectrum-played guitar there have been several players who matched outstanding musical creativeness with technical mastery and who have exerted tremendous influence on their contemporaries Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney, to name only the first three to spring to mind-but there have been only three veritable giants in relation to their times.

In the beginning there was Eddie Lang, perhaps the founder of rational technique though stylistically woefully dated now. Then there was Django Reinhardt who electrified the instrument both technically and expressively, though leaving little more than the firing of inspiration for others to develop. In a sense, Lang bequeathed a "school," Reindhardt did not. Finally there was Charlie Christian who electrified the instrument both electronically and in making it an integral part of the "front line" by introducing the concept of phrasing with the flexibility of a wind instrument -a "horn" in flowing lines. Christian is the source from which modern plectrum guitar playing has developed.

We can now add to this small, select band of genius a fourth name Wes Montgomery and, in many ways, he is the most remarkable of all. Jazz musicians (guitarists included) normally make their impact before they are 30 years old and all the other three giants, Lang, Reinhardt and Christian, showed their stature before they were 25. It is thus all the more incredible that Wes Montgomery (who has come to fame only in the last year or two) should have been born in 1923 and should have begun playing the guitar at the lateage of 19 stimulated by hearing records of Charlie Christian (an oft-told tale).


It was, not the promise of fame andfortune that brought Wes to the guitar but simple love of the instrument and of music. Perhaps this, accounts in large measure for his long obscurity for, until late 1959, he did most of his playing in and around Indianapolis where he was born. This was not calculated to bring him into the limelight.

From 1948 to 1950 he played with Lionel Hampton's orchestra but, this apart, his early history is obscure and certainly not worth
recording. Not for him the usual catalogue of famous berths. The miracle of Wes Montgomery will unfold as, we continue his story
but the first hint is given by the fact that he was entirely self-taught yet, from his first furnblings (although it is difficult to imagine he ever fumbled at all) to his first professional engagement, only six -months elapsed.

Wes was, to, coin a phrase, "discovered" by the alto saxophone player "Cannonball" Adderley who, though perhaps not the first to
hear and to appreciate his playing, was the first to indulge in effective flag-waving on his behalf. This culminated in his being invited to record for Riverside Records of New York (whose help in many respects of these articles I acknowledge gratefully) from which point his fame has grown.

In the beginning it was remarkably casual Wes heard Charlie Christian on record, decided he would like to play too and began (not
unusually) by copying Christian's Choruses. It was his success in doing this that led to his first paid job six months later. This
encouraged his two brothers to "pick up" instruments too and Buddy rapidly became a fine pianist and vibraphonist whilst Monk did likewise with the double bass, later changing it for an electric bass.

The three brothers, who never had a single music lesson amongst them, have played together on and off, becoming well-known as
the backbone of the "Mastersounds" and also working together (plus drums) as "The Montgomery Brothers," in which form they
were united earlier this year when last I had news of then. The remaining sibling, a sister, never seems to have got into the act.
Familywise Wes now has ties of the other kind too, in the form of a wife and family.

To make the great artist, two things are essential and inseparable. Quality of musical thought (whether it be improvisatory or
interpretative) and the technical means through which to give it audible expression the means of communication. Wes Montgomery has both these in very great measure but he is perhaps unique in that two people listening to the same passage of his playing might, separately, say "What wonderful music" and "What incredible technique." The one never obtrudes at the expense of the other but both are present in sufficient degree to make one marvel at them for their own sake.


Inevitably then his recordings are exciting but this is healthy excitement - the excitement of following the creations of a sensitive and virile musical mind, always and unfailingly stamped with good taste. Even the great Django occasionally indulged in crudities,
banalities and, more than often, he offered us nothing more substantial than technical astonishment. Wes Montgomery seldom
plays a note that does not sound an inevitable and integral part of the musical whole and never, for an instant, does his instinctive artistic taste fail him or us.

In the remaining instalments of this story we shall take the course of first discussing Wes Montgomery's unusualtechnique (for it is no less) and then his musical style with the aid of his records. It can come alive only with the help of the actual sounds and never has the jazz guitar spoken with greater eloquence.
May 1962

TECHNICALLY it is not only what Wes Montgomery does that is remarkable it is also the way in which he does it. His single-note
playing is lithe, full of nuance, with a remarkable range of dynamics (the greatest jazz artists always have this) and fluid in a way that realises the flow of a wind instrument more fully than any other player has achieved.

The amplified sound ranges from a sharp (though not fashionably nasal or unpleasant) and biting attack, to a soft (though never dull or muffled) and singing voice. A critic, writing in the "Gramophone," said in a Montgomery review, he regretted the softening of Wes's attack now he has amplified his guitar. Wes has in fact never played any other kind of guitar he began with an amplifier in his musical cradle. This at least shows how important it is to get one's facts right before building edifices of inference.

Django it was who first showed us how to add force to our melodic line by playing it in octaves and how we marvelled at him-even when we overlooked the problem of reaching the span of an octave with the two first fingers. Wes Montgomery plays octaves in passages far more extended than Django ever did and with a facility that makes the latter sound like a fumbling beginner. Octaves now add not only force but also depth (thickness) to the melodic line. Melodic lines are played in octaves with a freedom that is staggering and, moreover, they are treated to all the range of nuance accorded to single notes-hard and soft attack, legato groups (even triplets), glissandi, tremolandi and all this throughout the entire range of the instrument.

It is perhaps no great exaggeration to say that octave playing on the jazz guitar hardly existed before Montgomery. This is by no
means all. Not only do we have the most free and expressive of single-note lines (and the flowing octaves) there are still the chords. Whole melodic lines are framed in chords that are often unexpectedly piquant (without sounding like selfconscious gimmicks) and as often voiced in unusual ways. In free improvisation the line is again coloured with chords that move with incredible speed.

All these things remind us sharply that here is a man who never had a lesson and who still cannot read a note of music! These
amazing feats of technique (not unbelievable simply because we must believe what actually happens) could have entered the mind, let alone the fingers, only of a man who had never been told how difficult they are. Wes simply did not know enough about the guitar to appreciate these things he wanted to do to give life to the music that was in him, were nearly impossible.

Just try for yourself, playing a scale of say F Major, from bottom to top and back, in octaves, at slow ... tempo, in quavers. This, by Wes's standards, is an elementary, five-finger exercise. Now repeat it through the arpeggio of any chord that conies to mind and you will still be on page one!

What is known in the entertainment business as the "pay off line" is, however, still to come. The autodidactic Wes, unprejudiced by
knowledge, did not teach himself to play like others do - no plectrum for him, only the thumb of his right hand. Absolutely
everything is played with the thumb, even the chords and the octaves which he always plays with the fingering typified by 1st. finger
(left hand) on C (3rd. string), 4th finger on C (1st. string) with 2nd string deadened.


A plectrum can play notes on both the down and the up-stroke, thus giving it a very high rate of strikes; a normal thumb action
works only downwards on the string, and in this at least Wes is quite normal. I believe second-hand accounts of his right-hand
action differing from this have appeared in print but they should be discounted since my information comes directly from
correspondence with Wes himself and he should know!
There are passages in some of his choruses in which it is almost impossible to imagine how the thumb could be used at such
speed but the contributor oaf the sleeve-notes on one of his records says " . . . sitting quite close to him, I discovered that even
20/20 vision wasn't good enough to keep his right thumb from blurring before my eyes."

Many times his speed is aided by lefthand legato (hammers and snaps) but this stems from what he believes to be the musical
requirement of the passage rather than from any need of the crutch. There are others when the rapid-fire, hard-hit attack on each
note is unmistakable. This unorthodox right-hand technique may have sprung from the casual picking-up of the guitar and playing it
with the first thing that came to hand, viz. the thumb, but it may well strike deeper than that. The quality of the attack and the sound
given by the thumb may have been a sub-conscious selection (on Wes's part) of the best means of achieving the fluid sound he

Other players have tried, with varying though never signal success, to move in the same direction (as well as gaining in resource) by
using some form of classic-guitar right-hand action Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis and both Tal Farlow and Jim Hall have
made restricted use of the thumb alone. The solitary thumb is an unsophisticated and direct solution to the problem, allowing for a range of attack from the incisive to the mellow.


