Wes Montgomery – Organ-ic Problems and Satisfaction – By Ira Gitler
Down Beat July 16th 1964
I told myself I was flying to Boston from New York on whim - you know, fly to Boston for dinner, a plutocratic fantasy. But despite my enjoyment of the prime-rib dinner at Durgin-Park (highly recommended), I really was in Boston to interview guitarist Wes Montgomery, who was playing at the
Jazz Workshop. The Workshop is located at the Inner Circle on Boylson St. Operated by affable, soft- spoken Varty Haroutunian, who was the tenor saxophonist with Herb Pomeroy when that trumpeter's band was a staple at the Stable, the club is a long, dim-lit, comfortable, low-ceilinged room, with its bar in the back and its band stand up front.
As I was greeted and seated by Haroutunian, the Montgomery trio was in the middle of a set (Bands start early in Boston because the law calls for clubs to close at 1 a.m. on week nights and at midnight on Saturdays). The Montgomery guitar was supported by Melvin Rhyne's organ and George Brown's drums. This is the group lie formed toward the end of 1963 while still in his native Indianapolis, where he had returned when the Montgomery Brothers group broke up in late 1962.
To go back a bit:
Montgomery had emerged from Indianapolis in 1959, after Cannonball Adderley and Gunther Schuller had heard him and did some public raving about his ability. Riverside recorded him that fall in a trio setting and followed that album in January 1960, with one featuring Montgomery in the company of pianist Tommy Flanagan and bassist Percy and drummer Al Heath. On the strength of his playing on these records, Montgomery placed first in the new-star division of Down Beat's 1960 International Jazz Critics Poll and very nearly won the established-talent section too.
In 1961 his brothers, bassist Monk and vibist-pianist Buddy, who had been working in a quartet called the Mastersounds, joined forces with Wes to form the Montgomery Brothers Quartet. Using a variety of drummers, the group enjoyed a fair amount of success for a while but finally had to throw in the towel, and Wes went back to his home town.
In between sets in Boston, he talked of this time spent in Indianapolis. "During that standstill period it was about nine or 10 months - I didn't know which direction to go. The Montgomery Brothers really wanted to make it, but it didn't pay off for us. We really enjoyed working together, but sometimes you can't make things work so we just accepted that. When I went back home, I didn't have any specific plans, but I knew I just couldn't sit."
In March, 1963, Montgomery came to New York City and recorded two albums Fusion, in which he was backed by strings, and Boss Guitar, in guitar-organ-drums format. Rhyne, who also was on Montgomery's first album, came with him, and they added Jimmy Cobb in New York to complete the
trio. Later in the year, back in Indianapolis, Montgomery worked four weeks at a club called the Hubbub with Rhyne and George Brown. Brown, originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., is an energetic young drummer whose playing, in certain ways, is reminiscent of Elvin Jones.
"I had a feeling about the instrumentation, that it could be a sound," Montgomery said. "That's why I worked on it, to try to get it in that direction. And I was very satisfied with the direction, because I think it's a little different. A lot of places we go, when they see the organ coming in, they're expecting rock and roll, but after they hear us play they like it."
Brown seems always listening, and Rhyne does not use a high-decibel approach. The trio gets a blend that can be a warming blanket of sound. Montgomery's playing is very relaxed with Rhyne; it is no different than it would be with a piano and bass in place of the organ. "He doesn't hog it,"
Montgomery said of Rhyne. "His conception is like a piano player's - a piano player's touch." (Rhyne was and is - a pianist. At one point in the evening, he reached over and played the nearby piano with his right hand while continuing to chord with his left on the organ.)
Montgomery continued on the subject of organ: "It is an instrument that you can open up on, and you don't hear nobody. Melvin is not overbearing. I couldn't play with an organist who played it real full and heavy. Because I play with my thumb, the sound is round it's a softer sound - and volume can't make that difference. The louder you turn it, it still has a felt [fabric] kind of sound. It won't penetrate, anyway. The kind of guitar player that plays with the usual organist would almost have to play with a pick in order to cut through. I couldn't make it like that anyway."
The current Wes Montgomery Trio had been out on the road for about six or seven months when I saw the group in Boston. The three men had been in New York at the Half Note and Count Basie's and then had played engagements in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Detroit, Buffalo, and Rochester, before
going to Boston. One of the problems encountered during traveling is the care and transportation of the organ.
"You need muscles with organ, and this is on every job," Montgomery said. "You know, taking it in and bringing it out."
From city to city, the organ travels in a trailer. When it comes to moving it, the whole group pitches in.
"It's a co-operative thing. Melvin and George would rather do it because they don't think I can make it. They don't think I'm qualified," said the stocky, muscular Montgomery, and then he laughed. The road presents another problem that relates, although less directly, to the organ. "I've been trying to find time to rehearse the group," Montgomery said. "I like for the group to get into things. It's hard rehearsing a group like that on the road, because when we move the organ in, it's stable. So say we open up on a Monday night, and we say we'll have a rehearsal Tuesday. So we go down to the club early, in the afternoon maybe they open up at 11 or 12. It hasn't failed yet when we go in, there's nobody there, but the minute we get the instruments out and start into a tune, they start floating in, two and three, and then they'll sit at the bar and have a couple of beers you know, afternoon beers and they can't have the jukebox on, so we draw their attention, and they come up and start asking for requests. And you just can't play like that."
What if a club isn't open during the day?
"We haven't played any like that," he answered. "Either they're open in the afternoon or they're not open at all. Or the proprietor is on the other side of town, and you have to go through some changes to get down there. That really hurts. If you want to rent a studio, they overcharge you."
How about the men wanting to relax in the afternoon?
"But that's not the biggest problem," Montgomery said. "We've had the right attiude, but . . . ."
It was opening night and Montgomery was worried about how the group sounded out front. I had taped a couple of numbers just to see if my recorder was running all right, and I played these back for him. The balance was good, but on the stand it didn't sound that way to him, he said.
"To me, guitar cuts through - it carries more than organ," Montgomery said. "But organ has got more guts. Over-all, two electric instruments like that - I dig that. It's normal and natural to hear a quartet like piano, bass, drums, and guitar. That's automatic. But it's only really automatic to hear the kind of thing I'm talking about with organ, and I do happen to hear that type of thing."
"What are the group's immediate plans?" I asked.
"We expect to be off before opening at the Half Note," Montgomery replied. "I don't know whether the cats want to go home or go to New York. The organ has to be transported. If Melvin wants to go home, then we almost have to go home, because the organ has to go somewhere. I've got to drop it off somewhere. And you can't drop it off in the Half Note before time. And you can't leave it in the trailer, just sitting on the street."
"It's like having a fourth person in the group," I offered.
"Really," Montgomery agreed, "oooh, a heavy one though - overweight."