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The Incredible Jazz Guitar of WES MONTGOMER

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Wes Montgomery (g) Tommy Flanagan (p)  Percy Heath (b) Albert Heath (drs)  

NYC; January 26 & 28, 1960


  1. Airegin (4:24) (Sonny Rollins)

  2. D-Natural Blues (5:18) (Wes Montgomery)

  3. Polka Dots and Moonbeams (4:38) (Burke – Van Heusen)

  4. Four on Six (6:10) (Wes Montgomery)


  1. West Coast Blues (7:20) (Wes Montgomery)

  2. In Your Own Sweet Way (4:45) (Dave Brubeck)

  3. Mister Walker (4:28) (Wes Montgomery)

  4. Gone with the Wind (6:13) (Wrubel – Magidson)

   “Make no mistake, WES MONGTOMERY is the best thing to happen to the guitar since Charlie Christian.”

   (That sentence is not ours. We happen to agree with the enthusiasm it expresses, but it would take even more nerve than record companies are supposed to have about applauding their own artists to come right out and make such a statement – which is roughly equivalent to calling an alto player the equal of Charlie Parker. No it’s a quote from an objective source: Ralph J. Gleason, one of the most highly respected and most widely read of all writers on jazz. And since it’s a sentence that is mighty hard to follow, let’s allow Gleason to continue, by quoting more from his Down Beat and San Francisco Chronicle reviews of Wes Montgomery’s first Riverside album: )

   “He has the electric quality, that special gift of making whatever he does come alive, that marks the true artist. He has terrific swing, the ability to build solos dramatically (and) beautifully to climax after climax, and everything he plays has a sense of rightness about it.”

   Gleason was far from the only reviewer to do cartwheels over Montgomery’s debut album. But we’re sure the others will forgive us for not quoting them, on the theory that rare unqualified superlatives like Ralph’s should be allowed to stand alone.

   At any rate, they make our choice of a word like “incredible” in the present album title not at all daring. But the fact is that we’re all a bit late in climbing onto the Montgomery bandwagon, for this self-taught master of jazz guitar has been playing this way for a decade, and we’ve found that a great many musicians tend to take it for granted that any self-respecting jazz enthusiast should be aware of him. But, early or late, all of us can now experience the magic of Montgomery’s completely individual artistry. Wes himself was a late starter, not even beginning on guitar until 1942 when, at the age of nineteen, he first heard Christian on records. Six months later he was playing professionally, and by the end of the ‘40s – presumably because, as a self-taught musician, he didn’t know such things were ‘impossible’ – he had begun his astounding use of octaves and chords in his solos.

   Actually, Wes himself must take a fair share of the blame for the delay in his being ‘discovered.’ Until late in 1959, he had done virtually all of his playing (except for two years – 1948-50 – with Lionel Hampton) in and around his native Indianapolis, which is scarecely the hub of the jazz world. Riverside learned of his in September of ’59, through the excited reaction of Cannonball Adderley, who had listened to Wes far into the night when a one-nighter brought Adderley to that city. Once we heard him, there was no question as to what to do. His first LP (The Wes Montgomery Trio) was recorded just a few weeks later. Shortly thereafter he began branching out a bit. He worked in California (where preciously he had been known primarily only as a brother of Buddy and Monk Montgomery, the nucleus of the noted “Mastersounds”); and when he came to New York to record this album, there was one memorable night when he was persuaded to sit in with Horace Silver’s group at the Village Gate and the audience almost literally tore the roof off the place.  No doubt about it, while Wes Montgomery’s success story may have been slow in starting, it is now happening and happening fast.

   On his first LP, Wes was accompanied by the organist and drummer with whom he was working in Indianapolis. But for his second effort, it was decided to put him in with a tough Eastern rhythm section and just let him wail. It should be immediately obvious that the three men selected all met the occasion with skill and enjoyment: the formidable PERCY HEATH, of Modern Jazz Quartet fame, on bass; his brother, drummer ALBERT HEATH, currently featured with J. J. Johnson; and the strong, lyrical pianist from Detroit TOMMY FLANAGAN.

   Although the technically unbelievable feats Wes accomplishes on guitar may be the first things to catch one’s attention, his true and substantial jazz merit lies basically in the fire and deep soul with which he performs them. This is very much in evidence here; and so is his considerable talent as a jazz composer, as displayed on four selections, of which the most notable is probably West Coast Blues, with a melody you’ll find it hard to get out of your head. There is also a hard-swinging version of Sonny Rollins’ Airegin, on which each of the four men takes a firm solo hand; and Dave Brubeck’s beautiful ballad, In Your Own Sweet Way. Of the two standards included, Polka Dots is also explored at a leisurely pace, while Gone with the Wind, in an earthy groove, closes the album by featuring Wes all the way in a fine example of his sustained solo powers.

   Wes’ first Riverside LP is –

The WES MONTGOMERY Trio (RLP 12-310; also Stereo RLP 1156)

   He can also be heard on –

Work Song: NAT ADDERLEY; with Wes Montgomery, Bobby Timmons, Sam Jones (RLP 12-318; also Stereo 1167)

   Flanagan can be heard on –

Blues for Dracula: PHILLY JOE JONES Sextet; with Nat Adderley, Johnny Griffin (RLP 12-282)

Keep Swinging: JULIAN PRIESTER, with Jimmy Heath (RLP 12-316; also Stereo RLP 1163)

   Percy and Albert Heath have appeared separately on several Riverside albums, and also work as a team on –

Cannonball Takes Charge: CANNONBALL ADDERLEY (RLP 12-303; also Stereo RLP 1148)

   Other outstanding recent Riverside LPs include –

5 by Monk by 5: THELONIOUS MONK Quintet (RLP 12-305; Stereo RLP 1150)

Thelonious Alone in San Francisco: solo piano by THELONIOUS MONK (RLP 12-312; also Stereo RLP 1158)

Portrait in Jazz: BILL EVANS Trio (RLP 12-315; also Stereo RLP 1162)

This Here Is BOBBY TIMMONS (RLP 12-317; also Stereo RLP 1164)

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Quintet in San Francisco (RLP 12-311; also Stereo RLP 1157)


Produced and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS

Cover designed and produced by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE

Cover and back-liner photographs by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK

Recording Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)

Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering

Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.


235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.

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