It is something of a coincidence that two of our all-time giants should have notable limitations in their armouries. Wes uses
only down strokes with his righ-tihand thumb; Reinhardt lacked the use of two left-hand fingers.
This is, in my view, not significant. Wes's limitation is self-imposed whilst Reinhardt's was enforced. Though in both cases they
have transcended their limitations and magnificently at that - they remain limitations. Wes could have developed even greater
velocity with a plectrum and with a full-house in his left hand. Reinhardt could have developed an even mare remarkable and less
restricted chord style. In Django's case, it may even be the limitation spurred him on to overcome it, by a mechanism related to that
which makes so many men of small height dynamic (and often aggressive) successes.


With Wes, however, it is impossible to speculate profitably since this is the means he chose, having no physical debility. It is not
that certain the velocity a plectrum would give, over and above that available to his incredible thumb, plays a necessary part in his
musical thinking; he never seeks to astonish. It could be argued I have confused the chicken with the egg and he has learned to live
without something he cannot attain that he has developed within his own limitations. This I do not believe and I find in his playing
and thinking no evidence of trying to evade a barrier. I believe, rather, that here we have a remarkable case of a natural musical mind
instinctively choosing the best means for its practical expression.

To restrict oneself voluntarily to the use of two left-hand fingers (as some eccentrics have been known to do) in the hope it will
assist one to play like Django, or out of misguided though fervent hero-worship, is pathetically absurd. To seek to follow Wes
Montgomery by playing with the right-hand thumb may be as ridiculous and it may not. If one feels strongly, and deeply, that this is
the sort of musical expression one wishes to voice - that is within one, waiting to be emancipated - then it may be worth trying to
make use of a technical means that has proved itself so successful in Wes's hands.

The fluid sounds, the quality of the attack, and the implicit brake on any tendency to run riot, are a direct consequence of the
means. Reinhardt's musical expression and style came directly from his heart and mind and it found fluent reality in sound despite a
cruel physical handicap. The handicap contributed nothing except insofar as it was a challenge to its possessor and though
Reinhardt may often have been technically florid because he was a volatile Romany, it is equally likely there was an element of
sheer exultation in has ability to crash the barrier.

So much for the remarkable technique of Wes Montgomery but it should be remembered it is always the servant of his musical
thought. It is happily easy to listen to his playing for as long as one likes, aware only of has equally amazing musical creativeness.
Into this sphere we shall move in the next instalment.

June 1962

EVEN if his sound were not so characteristic, the playing of Wes Montgomery would remain unmistakable by virtue of the
individuality of his creation. Perhaps no other jazz guitarist has been as strongly individual unless it be Django Reinhardt. Yet no
man is an island and no-one is immune from outside influence (unless he be certifiable); even the starkest of individualists has
eyes, ears and a brain.

  Wes Montgomery admires the work of many other guitarists but he nominates three as his favourites Django("I have heard his
records and if he played any better in person I am sure I wouldn't be trying to play guitar today! "), Tal Farlow and Kenny Burrell
traces of all three of which I detected in his playing before I received this information from him. Strangely, Charlie Christian (who
triggered him off) does not achieve this top bracket! Mere unmistakableness is not the whole story though there is another quality
even more telling.

Many musicians, guitarists included, identify themselves very quickly as "unseens" but what they create may well be a personal view
of jazz in which whole passages, even choruses, are interchangeable - as though they were weaving a continuous tapestry of jazz
patterns from which so much is cut -off to produce this chorus and so much for that! The greatest artists in jazz have the ability to
create an atmosphere - an aura; bringing to life every piece as an individual entity with all its own mood(s) and character. Duke
Ellington, through his orchestra, has done this with countless twelve - bar blues; more often than not transcending the limitations of
the form. With Wes Montgomery, virtually every chorus he plays is a fresh act of creation in which he identifies himself with the
music. He breathes life into every piece, sensing its mood with uncanny instinct.

In various ways we have coupled Wes's name with that of Django, only to find they are poles apart. As surely as we draw lines
parallel they diverge under the propulsion of their own forces of individuality. Great musicians may be subdivided in many ways and
one of these is by their reaction to others in an ensemble. This is true of any sphere of music, either creatively or interpretatively.
The powerful individuality of a Rachmaninoff, a Louis Armstrong or a Django Reinhardt could never be suppressed or disguised.
Others, such as Art Tatum, learn late in life how to sink their identity in the interests of the communal good. Some others have this
ambivalence as a natural gift.

Casals, Kentner, Eddie Lang, Jim Hall, far instance, and to this list we may add Wes Montgomery. He is always able to melt into the
ensemble effort, though making a strong personal contribution. On the other hand he rises to the surface at the right time,
dominating the proceedings by his very quality of thought and feeling, yet always both servant and master of the music's needs.


Yet another quality in Wes Montgomery's playing, to be found only with the great jazz artist, is his sense of development. A solo is
not just an allotted number of bars to be filled somehow or other, ingeniously or otherwise. There is a sense of development in the
line of his solos that makes his thoughts seem to unfold with an inevitability that induces deep satisfaction. He builds his climaxes
and releases them with the sureness of true greatness.

  So wonderfully is this done that it is possible to hear him for the first time and fail to appreciate that anything wonderful is
happening. Art truly conceals art, especially in the absence of technical exhibitionism of the cheaper kind. The revelation is,
however, bound to come to everyone on prolonged hearing, unless the listener himself lacks quality.

In passing it should be noted that Wes plays a normal amplified (rather than "electric") guitar, with normal fingerboard, stringing and

His gifts are completely natural and not only does he lack the ability to read music of any kind but he does not even read chord
symbols. His ear for harmony is unfailingly imaginative and rich but, in his own words, though he can neither read, explain or name
the chords "I can give them to you on the guitar." On sessions he is quicker than many trained (and famous) musicians in
assimilating a new sequence or arrangement.


Enough of words, though. From here onwards his records can speak for themselves. On record he is not yet too well served,
especially in this country, but what is available is high in quality. The importation of records from the USA is a little expensive in
cash and trouble but in this case it is more than worth the effort. A little trouble and expense is seldom so well repaid! For this
reason and for the additional one that "BMG" has so many American readers, I shall refer to the records, as though they are all
available. If it does not whet the appetite, it will not be my fault. Some tracks by "The Mastersounds" (Vogue label) show Wes's
playing, but not to its best advantage. This is because he is overridingly concerned with ensemble work and is virtually a cog in the
mechanism - a splendid cog but not the Wes we are seeking. In Britain, two records are available and I give the individual titles for
further reference:

"Montgomeryland" vogue LAE 12246. 12" 33 rpm.

"Blowin' the Blues" Vogue LAE. 12224. 12" 33 rpm.

The second of these contains only one Montgomery track but the re mainder of it is worth possessing and contains the work of
other guitarists - Jim Hall and Billy Bean. The Montgomery contribution is of the highest order, solitary though it is.

From the U.S.A. the following records are to be had (if there are more they have not come into my possession yet).

 "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery." - Riverside RLP 12320. 12" 33 rpm.

"The Wes Montgomery Trio" - Riverside RLP 12-310. 12" 33 rpm.

"Work Song" - Riverside RLP 12318. 12" 33 rpm.

In the final part of this series l will try to indicate what rewards await the seeker after these records.

July 1962

Since the opening articles in this series were written I have learned a few additional things about Wes Montgomery's playing and,
though they are not particularly well connected with one another, they are well worth mention. The first continues from the last article,
in which I put on to paper my thoughts relating to Wes' use of the right-hand thumb instead of a plectrum. On balance these
thoughts inclined to the view that he uses the thumb from choice rather than simple lack of tuition. This proves to be the case.
Initially Wes tried playing with a plectrum and just could not learn to love it. He discarded it in favour of the thumb because he did
not like the type of attack and quality of sound it gave and he felt that it lacked the flexibility of dynamic of the thumb.

The change was made in full realisation that this meant some sacrifice of speed but it was considered worth the sacrifice 1n view of
the gain in expressive capacity. Despite this, as his records show, he has developed, such speed that few others, with their plectra,
can move more quickly and still play anything of value.The second point is in relation to the action of the thumb itself.


  To the classic guitarist the thumb is an old friend. The classic player who follows the Segovia line (and he is the overwhelming
majority) uses the thumb as a whole (moving both phalanxes as one), without any significant bend at the first joint during the act of
striking. On occasions, when great emphasis is required, the hand is used as a whole, together with the forearm. That is, the pivot is
at the elbow; the forearm, hand and thumb moving together as as unit.

Those who are incorrectly taught, or who cling to the direct line from Tarrega, bend the thumb at its first joint - the "Tarrega, wiggle."
There is thus a fair variety of thumb action already in use and we have not even referred to the many variants embraced by Segovia
technique. It appears that Wes Montgomery uses none of these.

