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Music Review: Wes Montgomery – The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery

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Wes Montgomery (1925-1968) was one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century. He took the swing sound of Charlie Christian and the gypsy jazz styling of Django Reinhardt and combined them into a unique American jazz sound. His early work would influence the two generations of jazz guitarists that would follow him.

Wes Montgomery went through a number of incarnations during his career. He is best remembered today for his hugely popular jazz/pop albums recorded for the A&M label in the mid to late 1960’s. This group of late career releases found Montgomery adjusting his sound for the masses and adding a more orchestral background. The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery, from early in his career, finds him exploring the classic jazz idiom within a small group setting. He is joined by Tommy Flanagan (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Albert Heath (drums).

This was the album that set him apart from other guitarists. He had a unique approach to phasing and legend has it that his thumbs were double jointed and could actually bend back and touch his wrist. This enabled Montgomery to develop a technical virtuosity that allowed the notes to be distinct. He was also able to maintain a fairly melodic sound, which was different from many of the other jazz practitioners of his day.

This CD release of The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery was re-mastered from the original tapes. The original cover art and liner notes are intact. Also included is a substantive biography of Montgomery’s career. It all combines into a 60’s looking package with a modern sound.   “Four On Six” and “Polka Dots To Moonbeams” were breakthrough songs as they would popularize the use of octaves on the guitar. His flow from chords to octaves was unique as was his blending of instruments. “D-Natural Blues” would show Montgomery’s ability to match his sound to the piano and trade leads. His rendition of “Gone With The Wind” is guitar playing at its best. It is always interesting to compare his version to Dave Brubeck’s classic piano interpretation.

The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery was a seminal album in the creation of the guitar sound. He was able to modernize jazz through the use of his guitar. Jazz guitarists who have followed him have polished and added nuances to the sound but none have had the same lasting creative impact.

About David Bowling

  • http://www.jazzguitarlife.com Lyle Robinson

    Hi David and thanks for the review. As you pointed out, Wes was a true creative master of the Jazz Guitar and his influence is still heard today in many established and up and coming Jazz Guitarists. It’s unfortunate that he passed away at so young an age and when his popularity was at its peak. I often wonder what he would sound like now. Sadly, we’ll never know, but at least we have his past body of work to keep us smiling. Thanks again and all the bst.