Wes Montgomery

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Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery.png
Wes Montgomery, 1965
Background information
Birth nameJohn Leslie Montgomery
Born(1923-03-06)March 6, 1923
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
DiedJune 15, 1968(1968-06-15) (aged 45)
Indianapolis, Indiana
Years active1947–1968
LabelsPacific Jazz, Riverside, Verve, A&M
Associated actsLionel Hampton, Montgomery Brothers, Jimmy Smith

John Leslie "Wes" Montgomery (March 6, 1923 – June 15, 1968) was an American jazz guitarist.[1] Montgomery was known for an unusual technique of plucking the strings with the side of his thumb which granted him a distinctive sound. He often worked with his brothers Buddy and Monk and with organist Jimmy Smith. Montgomery's recordings up to 1965 were oriented towards hard bop, soul jazz, and post bop, but around 1965 he began recording more pop-oriented instrumental albums that found mainstream success. His later guitar style influenced jazz fusion and smooth jazz.


Montgomery was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. According to NPR, the nickname "Wes" was a child's abbreviation of his middle name, Leslie.[2] He came from a musical family; his brothers, Monk and Buddy were jazz musicians who released albums as the Montgomery Brothers. Although he was not skilled at reading music, he could learn complex melodies and riffs by ear. Montgomery started learning the six-string guitar at the relatively late age of 20 by listening to recordings by his idol, guitarist Charlie Christian; however, he had played a four string tenor guitar since age twelve. He was known for his ability to play Christian's solos note for note and was hired by Lionel Hampton for this ability.[1]

Montgomery toured with Lionel Hampton, but the stress of touring and being away from his family led him back to Indianapolis. To support his family of eight, he worked in a factory during the day and performed at clubs at night. Cannonball Adderley heard Montgomery in an Indianapolis club and was astonished. On the next morning, Adderley called record producer Orrin Keepnews, who signed Montgomery to a contract with Riverside. Adderley later recorded with Montgomery on his Cannonball Adderley and the Poll-Winners (1960) album. Montgomery recorded with his brothers and various other group members, including the Wynton Kelly Trio which had backed up Miles Davis. Montgomery also worked with Tal Farlow, Johnny Smith, Jimmy Raney, and Barney Kessel.

Montgomery is the grandfather of actor Anthony Montgomery.[1][3]


Montgomery toured with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton's orchestra from July 1948 to January 1950, and can be heard on recordings from this period. Montgomery then returned to Indianapolis and did not record again until December 1957 (save for one session in 1955), when he took part in a session that included his brothers Monk and Buddy, as well as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who made his recording debut with Montgomery. Most of the recordings made by Montgomery and his brothers from 1957 to 1959 were released on the Pacific Jazz label.[1]

In 1959, he signed with Riverside and recorded in a trio with Melvin Rhyne. His reputation grew during the next year when The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery was released. His sideman on his Riverside albums included James Clay, Victor Feldman, Tommy Flanagan, Johnny Griffin, and Hank Jones. After Riverside shut down, Montgomery signed with Verve. From 1964 to 1966, his albums were produced by Creed Taylor with string arrangements by Don Sebesky. In 1967, he signed a contract with A&M. These albums contained jazz versions of pop songs and sold well.[1]


At the peak of his popularity, Montgomery died of a heart attack on June 15, 1968, while at home in Indianapolis.[4]


According to jazz guitar educator Wolf Marshall, Montgomery often approached solos in a three-tiered manner: he would begin a repeating progression with single note lines, derived from scales or modes; after a fitting number of sequences, he would play octaves for a few more sequences, finally culminating with block chords. He used mostly superimposed triads and arpeggios as the main source for his soloing ideas and sounds.[1]

Instead of using a guitar pick, Montgomery plucked the strings with the fleshy part of his thumb, using down strokes for single notes and a combination of up strokes and down strokes for chords and octaves. He developed this technique not for technical reasons but for the benefit of his neighbors. He worked long hours as a machinist before his music career began and practiced late at night. To keep neighbors from complaining, he played quietly by using his thumb.[5]

Awards and honors[edit]

Praise for Wes Montgomery[edit]

Dave Miele and Dan Bielowsky wrote that Montgomery was "one of the most influential and most musical guitarists to ever pick up the instrument...He took the use of octaves and chord melodies to a greater level than any other guitarist, before or since".[6]

In 1982, Bob James and Earl Klugh collaborated on a duet album and recorded the song "Wes" as a tribute to Montgomery on Two of a Kind album. Pat Martino released Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery in 2006.[7]

Jazz guitarist Bobby Broom said that on A Dynamic New Sound in 1959, Montgomery "introduced a brand new approach to playing the guitar... The octave technique... and his chord melody and chord soloing playing still is today unmatched".[8] Broom modeled his guitar-organ trio after Montgomery's.[9]


As leader[edit]


With Buddy Montgomery and Monk Montgomery

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Yanow, Scott. "Wes Montgomery". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  2. ^ "NPR Jazz Profiles the Life and Music of Wes Montgomery". Youtube.com. 2010-12-08. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
  3. ^ "Wes Montgomery Biography". www.musicianguide.com. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  4. ^ "Wes Mongomery Obituaries". web.archive.org. 19 October 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  5. ^ Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Backbeat Books. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
  6. ^ Miele, Dave; Bielowsky, Dan. Jazz Improv. 7 (4): 26. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Kelman, John (21 April 2006). "Pat Martino: Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery". All About Jazz. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  8. ^ Ross, Brian. "Bobby Broom on Wes Montgomery's 1959 Jazz Guitar Impact". bobbybroom.com. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  9. ^ Ross, Brian. "Bobby Broom Organi-Sation to Open for Steely Dan Jamalot Ever After Tour 2014". bobbybroom.com. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  10. ^ a b "Wes Montgomery | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Discography | Wes Montgomery". wesmontgomery.com. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  12. ^ Ingram, Adrian (2008). Wes Montgomery (2nd ed.). Blaydon on Tyne: Ashley Mark. p. 15. ISBN 9781872639680.

External links[edit]