A friend, who has seen him play often and who has been concerned with recording his playing, tells me that Wes uses his thumb by
rotating the hand the pivot being more or less, the line of the forearm. From his description I gather there is little independent
movement of the thumb in relation to the rest of the hand.

Now classic guitar thumb action must be viewed in relation to the use of the hand as a whole, as part of a resourceful and flexible
unit which gives a wide range of possible action patterns. On this, basis, movement contrary to the fingers, must necessarily be of
the type of either the Segovia or Tarrega model it would otherwise be uneconomic and awkward.

Wes is not, however, concerned with any question of balancing or accommodating the action of the fingers; his thumb is a
"plectrum" of flesh and Mood and the fingers, just "go along for the ride."

In normal life the thumb is not called upon to perform rapid and independent actions. Even the classic guitarist does not often
require to use the thumb with real rapidity and when he does it is neither at the speed reached by Wes nor is it for such sustained

Any attempt to, play say a scale, rapidly (and for more than a bar or three) will soon convince the reader the thumb is just not
normally suited to this kind of thing. Sooner or later (and the faster the tempo the sooner) it "seizes up" and refuses to respond; the
mechanism is probably in part one of mental blockage and partly of muscular fatigue.


The same may, of course, be said of any movement performed with any part of the body but with the thumb the limit is set fairly
low especially in relation to the order of velocity that music may require. One of ithe basic principles of fingering, whether for the
right or the left hand, is, that the use of the fingers should be balanced where possible - where there is an option, it is soundest to
give an equidistribution of work.

A right-hand, classic-guitar tremolo makes use, of all three fingers and a long trill with the left hand (hammers and snaps) is,
frequently helped by changing the moving finger. An action such as that described as being used by Wes Montgomery tends to
throw the onusof movement on muscles and tendons not concerned with moving the thumb itself independently and forming a
looser and more-used system. Because it tends to throw the fingers away from the strings it would be useless for the classic player
but this is not the point in the case under study.

Judging from sound alone I should not be surprised if Wes used a variety of movement; for instance I can hear evidence of
movement of the hand as a whole across the sitrings without rotation at the wrist. In slow-moving melodies he may also rest the
hand either on the scratchplate or even on the upper strings when playing on the lower, whilst using the thumb very much in the
Segovia manner - a Tarrega wiggle would not come naturally to a man accustomed to using the thumb as a semi-rigid unit in the way
we have been discussing.

Until we see Wes' playing at first hand, some of our analysis must be speculative but, as there are already players in this country
who are experimenting with the use of the thumb, it is of value to discuss the principles involved.

The same friend, himself a guitarist, commented also, that Wes appears to have no rationalised approach to the fingerboard in the
position-playing sense. He knows what musical sounds he wants and he goes, for them with "anything" that comes to hand. By
academic standards (insofar as they exist with the jazz guitar) he is an untidy, undisciplined and unbeautiful player who "gets by"
because he is amazingly agile and quick-witted.

Rather though is he a man from whom music pours like thought or speech (even though this, is contrary to his own view of himself)
who has a God-given instinct in relation to his instrument. Like all geniuses he makes his own rules but can safely be judged alone
by the music he produces.

Next month we will reach the consideration of his records delayed by the intrusion of the above thoughts.

August 1962

The first articles in this series were written quite some time ago and, since then, the overall picture regarding records of Wes
Montgomery has changed quite considerably. There was a time when, once a record was issued, one could depend upon being
able to buy it through the normal channels for a long time; deletions were announced annually, and they affected only a small
proportion of the total records in issue. Nowadays a record may be discontinued after a very short time only to be reissued in
exactly the same form some months later sometimes the deletion appears permanent for all practical purposes.

This explanation is necessary because it affects any list of recordings one might give; such a list might well be out of date, both as
regards new issues and deletions, by the time it reaches print. The following information is thus, as the world of commerce has it,
given "in good faith but without responsibility"!


The first available records of Wes in this country were the two issued here on Vogue and stemming from Pacific Jazz. These two
("Montgomeryland" on LAE. 12246, and "Blowin' the Blues" on LAE. 12224) are still, to the best of my knowledge, available here. I
do not know whether they are still in issue in the U.S.A. but, if Richard Bock reads this, perhaps he would drop us a line. Contents
of these two records were listed in the June issue.

The remaining records of which I know were made for Bill Grauer Productions Inc. of New York, under either the Riverside or
Jazzland labels. Some have been issued here and then withdrawn others have been issued and remain available, whilst others have
yet to appear in the U.K. though they are available in the USA. The only way to obtain reliable, up-to-the-minute information on
issues is by writing to Chris Whent of Interdisc Ltd., now under the wing of Philips Records Ltd. This is the best course unless you
have one of those rare record dealers who is interested in obtaining for you any records he does not have in stock anal takes a little
trouble to obtain.

The Jazzland record given below is, at the time of writing, available here but the position is very unclear with the Riverside discs. The
numbers given for these latter are the American ones (most of my copies have come to me by courtesy of Riverside, Interdisc and
Tal Farlow) but English issues of this label always carry the American numbers in identical form.

Here then is the Riverside / Jazzland list as at the end of June.

"The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery" Riverside RLP. 12-320.
"The Wes Montgomery Trio"-Riverside RLP.12-310.
"Work Song" Riverside RLP. 12-318.
"Movin' Along" Riverside 12-342.
"Cannonball Adderley and the PollWinners"-Riverside RLP.12-355.
"Groove Yard" Riverside RLP. 12-362.
"So Much Guitar!" Riverside RLP. 12-382.
"Bags Meets Wes" Riverside RLP. 12-407.
"George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers"-Jazzland JLP. 55.

All these are 12-inch long-players now, with the 45s, virtually the standard unit of the record industry but in the realm of Jazz there
should be more 10 inch long-players to make more digestible lumps available to more people, through their lower cost.

My current information is that "Bags Meets Wes" is due for issue in the autumn whilst "Groove Yard" and "The Incredible Jazz
Guitar" are due for re-issue before long. "The Wes Montgomery Trio," so far un-issued in the U.K., is also scheduled for issue,
possibly later in the year. There are several ways of reviewing an output such as this but perhaps the clearest and best is to write
about each record in turn. This does not give the best academic cross-section but it does give the most useful indication to the
potential buyer which is the most practical approach: I will begin with the records known to be in issue at the time of writing (early

"Blowin' the Blues" Vogue LAE. 12224: Only one Montgomery track on this but a beauty and the track that first riveted my attention
to Wes Montgomery. The record as a whole contains eight tracks of assorted blues, with a strong accent on the aspect known
unattracLively as "funk." Groups involved contain The Mastersounds (the pre-Wes Montgomery Brothers group), Zoot Sims, Harry
Edison, Bud Shank, Harold Land, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Brookmeyer, Russ Freeman, and others. There are good solos from Jim Hall
and Billy Bean for liberal measure in a very satisfactory record.


"Montgomeryland Funk" opens with a riff-styled chorus ensemble, followed by three hard-driven choruses in singleline from Wes.
The tone is nicely recorded and is full and round, the attack is incisive and the ideas flow authoritatively. Three choruses follow from
tenor player Harold Land (a very "busy" player with a harsh tone that contrasts sharply with Wes' rounded sound) and then there is a
wonderful string of "chase" choruses in which, with Wes leading the way, the guitar and tenor exchange phrases, beginning with 8s,
proceeding to 4s, and finally to 2s, a device that is not used sufficiently and which lends growth of excitement. Wes' phrases are in
octaves and range from powerful invention to impish interpolation "The Champ" and "Someone's Rocking my Dreamboat." At the
point where lesser players would sit back and smirk at their ingenuity in superimposing another tune, Wes brushes the thing aside
and lets the force of his invention take control. His octave playing is eloquent, forceful, and mobile beyond anything Django ever
recorded and it bears the inflections normally reserved for a single-note line. Both with the octaves and the single notes the intensity
of feeling is obvious in the dynamics normally lacking in the up-tempo playing of others such as Barney Kessel. The tempo here is
about crotchet 160; not fast, but fast enough to level out the dynamics of most players. I strongly recommend this record for the
Wes initiate but with the reservation that its prime interest is in only one track of eight. This will be sufficient only if money is not
September 1962

On the whole Wes Montgomery seems to fall short of his best work when he is coupled with other "front-line" players, though the
generalisation is not without exception and other great artists do not seem to fire him as one might expect. The nearest to a
monumental outcome is reached with Milt Jackson, but even this fails to achieve the great heights one might hope for in
comparison with those reached by Wes an records like "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery." In this he has only the
residue of a rhythm section: Tommy Flanagan (piano) and brothers Percy and Albert Heath (bass and drums). Within the limits of
jazz expression and feeling this is a veritable microcosmos with its seven tracks of sharply defined mood and character.

