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Jazz Guitarist Wes Montgomery Taught Himself–And He Did Quite a Job

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Jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery was called the best player since Charlie Christian. Praise doesn’t get any higher in that part of the world.

Here is the start of Montgomery’s profile at NPR:

The jazz guitar of Wes Montgomery, deemed “the biggest, warmest, fattest sound on record,” still reverberates today, nearly forty years after his death. The most influential, widely admired jazz guitarist since Charlie Christian’s heyday, Wes re-invented the instrument with his thumb-plucking technique, his innovative approach to playing octaves, and his inventive, masterful execution of complex lines. In the short span of a 9 year recording career as a leader, his name became synonymous with the jazz guitar. (Continue Reading…)

It is not difficult to find great insight into Montgomery on the Web. The unanimity on his greatness is not surprising. It is interesting that the admirers talk about the same things. This is from JazzTimes:

Wes Montgomery is not only one of the most important guitarists in jazz history, he’s also one of the music’s most inspired natural talents-whatever the instrument. The flowing solos on his early ’60s Riverside recordings feature deep musicality, warm melodies, fearsome chops and a remarkable use of octaves. Instead of a plectrum, Montgomery used his thumb to create a soft attack on his Gibson L-5 without suffering a loss of rhythmic drive, and he’s often cited as the most influential jazz guitarist since Charlie Christian. (Continue Reading…)

Here is some technical information about Montgomery’s guitars and a bit of an expert’s insight at Sputnikmusic:

Wes’s guitar playing is very unique. Instead of using a pick, Wes plays with his thumb, which creates a warm, lushes tone that no one else has. That tone coupled with Wes’s master makes for a wonderful combination, as he is very dynamic. Each note that comes out of his instrument is played perfectly with clarity and perfection. And even though he substitutes a plectrum in favor of his thumb, this does not hinder his capabilities at all. He can still play with speed and chops unmatched, as he tackles trademark techniques of his such as the use of octaves and block chords in his soloing. Throughout the album it is clear that Wes Montgomery’s style is unmatched. (Continue Reading…)

Above is a great 1965 video from what seems to be a German television. Montgomery and band play”West Coast Blues” in a relaxed atmosphere. The back and forth before the song starts is interesting. The video is very high quality, to boot. “Round Midnight” is below.

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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