Groove Yard: The MONGTOMERY BROTHERS
Wes Montgomery (g) Buddy Montgomery (p) Monk Montgomery (b) Bobby Thomas (drs)
NYC; January 3, 1961
Back to Back (6:39) (Buddy Montgomery)
Groove Yard (2:58) (Carl Perkins)
If I Should Lose You (5:43) (Robin – Rainger)
Delirium (3:37) (Harold Land)
Just for Now (4:45) (Buddy Montgomery)
Doujie (4:34) (Wes Montgomery)
Heart Strings (4:31) (Milt Jackson)
Remember (5:34) (Irving Berlin)
Although Wes Montgomery was with Lionel Hampton from 1948-50, he spent most of his time, until late in 1959, around his home town of Indianapolis. He was virtually unknown when Cannonball Adderley told Orrin Keepnews, “You’ve got to get him for the label” and Gunther Schuller wrote of him in The Jazz Review, “Wes … was … “something else again!”
Keepnews, a man of action, went directly to the Indiana capitol and after being sufficiently knocked out, began immediate preparations for recording Montgomery. The rest is well-documented on Riverside (see bottom of liner). Critics raved, and with good reasons, when they first heard Wes’ records. I reviewed “The Incredible Jazz Guitar” for Down Beat to the tune of five stars. On the bassis of that album, I voted for Wes in both new star and regular divisions of the International Critics’ Poll. (In some ways this may have been presumptuous of me, but that is a pretty convincing album. Its power has increased rather than diminished in the time that has passed since I first heard it.)
When Wes finally hit New York, my aural appetite was keener than a Pavlovian dog’s at bell-ringing time. Just prior to my first visit to the Half Note in November of 1960, I had no apprehensions of disappointment. Sometimes you can build yourself up for a big letdown – but I knew this was impossible in Wes’ case, because his greatness as so indelibly marked on that record.
At the club, I was not disappointed. But my preconceptions were shattered – he was even greater than I had anticipated! One of the reasons, to be sure, was the directness of in-person performance. Another important one was the group in which his guitar was set.
Riddle: What is better than one Montgomery?
Answer: Three Montgomery Brothers!
Before joining forces with Wes, brothers Monk and Buddy were highly successful but partially anonymous as one-half of the Mastersounds, a quartet based fro the most part on the West Coast, primarily in San Francisco. (Like their brother, they are Indianapolis natives.)
Monk (William Howard Montgomery) is the oldest. Born on October 10, 1921 (curiously enough, one year to the day after another Monk – Thelonious), he too served an apprenticeship with Lionel Hampton’s big band. He was in the 1953 edition that includes Quincy Jones, Gigi Gryce, Jimmy Cleveland, Clifford Brown and Art Farmer. I met him that year when I supervised Farmer’s first record date as a leader. Monk was playing the Fender electric bass then. Held like a guitar, it was described by Nat Hentoff as sounding “like a small army.”
Monk’s “army” was a well-disciplined one, with a driving, incisive jazz pulse. In the Mastersounds, the electric bass was utilized effectively in keeping with that group’s concepts, but when the Montgomery Brothers became a unit following the disbanding of the Mastersounds in 1960, Monk returned to the string bass and proved to be just as powerful player, one capable of evoking the best of natural sounds and convincing lines from the conventional, unamplified model. In many ways, he is the cornerstone of the group.
Buddy, the youngest of the three (Charles F. Montgomery, born January 30, 1930), also played with a Hampton – but this time not Lionel. His professional career began with a home-tour group called the Hampton Brothers, one of whom was trombonist Slide (oh, those Indianapolis brothers!). In 1957, the year the Mastersounds were formed, he added vibes to his piano accomplishments. Early in 1960 Buddy did a short turn with Miles Davis. This caused many people (most of whom never heard that particular edition of the Davis quintet) to regard him with respect. “If Miles hired him …” etc. However, it was not until he was heard in the company of his brothers that Buddy’s talent was made really evident to a wide audience. For the Mastersounds, as noted, remained for the most part on the West Coast. This alone caused them to be glossed over in Eastern jazz circles: not an intelligent attitude, to be sure, but one that existed nonetheless. And the Brothers, in their very first months as a group, did travel to such far outposts as New York, Philadelphia and Detroit.