Too often are the individual contents of long-playing records differentiated only by measurable quantities such as speed, key and
progression. Only the greatest artists have the capacity to bring real life and individuality to numbers to make each into a living
entity within its own ethos.
There is, for instance, no way of measuring the attributes that differentiate "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" from "In Your Own Sweet
Way," both slow numbers played virtually as guitar solos with only a piano release to each. Wes dreams his way serenely through
the first in what is a unique and beautifully artistic way, using octaves throughout (apart from two odd chords, plus two more on the
two closing notes) in the most eloquent way. The other piece is of a different world with its opening and closing passages in chords
and the improvisation in single-note, perfectly poised and unerringly developed. The brittle sophistication of the piece is perfectly
caught. When he does move into semiquavers it is at the right moment and the passage is shapely and not a mere piece of display.


Art always conceals art and if you think "Moonbeams" is easy to play, you will soon find how mistaken you are - it is slow enough
for anyone of even modest ability to transcribe. Reinhardt too had his dreams, but never did he achieve so much serenity; the
volatile outburst was always round the corner.

Twice Wes touches his cap to others whom he respects. In the fast-moving "Airegin" it is to Tal Farlow, echoes of whom we can
hear in the rhythmic shaping of the phrases and their length (what Tal calls "fanning"). The earlier improvising in "D-Natural Blues"
has more than a suggestion of the feeling of Kenny Burrell. I fancy there is too a little respect for Jim Hall in the theme of "West
Coast Blues" which is; unusually, in three-four time.

"Mr. Walker" has a Latin-American styled accompaniment and some very prolonged busy-ness from Wes, and "Four on Six" is a
treatment of "Summertime." The last - named tune appears in its own right on another record and in both cases it is treated at a
fairly quick tempo and with the same curious twist of harmony. On this record however it lacks the Latin Americana of the other
playing. This particular record shows all the facets of Wes' technique and in several tracks there is the progressive development of
long solos through single notes to octaves and finally to chords that is found with no other player, even setting aside the immense
artistry of its execution. This reaches its ultimate in the last track of the record "Gone With The Wind." Here are six and a quarter
miraculous minutes of non-stop guitar.

The flow of invention never stops, the taste is impeccable and, when all is done, the technical command takes your breath away.
Every listener will find his own special highlights in this track. For me I might choose for mention (i) the underlining with responsive
octaves of part of the first chorus (ii) the sudden electrifying break into triplet movement in the second chorus at the half-way mark
and the sequential phrase that closes it (iii) the whole conception of the third chorus the first in octaves (iv) the melodic outline of
his first chord chorus the fifth (v) the lead-in to the sixth chorus in crochet-tripleted chords and its continuation for a whole half
chorus (vi) the sureness of thought and execution in everything from beginning to end and (vii) the way in which the piece builds
steadily from the leisurely single-line of the opening to the chorded closing sections.


The jazz guitar was never used like this before and one's first reaction on hearing this last band is to feel there is nothing to say and
little left to do except to marvel. How far you are from this reaction is a measure of the distance you still have to travel in your
appreciation of jazz and the guitar.

In playing like this it is the musical motivation that comes first. If this is not present then no amount of technique will disclose it.
When it burns in the presence of such a natural gift and with the intensity revealed here; thoughts of technical difficulty cannot even
enter the mind of the player. His fingers are directly linked to his musical imagination and somehow, without reference to technical
niceties and orthodoxy, the musical thought is transferred without impediment to the fingers and these wring from the guitar the
exact nuance of every note. This is in fact vocal thinking and the guitar comes nearer to the freedom of a wind instrument in its
inflections than ever before. At the same time, it is more, since the wind instruments cannot add the weight of octaves or the
colouration of chords to their line. Only the keyboard can do this and by comparison with the guitar it is inflexible.

The incredible jazz guitar of Wes Montgomery ranges from a delicate filigree to a full-throated and rounded voice of authority. I do
not propose to discuss all the records listed as fully as this one, though many tracks will merit detailed comment. The recording
quality of this one is good, though some of the others are far better. There is also a fair variation in the tone-quality of Wes' guitar
from record to record. Microphone placing probably played a large part in this.

One final tailpiece on "Gone With The Wind." over a year ago, with some trepidation, I played this track to Alirio Diaz at my home.
As it ended I began to lift the tone-arm of the gramophone. Immediately he jumped up and stopped me-"No! Leave it!" Seven tracks
later I finally succeeded in changing the subject! Though far from a jazz musician, Alirio instinctively recognised the artistry-
technically there was nothing that would have disturbed him in the least.

October 1962
Another record in which Wes has only accompanimental support is "The Wes Montgomery Trio" (Riverside RLP. 12-310), stemming
from a time in late 1959 when he worked regularly at the Missile Room in Indianapolis with Melvin Rhyne (electric organ) and Paul
Parker (bass). This apparently unpromising ensemble worked with wonderful understanding and, on this record, went far towards
alleviating my distaste for the electric organ. In the ensemble the organ is a real asset, though it burbles irritatingly when solos
become overlong, as in "Missile Blues" and "Satin Doll."

"Satin Doll" is in fact as different from Barney Kessel's extrovert rendering as one could travel; the technical wonder of his chord
changing being the only common ground. This latter quality reaches its zenith (probably amongst all his records) in "Missile Blues"
when, with its intermixed octaves, is leaves one limp and deflated.
The old Jerome Kern tune "Yesterdays" is taken at a moderate tempo and contains some touches of humour, such as the point at
which he ascends the tune in octaves, with so many chromatic intervals that it progresses more slowly (in terms of rise in pitch) than
it should. At this point where this becomes evident he swoops suddenly into the upper register as if in impatience. The effect
should be heard as it loses in the telling.
The finest piece on this record is undoubtedly "Round Midnight," Thelonius Monk's famous after-hours composition. Much is owed
to the wonderful organ accompaniment consisting essentially of sustained and exquisitely-voiced chords, played very softly. Over
this Wes plays the melody with little deviation and where he does deviate his choice of notes and decoration is truly lovely. The
middle section is in octaves. The improvisation is in octaves followed by chords and is positively spellbinding (as is the track as a
whole) in its beauty. The octaves sweep along, latterly, in a long phrase that recalls Sir Donald Tovey's remark on the Fifth
Symphony of Sibelius: ". . . ends with the finality of a work that knew from the outset exactly when its last note was due." It
compels listening in breathless silence. This track alone justifies the price of the record, even if it contained nothing else of value
which it does not.

The after-hours mood is even more pronounced in "One for my Baby" which concludes "So Much Guitar," a record on which Wes
again has the backing of piano (Hank Jones), bass and drums, plus a conga drummmer on some tracks. Sinatra may have made
this number his own property but he has certainly granted a substantial lease to Wes on this record


The same spell-binding is there as in "Round Midnight," though the whole mood is even softer and octaves are reserved for the
gentle underlining of terminal phrases in the tune itself. It lasts for seven minutes and thirty-eight seconds and not one too long.

The same record contains some excellent playing amongst which three numbers are particularly notable. "I Wish I Knew" shows
Wes's talent for paying ballad-type numbers with true jazz feeling though less well than some other tracks elsewhere. "Cotton Tail,"
the old Ben Webster "flyer," is taken at a pace that is right in the Tal Farlow / Howard Roberts bracket. How Wes manages to play
any notes at all at about 70 bars a minute, moving in quavers, using his thumb only, defeats even a rich imagination. Not only does
he succeed in this seemingly lunatic enterprise but he contrives also to be constructive to a greater degree than most people armed
with a plectrum. If this is not the greatest fast-moving jazz on record it is at least a remarkable piece of evidence of the level of
technique available to this man - a technique kept unfailingly under control when taste demands it.
In direct contrast to this is "While We're Young," a unique track in all Montgomeryland. This is a lovely song, recorded equally
beautifully some years ago by Peggy Lee (whose record I still treasure) and too good ever to become popular. Wes obviously feels
this way about it, too, for he plays it very slowly, in chords, and with the minimum of trimming. Even the longheld notes are not
filled in. He too feels the piece is good enough to stand on its own merits and plays it, with obvious affection, as an
unaccompanied guitar solo.
The remaining tracks are average for Wes ("Lucky So-and-So" swings very freely) though they would do anyone else real credit. The
conga drum created employment but has no other obvious virtue in this context.


Once a musician achieves a certain level of eminence the recording companies hasten to place him in the company of as many
other notabilities as possible. This gives rise to the inumerable "Bill Scroggs Meets Fred Crump" or "Charlie Cringe with the Sam
Snead Tee-time Trio" encounters. More often than not these fail to live up to their promise, though the occasional session comes to
life whilst the red light is on. Wes Montgomery has endured a certain amount of this treatment already and although the recording
fees have no doubt benefted his wife and six children, no real catalysis has yet resulted though some agreeable music has come

In this category falls the record of "George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers" (Jazzland JLP.55), available in this country at
the time of writing. Though George is in the minority, the old Shearing sound of the earlier Quintet days pervades the record; it is,
however, more robust and purposeful than most of the original Quintet recordings in which Chuck Wayne's guitar, fine as his solos
were, sounded like an amplified plum pudding. Wes uses his full armoury in playing solos on nearly all the tracks - those on "Love
Walked In," "Love For
Sale," "Stranger in Paradise," "Double Deal" and "Darn That Dream" being
of the high order. Shearing plays little of the Latin American jangle that has lately bewitched him and in most of his solos he evades
the "Teatime in Palm Court" prettiness that is his other puristic flaw. This is a record that grows on one with repeated playing and is
one of the best of the "Wes Montgomery with..." offerings.
A common cause of failure in such enterprises is sheer incompatibility of style (even where mutual admiration exists) and quite
surprisingly Shearing gets along well with the Montgomerys (and/or vice versa). This speaks volumes for their adaptability and even
more since neither side loses individuality in the process.
January 1963

The seeker after a good introduction to the music of Wes Montgomery could do worse than make his acquaintance through
"Montgomeryland" (Vogue LAE, 12246) which, although one of the first records available here, has some of his most exquisite
playing. The personnel on one side is identical with that on "Blowin' the Blues" - the Brothers Montgomery with Harold Land on tenor
and a drummer. On the reverse side Harold Land gives way to Pony Poindexter (alto) and a different drummer. It is the first line-up
that is, on the whole, the more successful though both produce memorable Jazz.

With Harold Land, the side opens with "For Wes" (misprinted as "Far Wess" on the record), a very easy-paced piece in D Flat,
having a harmonic sequence well above average. (It is one of five Wes "originals" on the record). There are few Montgomery solos
that show so well his ability to build strongly melodic lines. This single-note solo is as lyrical and impassioned as any of Reinhardt's
and both its structure and expressiveness indicate some common ground between these two men of genius. There is the same
sureness in the building and release of tension and the same dynamic range. Their phrases are shaped not only in pitch and pace,
but also in volume and intensity of attack. Amongst the great technicians of the Jazz guitar this is one factor that readily sorts the
men from the boys. All in all, there are few more beautiful solos than this in the recorded range of the guitar in Jazz.


Much the same may be said of the even slower "Leila," another of the Montgomery originals. "Old Folks" contains lengthy-ish solos
from both Harold Land (loquacious) and Buddy Montgomery on piano (eloquent) but it is Wes who carries the day with a relaxed
opening chorus in which Buddy interweaves his piano phrases with uncanny understanding; a solo beginning with single notes and
progressing to some intensely expressive octaves (treated with complete disregard for their difficulty); and the closing section
played solo by Wes in chords that reach to the upper limit of the fingerboard.

Such is the spell he weaves that the heavy breathing of Harold Land in his sustained notes beneath Wes' coda runs, is a rude
intrusion. The side is rounded out by "Wes' Tune," a fast-moving piece with two driving choruses from Wes that contain some
unusual and even "cheeky" turns of phrase. More than once Tal Farlow peeps over his shoulder!

The other side has exellent solos in "Monk's Shop" and "Summertime" (given a Latin beat and giving a hint of the potential speed of
attack of the famous thumb); a fair-to-average one in "Renie" and a common-time version of "Falling in Love With Love" that gives a
blues-slanted and original view from where Wes sat. Poindexter suffers from Land's Disease (a rush of notes to the bell) but his
instrument is lighter in weight and is less obtrusive in effect.
The two sides were recorded a year apart and, the sleeve annotater claims, Wes shows his increasing maturity. As the Land-
lumbered side is the earlier, I find it hard to agree with him. Whatever the truth of the matter, Wes is in wonderful form on both
sittings. There is a looseness and flexibility about his sound that is not often matched on record and his emotional engagement in
what he is playing is both obvious and fruitful.
Unless I am mistaken, "Bags Meets Wes" (Riverside RLP 407) is now obtainable in Britain. The meeting is a successful one. Wes'
high regard for Milt Jackson (who is one of Wes' best publicity agents) is evidenced in his tribute "Somethin' Like Bags" on "So
Much Guitar," and it is not surprising they should make memorable music together once given the chance. All such meetings, as we
have noted, are not inevitably worthwhile but both parties to this "handshake" are selftaught men of genius, with a strong penchant
for the blues. This forms sufficient common ground for most of the record.

High-spots on this very good record, from the guitarist's selfish point of view, are: The commanding stride of Wes' entry into his
solo in "S.K.J." - the entry of a man who is so firmly in the saddle that he does not have to perform any tricks to prove his right to
be there; the octave solos in "Jingles" and "Sam Sack" - the first is one of his most staggering and audacious essays in this vein to
date; the lovely and unhurried octave solo in "Stairway to the Stars," showing Wes' ability to stay simple whilst remaining beyond
the artistic reach of most people and his knack of picking on the "ear-tickling" notes; and finally, the chord solo in "Delilah" in which
he underlines, with chords, an improvisation that is clearly melodic in concept, apparently without a thought for the technical
problems posed.
In this last item at least he not only draws up alongside Milt Jackson but overtakes him with ease, reducing with his strength and
purposefulness, Jackson's not-inconsiderable achievement to a level of comparative doodling. That is not an easy thing for anyone
to do.

Riverside RLP 342, "Movin Along" (unaccountably printed as "Movin' Up" on the spine of the sleeve) has been issued in Britain and
since deleted. This is a pity; it is not even in quality but it houses some very great playing. It differs not only in personnel (the
pianist is our own Victor Feldman) from his other recordings but also in that here he plays some tracks on (6 string) bass
guitar.......... Wes does not need carrying and, what-ever one many think of the sound of the bass guitar (I for one find it a prize
bore), the way in which he handles this somewhat clumsy instrument is marvellous in its agility, certainty and musical exploitation.
No octaves, no chords, naturally. Octaves would be taxing and none too effective, whilst chords would sound muddy and ugly.
Of the bass-guitar tracks, "Body and Soul" is perhaps the best though it is a pity the common temptation to double the tempo in
the middle choruses was not resisted. Either you like flutes in Jazz or you do not. Like Berlioz' music, it is something few people
approach with indifference, one way or the other.

I take both views according to the context and the thin tootling of James Clay contributes only irritation to my ears. Against the full-
throated sound of Wes' guitar it sounds faintly comical, though in the opening and closing choruses the two blend satisfactorily.
Of the remaining tracks the title piece "Movin' Along" is one of two outstanding gems. It is a blues, punctuated with sustained
chords that cut across the flow in a way that compels careful listening and gives the soloists opportunity to phrase, to exploit it.
Wes plays first single-note and then octave choruses that number amongst his best. The recorded quality of the playing helps
considerably, allowing the guitar's sound to dominate in the solos - he is not always as well projected in other recordings (for
instance in "Jingles" on "Bags Meets Wes," in the single-note solo). Even without this his choruses would dominate by their
authority and feeling, particularly the octaves with which he "preaches the blues" and shows how, when you have the creative
stature, you can take your time (using rests as well as notes for their effect) and building with simple, direct, diatonic notes on the
strength of clear-cut ideas. These choruses stamp the quality of Wes Montgomery, the fundamental Jazz musician, without
particular reference to the guitar.