I cannot claim that there is anything unique in my enthusiasm for the Montgomerys. I was certainly not alone in being further convinced of Wes’ attributes, nor did I lack fellow members in the “And how about Buddy?” club, an organization that grew and grew as not only just plain customers but also just about every jazz musicians in town came to call during the quartet’s New York engagements at the Half Note, Five Spot and Jazz Gallery at the end of 1960 and beginning of ’61.
In New York, the Montgomerys used a variety of drummers. The one who satisfied them most, obviously, is the one they chose when recoding time rolled around. Bobby Thomas, a young man from New Jersey, rates an honorary adoption by the family for the way he melds with them on this record. Thomas possesses the rare sary trait for a drummer in any no-horn small group, and especially in a unit so fraught with rapport as this one.
This album is highly representative of the Montgomery Brothers in that it emphasizes numbers they have been playing in clubs. The ease with which they spin them out could only come from an empirical familiarity. But to say that their music is extremely easy to listen to does not even faintly imply that it lacks depth. Their blues grooves are authentic and unstrained, and a ballad like If I Should Lose You has substance as well as mood. (It is their emphasis on tunes that they were really “into,” incidentally, that is largely responsible for Buddy’s not being heard on vibes here – the group happened to have been concentrating on piano numbers at this time. But Buddy’s piano lines, fully modern yet embodying in a natural way all the elements that have always been the hallmark of great jazz, are in full flight throughout. I find his one-instrument performance here most satisfying, but it also leaves my appetite whetted for the vibes selections promise for the group’s next Riverside album.)
The material to which Buddy brings his piano skills, Monk his rich “cornerstone” bass, and Wes his “incredible” without-pick octaves and chords, comes both from within the group and from several excellent outside sources. Buddy’s two contributions are siwngers: Back to Back in an easy manner and Just for Now more punching and forceful, with a fiery yet thoughtful solo by Thomas. Doujie, Wes’ only original of the set, is a personal confirmation of Bird’s word. Listen to his great rhythmic sense and the way he builds excitement devoid of anxiety. The outside writers are well-represented. Milt Jackson’s Heat Strings is about as soulful as you can get. Wes is playing the “guitheart” here. Delirium, by Harold land, correctly grooved by Monk, is the beneficiary of an especially telling set of choruses by Buddy. Groove Yard, the title tune by the late Carl Perkins, is melody that is constantly arresting – a perfect theme for some hip disc jockey to pick up on. Irving Berlin’s Remember becomes the Montgomery’s property without losing any of its basic charm.
Listening to the Montgomery Brothers is pure enjoyment. I am reminded of a recent comment by Barry Harris (quoted in the notes to his album “Preminado” – Riverside 354), to the effect that in order to entertain the listener, the musician himself must be entertained by what he is doing. “You have to enjoy playing,” he says. The Montgomerys enjoy playing. Even when you can’t see them, you can hear the smile.
Wes leads groups of his own on –
Wes Montgomery Trio (RLP12-310)
Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (RLP12-310; Stereo RLP 1169)
Movin’ Along; Wes Montgomery (RLP 342; Stereo RLP 9342)
He is also featured on –
Cannonball Adderley and The Poll-winners; featuring Wes Montgomery, Ray Brown (RLP 355; Stereo RLP 9355)
Work Song: Nat Adderley (RLP12-318; Stereo RLP 1167)
(The present recording is also available in Monaural form on RLP 362)
Produced by Orrin Keepnews
Cover designed by Ken Deardoff
Recording Engineer: Ray Fowler
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios,
Mastered by Jack Matthews (Components corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York