The other gem is "Ghost of a Chance" opened in octaves formed into dreaming phrases clothing the melody, passing through
single notes and back to the octaves. The superficial resemblance to the earlier recording by Johnny Smith is probably not by
chance but, despite the soaring single-note excursions to the upper register in the middle sections and the close-spaced chords
that open the final eight bars, there is a whole world separating the treacle-filled perfection of Johnny Smith and the deeply-felt
creation of Montgomery.
  The final eight bars in which these chords are broken into by an upspringing stroke in tritones (in octaves) and a return to the mood
of the opening, are sheer magic the more since they follow a marvellously flowing middle eight. In this latter he is clearly carried
forward on the impetus of his invention and his thoughts have immediate access to his fingers. After this, the non-stop flow in a
string of swinging choruses in "Says You," containing little that would have come from any other player, is just about worthy of
mention. Only Wes himself could relegate this to the back page.
May 1963

Little remains now but to complete the Wes Montgomery discography as I know it. There remain five records of which four are under
the aegis of Riverside. These latter are all available in the USA but as the Riverside Record Company in this country has been
indifferent in its co-operation as the parent Company in New York has been excellent, I cannot tell you which are currently available

"Groove Yard" (Riverside RLP.362) is the finest of the remaining records since it contains not only vintage Wes in liberal quantities
but also the fruits of the perfect natural understanding amongst the Montgomery brothers. "Remember" has some guitar/piano
passages that both recall and "cap" those of earlier teams such as Oscar Moore/Nat Cole and Billy Bauer/Lennie Tristano, in
relaxation and naturalness.

"Back to Back" (but see Vogue LAE. 12137 below) is unalloyed Wes with Monk's string basis in evidence, supplying that special
quality of looseness and movement the electric bass (for all its versatility) has never quite matched. That same quality is evident in
"Heart Strings"; for me the best track on this record and one of the very best on any Montgomery record. The tune is a Milt Jackson
original and a most outstanding one too; the main burden is so eloquent and beautifully harmonised that the release, though good
by most standards, sounds just a wee bit banal by comparison and a fraction out of character.
In both opening and closing choruses the three brothers produce a unity of cloncept found in few places other than the bands of
Ellington and (in a different way) Basie and probably in great measure due to the greatest of orchestrators - Heredity.


  "If I Should Lose You" finds Wes once more willing to deliver a worthwhile melody with little or no embellishment and then to
improvise on it with the emphasis on beauty of phrase; his leisurely movement is effective contrast to the filigree work of Buddy on
the piano. Other tracks are of high standard and the whole, adds up to a compulsive acquisition for the Montgomery Clubman.

The most recent release to my knowledge is of a session with tenor-saxophionist Johnny Griffin and the rhythm section from the
Miles Davis Sextet under the title of "Full House" (Riverside RLP. 434) including only six titles and therefore, room for the soloists
to expand.......... This grouping was assembled primarily because it was felt the right ingredients were at hand for drawing out
Wes' best work before a live audience. Many bad features of such sessions have been avoided the hollow sound; the far-distant
aspect of the soloists; the gallery-fetching, excessive audience intrusion and so on. At his best Johnny Griffin is equal to the
company he keeps but on occassion, he, like Harold Land before him, pours out many more notes than seem to serve any
worthwhile purpose. Happily he does so without Land's coarseness.

The rhythm section is a delight and Wes rises to their encouragement splendidly in "Cariba," "Come Rain," "S.O.S." and" "Blue 'n
Boogie with powerful solos full of purpose and drive; the octaves leaving one to wonder how he can think these passages so freely
(with so little concern for difficulty) and to execute them even at up-tempo in a way that makes it easy to forget they are not single
"Full House" itself is a very good example of the modern trend towards the use of 3/4 time for pure jazz. It swings as compellingly
as any 4/4.


The remaining item balances the record beautifully but it is a little mysterious how it ever came to be included. The "My Fair Lady"
tune is a simple guitar solo miainly in chords, in the manner of "While We're Young" (RLP.382), with next too no accompaniment and
with no,apparent raison d'etre except that Wes likes the tune and thinks it is worth playing for its own sake. This delight in simplicity
and unadorned beauty, expressed in this way, does not lessen but rather emphasises his greatness as a musician - jazz, tutored, or
untutored, or any other kind.
The final three. records on my list involve Wes in sessions in which he is only one of a number of soloists. All have their moments
but seldom do they rise to the heights of Wes' own personal peaks. The best is that of 1958, one of the very first-released
Montgomery records but acquired by myself only since the last article in this series was written ...... It is "The Montgomery Brothers
and Five Others" (Vogue LAE. 12137).

The three Montgomerys are joined by five local and little-known musicians - two tenor saxophonists, a trumpet player, piano and
drums (Buddy M. plays vibes in this session) Who show more invention and discipline than many established "name" soloists and
certainly do little to lower the standard of the proceedings.
I wonder how many undiscovered Wes Montgomerys there are on various instruments, tucked away in the vastness of extra-
metropolitan America! The early Wes shows much the same characteristics as the present one, which is hardly surprising since his
discovery was so late in life. The confidence he has gained and will go on gaining from his new recognition will perhaps draw more
from him, but the hallmarks will not change. Octaves are sparse (only a few bars in one item) and chords are confined to the
slowest numbers solowise in the beautiful "Lois Ann" and in accompaniment in "All The Things," both almost private affairs amongst
the Montgomerys and all that one would expect from that.

"Bock to Bock" (now look back to RLP. 362) appears in its true form, as a tribute to the famous organiser of the session - Dick
Bock of World Pacific Records. The Later "Back to Back" was taken at a faster tempo and was all the better for it the original drags
rather stiffly at times. Buy this one if only for the slow numbers (in which Monk's electric bass is heard at its best). They are of the
stuff that endures.

"Work Song" (Riverside, RLP 12 318) has plenty of first-rate Wes work of all kinds but he is fractionally underrecorded and the
leader, Nat Adderley, monopolise too much of the playing time for my taste. His cornet is wavering in pitch and consistently
mournful in sound. There is also a great deal of the pizzicato cello work of Keter Betts (now bassist with the Charlie Byrd Trio) which
seems superfluous in the presence of Wes.

Finally, "Cannonball Adderley etc." (Riverside RLP. 355) offers Wes in company with, amongst others, another loquacious Adderley.
Like so many reed players under these conditions he just cannot find enough notes to cram into the passing bars but, before we are
too hard on this man, let us remember that without his insistent enthusiasm we might never have had Wes Montgomery brought to
light. Had we even heard of him it might have been as one of those legendary players who never comes out of hiding and in whom
it is difficult to believe.
Wes remains legendary, larger than life and difficult to believe, but now very much in view. In addition to some worthy Wes-manship
this record offers the bass of Ray Brown and the piano of British-born Vic Feldman.
The many words I have written on this remarkable man are a drop in the ocean of journalism he has unleashed. He is firmly
established on the throne of jazz-guitar players of today and, possibly, of all time and happily endorsed in that position by his
"rivals" themselves. It is the great guitarists of today who are the leading members of his "fan club" and the great jazz musicians of
other instruments who second their nomination. He is now so firmly established, it is so difficult to imagine the jazz-guitar scene
without him that one could hardly do better than end with a tally of the recording dates of the albums I have written about gleaned
from the sleeves.

"Montgomery Brothers Plus Five Others" (LAE. 12137)Sometime in 1958.
"Blowin' The Blues" (LAE.12224) Sometime in 1959.
"Montgomeryland" (LAE. 12246)Unknown but probably 1959.
"Wes Montgomery Trio" (RLP.310)October 1959.
"Work Song" (RLP.318) January 1960.
"Incredible Jazz Guitar" (RLP.320)January 1960.
"Cannonball Adderley" (RLP.355) May 1960.
"Movin' Along" (RLP.342) October 1960.
"Groove Yard" (RLP.362) January 1961.
"So Much Guitar" (RLP.382) August 1961.
"George Shearing With -etc." (JLP.55)October 1961.
"Bags Meets Wes" (RLP.407) December 1961.
"Full House" (RLP.434) June 1962.

Jazz Cinderella with a vengeance. Long before Wes' first record was cut, Barney Kessel was already long-established at or near the
top of the tree - he is probably still the most financially successful of jazz guitarists. Perhaps he can afford to say it but it is still
warming to read in a recent issue of the Parisian "Guitare et Musique" that, in an interview, Barney Kessel said:
"The greatest, of us all is unquestionably Wes Montgomery."
Whoever disagrees with him is unlikely to be a Big Man!
Wes Montgomery

By Jack Duarte
BMG - June 1965

DURING 1962-1963 I wrote a series of articles bearing the same heading as this; based on a study of Wes's recordings then
available and a brief exchange of correspondence. Now speculation has been pushed    aside, Wes has been and has stayed long
enough to be seen by anyone with the slightest initiative. The claims I made for him, a few years ago, are now being repeated by
others publicly or, reluctantly, to themselves.

Professionals and amateurs have, alike, made their pilgrimage to Ronnie Scott's basement club and have shared this at once
stimulating and humbling experience. Even my original claim in 1962 that Wes is the most interesting and significant single guitarist
in the history of Jazz is now finding widespread acceptance.
I do not intend to re-write my original articles or to reproduce the contents of record sleeves; these are rather the thoughts thrown up
by numerous contacts with Wes at the Television Centre; at Ronnie Scott's Club; and in the comparative leisure of my home.
Because I think many readers will be most curious in that direction, I will try to begin with his technique of playing. I say "try"
because Wes is such a well integraited person (whose life and music are closely linked in many ways) it is hard to talk of any one
aspct without involving others. The famous right-hand thumb is fairly long (it is just as "curly" as Segovia's); the tip-joint is
comparatively long and the root of the thumb is farther than average from the hand. Throughout single-note passages and in much
of his octave and chord work, the fingers are spread (virtually flat) over the scratch-plate; resting lightly on the edge of the plate and
on the guitar beyond. They are not rivetted in position but they move in a limited way. Single notes receive only downward strokes
of the thumb though chords and octaves are played in both directions but only when velocity demands it.
The upstrokes are concentrated on half-emphasised ("ghosted") chords. Often he will use successive down strokes at considerable
speed where he feels this to give the kind of attack he wants. Hammers and snaps (legati) greatly assist in fast passages (only one
stroke of the thumb being required for two or more notes) but, again, when he wants to he both can and does play a succession of
notes, each attacked separately, the thumb appearing to "bounce" in its action.

The operative word is "appearing"; I have sat within a few feet of the Famous Thumb, for several hours and there is still much in
which the quickness of the thumb deceives the eye. Both Jim Hall and Milt Jackson have played with or watched Wes many times
and both told me they did not know exactly how he managed everything with his thumb. I can now understand what then seemed a
strange lack of observation!
The action of striking is a curiously mixed one. It bears a superficial resemblance to the classic guitarist's apoyando, the supported
stroke, in which the thumb is pushed through so it comes to rest against the next string. The thumb operates with the tip-joint in a
plane almost parallel to that of the strings, so it is the fleshy side that meets the string rather than the nail.
None of this is particularly surprising: the position of the fingers makes it difficult to play any but a supported stroke (which is, in
any case, the easiest and the most-used mode of striking used by the classic guitarist) and the stroke is versatile enough to
embrace a whole gamut of attack from the forceful to the gentle.
The "curliness" of the tip-joint naturally tends to present the fleshy side of the thumb to the strings. Finally, the close spacing of the
strings (Wes uses a normally made plectrum guitar) also makes it difficult to execute a surface stroke. Given the attitude of the
right-hand fingers then, the rest follows. All this said, his velocity and certainty are staggering.

The supported stroke with the thumb is, after Segovia, one in which the thumb flexes at its root only; with no "Tarrega wiggle" of the
tip-joint. As Wes plays it, it consists of a Segovia-type stroke (with an occasional slight suggestion of wiggle) combined with a sort
of pushing action in which the wrist flexes a little and drops towards the belly of the instrument.
This highlights a fundamental problem in the technical analysis of Montgomeryana. Wes is largely unaware of and quite
disinterested in the detailed working of his thumb. The whole fearful mechanism has grown naturally out of his direct efforts to make
music; it is not and never has been rationalised or objectively developed.
In the middle distance of my view, from a seat in the studio at his "Jazz 625" recording, I thought he used a pure and unflexed
thumb in his basic action. At home, as he played tentatively on an instrument of mine, he wiggled his thumb a good deal.
I said: "I thought you used your thumb without wiggling the tip-joint do you actually bend it, then?" He replied; "yes" in a very
uncertain way suggesting he did not really know.
Long, subsequent observation has shown me he does not wiggle it noticeably. Wes's own observations on his thumb action
amount to this: He does not know exactly what it does; he not only does not care, he is actively averse to any attempt to analyse it.
If he did this and found it was all wrong, then what sort of a mess would he be in! As long as the right sounds emerge he does not
even bother to look at it - he is too concerned about his left hand though he glances at it from time to time just to reassure himself
it is still there! (These are almost his own words).
His right-hand repertoire includes other practices. There is the quick back-and-forth strumming of chords and octaves (much as one
would expect) and the rapid tremolo-ing of a chord (c.f. Teddy Wilson's octaves has the same sort of controlled reflex as the
violinist's bow tremolo.


Recalling Segovia once more, heavy emphasis is often accompanied by the use of the unflexing thumb, backed by the whole hand,
bending only at the elbow. Tremolos over only a string or two are often executed with the thumb pinched against the index finger for
Wes uses his fingers occasionally to strike through a six-string chord; clearly because he wants the exact effect it yields. Very, very
occasionally he plays a few chords of accompaniment with thumb and fingers-crispness combined with quietness and he even
plays the odd passage in double octaves (on 1st and 6th strings) using his thumb and index finger.
All in all, he improvises freely with his right hand to produce the exact nuance of attack he wants; this is the only rule. The end
determines the means and is, to Wes, the only thing that matters.
A complete analysis of the Montgomery right hand is unlikely to be achieved without liberal assistance from slow-motion
cinematography and, if it is ever done, it will be no more than a commercial gimmick, a catchpenny, of negligible use to anyone
Wes has found his own answer in his own way, for the solution of his own musical problems, in terms of his own physique.
July 1965

Wes Montgomery's left hand is much less unorthodox than the right. In single-note passages he uses only the first three fingers; the
fourth ranging from a normal position (though unused) to one in which it is tucked (apparently uncomfortably) against the side of
the neck of the instrument.
The famous octaves are (as I reported in 1962) played with one string deadened, e.g. first finger on C, third string, slightly inclined
to rest against the second string and thus deaden it; fourth finger on C on first string. This is the way Reinhardt played his octaves
but there the resemblance ceases Reinhardt hardly ever began.
The remaining string-groups are played with fingers 1 and 4 for strings 4 and 2; and fingers 1 and 3 for strings 5 and 3 and strings 6
and 4. Naturally, the hand assumes a fixed attitude (what else would it do?) during the exercise, though accommodating itself to the
changing spacing of the frets. Wes's mobility with octaves thus played is such that at top speed it is impossible to make out just
what he does.

There is little to say of his chording except that he uses all fingers; wraps his thumb round on ithe bass strings when it suits him;
and shows an ability to make fast changes matching the other astonishing facets of his ability.
He thinks chords with the same fluency and rapidity that others do single notes and he can translate the thoughts into action! This,
combined with the snakelike speed of his right hand, provides some electrifying effects.
Overall he neither exhibits nor even has (!) any systematic view of his fingerboard. He makes his notes wherever convenient and with
whatever comes to hand. This is, perhaps, a slight exaggeration, but it is, substantially, what he says of himself. He is not
conscious of any organisation of his fingerboard; he merely knows where everything is and his facility is such that he can make use
of it when he wants it, somehow or other.
The extraordinary thing is that it costs him little apparent effort. The most fearsome passage is thrown off with an ease and (even
more unforgivable) enjoyment that is remarkable. The guitar seems at his mercy.
Apart from his evident enjoyment and the smile that crosses his face frequently enough, his only reaction is a good-natured "oooh!"
when he stumbles slightly usually as the result of attempting something quike outrageous. One is astonished only that it could even
cross anyone's mind to attempt what he does. That he occasionally misses by a hair's breadth is hardly surprising.
Naturally enough, he is much less (if at all) inhibited in the atmosphere of a club than in the scheduled setting of a recording studio;
his records therefore do not give a true measure of his technical mastery. Something like this is, of course, true of most (if not all)
musicians in Jazz, though many find their touch on records. In Wes's case it is true over and above the high level of his recordings,
which alone prompted my evaluation of him three years ago.
Django was too much of a self-confident extrovert to be influenced greatly by the studio-versus-club itransition; he was much more
of an island than is Wes Montgomery. Records are "for keeps": Wes knows this and is understandably a little inhibited and cautious
under recording conditions.
Throughout his stay at Ronnie Scott's, Wes played the language of pure Jazz. Guitar cliches were absent from his playing for the
simple reason that, as wonderfully as he exploits the guitar more - than anyone else to date -  he is not a guitarist, strictly speaking.
His prime motivation is that of playing Jazz and he chose to-apply it from the guitar unhampered by any notions of the guitar
acquired from study or through the ministrations of a teacher. It is perhaps his music-making that is the most remarkable of his
facets. So powerful is the creative urge ithat he thrusts past technical barriers as though they do not exist. The guitar is simply the
medium for the music.
Ask any great jazz guitarist who his favourite musicians are and he will begin by citing saxophone players, followed by other wind
players. He will have plenty of well-loved guitarists but the first choice will be the "horn" players because their phrasing and
expression are flexible, vocal and untrammelled by strong cliches.
Wes Montgomery is no exception. For once, though, the boot has changed feet. During Wes's stay at Ronnie Scott's Club, not only
guitarists flocked to pay their homage, the wind players kept them company. Such tribute must have been rare since the death of
Charlie Christian.

That Wes Montgomery is not primarily a guitarist is one of the things that have emerged from his visit to this country. Another is that
there are no tricks, no gimmicks. In the 1930s, before Reinhardt was any more than a sound on records, guitarists everywhere
speculated about how he did it. In the face of such marvellous playing there had to be some explanation some trick or card-up-the
sleeve to account for the miracle! When he finally paid us a visit it was clear there was no "secret". The "gimmick" was TALENT. He
did what he did by sheer straight forward transcendental ability!
So it is with Wes Montgomery. There is no trick to comfort the have-nots. Once more we are shown the futility of trying to play like
**** and the double futility of itrying to do it by adopting their mannerisms and technical eccentricities.
Using a certain make of guitar and atrophying your third and fourth lefthand fingers will not make a Reinhardt of you. Playing with
your right-hand thumb and ignoring your left-hand little finger as a single-note implement will not turn you into a Wes Montgomery.
If the use of your thumb were a magic key to the door through which lies your revelation as a jazz soloist, then you would probably
have found it out of your own accord.
Strong talent always works out its own salvation and forges its own tools. It is the others who are deeply interested in Wes's
technical peculiarities. Wes himself is not even slightly interested.
In an interview I taped with Jim Hall last year I said that Wes and Jim were the two most sound-conscious players in the world of the
jazz guitar. Jim agreed that the quality of the sound is the prime importance.
I raised the same point with Wes and he did not hesitate. To him the sound is inseparable from the meaning of what he plays. A
note has pitch, loudness, duration and quality. Given truthful support from the amplifier, Wes has (like every other guitarist) the
means of control in his own hands.

His guitar is utterly straightforward. For him no electrified planks; no vibrato arms (he is a player, not a cripple); no messing with
tone controls. Funny how all the best musicians and players manage to get along without the silk-purse-from-sow's-ear trappings!
In the line of equipment, Wes Montgomery is not really looking for anything. He is happy, thank you. The tone and quality of every
note matters to him at least as much as any other attribute. With the instrument he has perfect control over this as he is used to it.
He can be pressed into trying things but he is not really interested.
Even a few of his records will show the importance he attaches to tone as a means of expression. In the course of a build-up of,
say, twenty or more choruses (particularly if it be 12-bar blues) it is obvious, he thinks orchestrally. The way he varies tone and
attack with type of phrasing is an integral part of ithe way in which he builds his climaxes and in many choruses he plays "brass-
like" figures in octaves or chords, then responds to them in single-notes like a "launched" soloist.
At times like this he himself generates the power that drives him to increasingly exciting improvisation.
August 1965

At the advanced age (as Jazz musicians in the limelight go) of 42, Wes Montgomery has some well crystallised views on life, music
and his relationship to both. Through it all there runs a curious thread of near pessimism. Perhaps he is still surprised to find
himself, at such a "late" age, on a pedestal!
Sensibly, he has taken stock of what has put him there. He is a pure Jazz guitarist, a weaver of spontaneous musical fabrics.
Though he will listen to the classic guitar (and what first excites his comment is the beauty of its sound) he will not involve himself in
any way with 'serious' music.
The reason is, simply, he does not want to become influenced by it and finish up by producing a bastardised music, neither one
thing nor the other. He must keep the strain pure.
Likewise, he will not enter into any lengthy discussion on technique. He knows what he does is odd and he would not advise anyone
to imitate it but at his time of life he cannot afford to find out how wrong it all is and finish up inhibited from doing what he is
(happily) now doing whilst still being unremarkable in any other technical framework.
His metier is in the production of his own special kind of Jazz; thinking as he goes and letting his thoughts flow out through his
fingers. Like many others before him he has suffered the stupidity of requests to play the choruses he played on this or that record,
whereas in truth he creates every one anew and would be hard put to remember what he does on any one record, let alone indulge
the falsity of trying to re-create it to order.

This embarrasses him.
Three successive takes of the solo played verse to "The Girl Next Door" for the "Jazz 625" broadcast (necessitated by flaws in the
production) resulted in three revealing, utterly different playings from Wes. Further takes would, I am sure, have increased the
number and the variety.
It seems strange that when I told him my own favourite of his recordings (other than "Montgomeryland") was his album "Fusion"
("Dark Velvet" in this country) made with strings, he shared my preference.
What fascinates me is the way in which this, entirely instinctive, unschooled, music-maker fitted in with such consummate taste and
rightness into what are sophisticated arrangements, played by first-class studio musicians.
It transpires the paradox is less marked than it seems.
For various reasons, Wes hardly knew anything of the arrangements before the recording session itself and, despite his
apprehensions at the time the result is in effect a tightly controlled improvisation, a triumph of inborn musicality.


Wes has, too, a clear picture of the musical language as he uses it and, typically cautiously, little inclination to extend it.
Occasionally, if he feels on top of the world, he will experiment but, if it comes off or not he "cools it" (soft-pedals); "I know when
I'm lucky!"

This still leaves him plenty of scope so much that he is in no immediate danger of being overtaken. With quaint logic he says: "I
don't practice at all. If I can do it, I don't need to practice it. If I can't do it, I ain't risking it!"
Otherwise expressed: as every chorus he plays is a spontaneous and fresh act of creation, what is there for him to practice?

Wes is a family man par excellence (seven children) and he resents the way in which the professional life takes him away from his
family for long periods.
Another undesirable thing about travelling is the economic necessity of flying. The famous Montgomery Apprehension shows
starkly through here; he is petrified by the mere thought of flying and every plane journey is a boost to the sedative industry! This,
more than anything else, has for so, long delayed his appearance in this country. He has been at least two years screwing up his
I told him that Segovia had reached the ripe age of 72 despite his regular, and heavy air travel. This did not reassure Wes: "Man,
he's living on borrowed time and I'm living on borrowed time now!"
Once settled on terra firma he is the possessor of a splendid and kindly sense of humour, though the threat of imminent disaster
plays a liberal part in this too, even in a fringe way. "This climate! - I've got 'flu in my thumb," or, having told how the rest of the
group drank some ill-advised tapwater in France and sufered in consequence he, having escaped this fate: "I'll probably get cancer
when I get home!"


Despite this he is a happy person in whose presence things never become dull. His prime interest is in people and life. No tourist
he. Given the option, he expressed no interest in sight-seeing and, for all I know, he returned home without seeing even Big Ben.
It is not England but the English that interests him; not France but the French. He enjoys his music; he enjoys doing the best he can
with what he has been given (most of us would, in his shoes, be delirious); he knows all about the transcience of human fame and
he is deeply concerned to be true to his own lights not to reach beyond his capacity as he sees it.
I asked him if he would do the same if he could turn back the clock and start again. His answer was typically down to earth. He
would, given the chance, go back to the job he left when he took up, the guitar at the age of 19 as a welder. "That can be an art
too." This would give him a good living, the capacity to do something very well, and it would enable him to work regular hours and
stay close to his family.
It is, after all, people who, matter the most.
It is, too, a sad reflection on conditions that Jazz cannot offer a man of such massive talent an assured, worth while employment
under conditions that would allow him to stay with his family in one place, where the children could be educated without interruption.
This should make salutary reading for the starry-eyed.
Almost all Wes's records have been made in the U.S.A. (with Riverside Records, a company that went into liquidation in June 1964)
and he is of the opinion they will gradually become unobtainable in that country will become collectors' items. In this country
continuity is assured since issue is in the hands of Philips Records.
As Wes does not even have copies of his own records (and, for the present no time to listen to them) I passed on the information.
Apart from this parcel of his own records I doubt whether Wes took away much musical from these shores (though he is rightly
impressed by the Stan Tracey Trio which accompanied him and, revealingly, by the childish sight-reading prowess of my seven-
years-old daughter on classic guitar) but he left behind a richness of musical experience and utter astonishment in his listeners.
He also took with him some new friendships (let us hope he comes back again to renew them) and perhaps this will help to
compensate - it is, after all, people who matter most!
A few years ago an American friend in regular contact with Jazz musicians told me you could divide them into two categories: the
******** and the People.

"Wes, he added, is "Super People."
So he is!

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